The sun is setting on the 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship season, but there is still one round left; over the last three rounds – which lasted four weeks – there were plenty of stories throughout the order. Below we’ve included some of the key themes since we returned from the August break, and serve as things to watch out for in the final round of the season.
TOPRAK’S ENDURANCE: extraordinary effort
It was always clear that Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) would never give up, but the second race in Portimao increased that importance. He had a duel with Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) the likes of which we had never seen before, with some final braking in front of some. This is the race everyone was talking about because of how good Toprak Razgatlioglu was in the fight and how hard he pushed himself, the bike and drained the tank in an attempt to topple the championship leader. Resilient, tenacious and unrestrained, the 2021 World Champion performed at the highest level.
BAUTISTA LIKE WINE: getting better with age and more impressive with each round
As the current Superbike World Champion, Alvaro Bautista has already shown that he can reach surprisingly high and difficult levels at the end of his career. The Spaniard, who is 38 and will turn 39 at the end of the year, is one of the last of his generation to progress through the 125cc class, then the 250cc championship and then MotoGP™. In the same era as Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner and although they were often ahead of him in MotoGP™, Bautista’s move to WorldSBK saw him become the best version of himself, with more understanding, a different approach, but still with the mindset to stay young during training and adapting to races. As he said in Portimao’s latest Hot Headlines: “The devil knows more about being old than about being the devil,” while compared to other rivals, he said Toprak is one of the toughest ever.
BMW COMPETITIVE WITH GERLOFF: a sign of a bright future
BMW may have struggled with consistency in recent years, but one driver does the business; Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) has been fast since Donington Park, but has had good results since Magny-Cours to prove it. A Pole in France, fighting well in Aragon – a track where they struggle – and scoring his best results of the year in P4, the American is riding very well and taking the manufacturer closer to the podium, doing so on merit. Toprak Razgatlioglu joins BMW in 2024 and it will be very interesting to see what he can achieve if the performance gains continue. Gerloff has a great feeling, he has a great team around him and he is a good driver who is developing, and BMW is doing well and that is partly down to him. He can still finish 8th overall.
REA ON THE LIMIT: Kawasaki’s shortcomings too great for Rea to make up?
An unforgettable Sunday in Portimao for Jonathan Rei (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and an Aragon round where he was unable to make a difference despite making an astonishing effort in the Superpole race. Rea has to be so perfect to get the most out of his bike – which is not enough on every track – that mistakes occur because staying on the limit for the entire race is almost impossible. A small mistake in Turn 12 of the Superpole Race backs up Aragon’s claim when he simply ran fractionally wide, which gave Bautista the momentum to get closer before he hit the back straight on the final lap. It may not have changed anything in the outcome, but it looked like Rhea had made it through by then. Portimao’s two mistakes also come from making critical use of every opportunity. However, even GOAT WorldSBK cannot perform miracles. It remains to be seen what Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) will bring to KRT when he joins the team in 2024.
HONDA IMPROVE: what’s the key?
Honda has had a better last few rounds and perhaps we can expect them to continue their good form in Jerez. So where does the improvement come from? Donington Park, Imola, Most and Magny-Cours are all incredibly quirky tracks where a rider’s experience can make a difference, but where the bike set-up has to be perfect. Set-ups generally always have to be perfect, but on tracks like Aragon and Portimao, which have their quirks but are much more “European” or “Grand Prix” style, the Hondas seem to be a better fit. Numerous track tests will also be helpful for both Iker Lecuona (Team HRC) and his teammate Xavi Vierge. It’s very similar in Jerez. The Honda is competitive, but on some tracks it seems worse than it actually is.
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