To say Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) finished 2016 in stunning form would perhaps be an understatement, as the Welshman became unstoppable after the #WorldSuperbreak summer break. Taking seven out of a possible eight victories in the second half of 2016, it makes you wonder how different the title chase would have been if Davies had this pace at the beginning of the season with his Panigale R. Continuing this phenomenal pace into 2017 and feeling comfortable on the Italian machine, it’s hard to see Davies not battling up at the front as the lights go out in Phillip Island.
Returning to the WorldSBK paddock following two seasons out in MotoGP, Northern Irishman Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia) will be hoping to make an immediate impact in the class. Joining Shaun Muir’s team as they make the switch to the Italian factory, Laverty joins an experienced team and brings a wealth of WorldSBK knowledge with him; he has 13 wins and 33 podiums in the top class to his name. Satisfied with his pace and times in testing, Laverty will no doubt be up and fighting for podiums early on as he returns to the RSV4 RF, a bike with which he has enjoyed plenty of success with in the past.
Another former WorldSBK race winner returns to the series for 2017, and Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) is sure to make an impact on the class as soon as we go down under for Round One at Phillip Island. Having spent four seasons in WorldSBK in the past the Italian is sure to fit right back into the series and rejoining former team-mate at BMW, Chaz Davies, it won’t take long for Melandri to settle in. Now fully recovered from a knee injury sustained over the winter, the 34 year old will be a force to be reckoned with aboard the Ducati Panigale R. As well as this, Melandri could make history and take the 100th victory for his country in the series – something he’d certainly want to shout about.
It’s always interesting to see how riders make the switch from MotoGP to WorldSBK, and Stefan Bradl (Honda World Superbike Team) will be no exception. Spending the majority of his career in the GP paddock and securing the Moto2™ world title in 2011, the German is not short of racing experience at a high level. Joining forces with Nicky Hayden, who continues to adjust to the switch from MotoGP and with the brand new CBR1000RR on the way Bradl will hope to make a strong impression in the series. Early indications from winter testing are positive, but the 27 year old has a lot to learn and it will be interesting to see how he can tackle the ever evolving MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship.
Michael van der Mark
Young Dutchman van der Mark (Pata Yamaha Official Team SBK) will begin his first season in WorldSBK aboard a Yamaha following four full seasons with Honda in both WorldSBK and WorldSSP. Yet to showcase his full potential in the pinnacle of production racing, van der Mark will hope to add to his nine podium tally he has built up so far as he tackles the YZF R1. Ready for a new challenge with a team who he feels are making strong progress developing their bike, the 24 year old is ready to be up and fighting for podiums – thirsty for that sip of Prosecco.
Leon Camier (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) has made some phenomenal steps aboard the MV Agusta 1000 F4 and will certainly be one to look out for in 2017. Narrowly missing out on a podium finish at Magny-Cours last season, the Brit is a man on a mission going into his third full season aboard the Italian machine; and as early testing indicates Camier hopes to make some big impact in 2017.
Just two points off being named 2016 World Supersport runner-up, Randy Krummenacher (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) will also be one to keep an eye on for 2017. He was able to bring the fight to his former team-mate and most successful WorldSSP rider, Kenan Sofuoglu last season and moves up with his team – Puccetti Racing aboard the Kawasaki ZX-10R. 2017 will no doubt be a learning year for the Swiss rider, but it will be interesting to see how quickly he can learn and adapt to the powerful Superbike machine.