Author: Oli Rushby Posted: 25 Jan 2016
There’s just over a month until the 2016 motorcycle racing season kicks off with the first round of the Superbike World Championship in Australia.
Before that, we’ll get a first glimpse of the 2016 Grand Prix season as testing gets underway in Malaysia and some British Superbike teams have already loaded up the transporters and headed for warmer climates in preparation for the season’s start.
Each year, fans and pundits alike hype-up the up forthcoming season as if it is to be the best ever, making wild predictions for that might happen months before the rumble of engines can be heard in pit lane.
There is a lot to look forward to in the 2016 season both on and off the race track. From the needle between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez to young Rory Skinner hoping to make an even bigger name for himself than he’s already got, we take a look at what to watch out for this year…
Rossi vs Marquez – Round 2
Rossi might have withdrawn his appeal against the penalty handed to him for the incident in Sepang and Marquez may have suggested he hopes the two can be friends in future but don’t be fooled; the needle between this pair won’t be going anywhere this year.
While the volatility may turn down a notch as talk of ‘the incident’ finally fizzles out; the rivalry between two of the fastest men in motorcycle racing will be more intense than ever before.
Neither Rossi nor Marquez were happy with their result at the end of last season and both will be out to prove a point.
Feeling he was robbed of a tenth world title, Rossi will be determined to show he’s still got it while Marquez will be wanting to show that his disastrous 2015 season was but a mere blip.
Redding with Ducati
Scott Redding is the first to admit his first two years in the premier class have been somewhat difficult. 2014 was almost a write-off for the youngest ever winner of a Grand Prix with the production Honda RCV1000R underwhelming in its debut year.
Followed by a difficult season aboard the over-aggressive RC213V, Redding found himself between a rock and a hard place before Ducati offered a lifeline in the form of the vastly improved Desmosedici GP15.
From his very first test he felt more at home, grinning from ear to ear when speaking to journalists after his first day on the bike. He was quick too. He lapped faster in Valencia than he had on the Honda and went on to top the Jerez test from Marquez.
It’s early days but things are looking good. Redding knows this year could be his last chance to make a statement in MotoGP and he’s certainly up for doing it in style.
Alex Lowes on an R1
While Britain isn’t exactly lacking talent in the Superbike World Championship it’s likely there’ll be a new kid on the block in 2016.
Lincolnshire lad Alex Lowes might not be new to the series but it’s fair to say he hasn’t been a frontrunner since joining the series with Crescent Suzuki in 2014.
That being said, the 25-year-old did show potential aboard the out-dated GSX-R and is without doubt one of the quickest British riders of his generation.
Despite taking a knife to a gunfight, Lowes has fought hard to make a name for himself on the world stage and it’s that determination that has landed him a factory Yamaha ride for 2016.
Now with proven machinery, expectations of Lowes and his PATA Crescent Yamaha team mate, Sylvain Guintoli are high.
As with any completely new package, teething issues are to be expected but it’s widely thought the R1-Lowes combination will be a front-running combination in 2016.
Josh ‘Bad Boy’ Brookes in WSB
When a rider dominates a championship it’s often slammed as boring, yet Josh Brookes’ domination of the 2015 British Superbike title was anything but.
Joining the British championship in 2009, the Australian soon garnered a reputation as the series’ bad boy following a number of precarious overtaking manoeuvres going wrong.
As his riding calmed Brookes began to demonstrate himself as one of the most talented riders in the paddock with only circumstantial reasons meaning a British title would evade him for so long.
While his riding may have calmed down, his attitude didn’t. Easily the most outspoken rider in the paddock, Brookes divided fans and even fellow riders.
He made it his business to incite a fierce rivalry with nemesis Shane Byrne to the extent that the pair despised one another. Brookes would freely admit he’d rather see any rider win but Byrne.
He’s not afraid to say he isn’t looking to make friends in World Superbikes and this could be exactly what the ailing series needs.
It’s unlikely Brookes will win races this season but he could easily cause a stir.
Byrne back to Ducati
Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne is reunited with Ducati for the 2016 season, the manufacturer with whom he took two of his four British Superbike titles.
Byrne was an unstoppable force the last time he rode the Italian V-Twins, first in 2003 with his current Paul Bird Motorsport squad in Monstermob colours and later with GSE Racing on the Airwaves 1098.
What makes Byrne’s return to Ducati more exciting is that the Bologna manufacturer hasn’t won a race in British Superbikes since 2010 and the Panigale, first introduced to the series in 2012, only achieved its first podium in the hands of John Hopkins last season.
With support direct from Bologna, the Panigale R underneath Byrne is certain to be a missile and it’s possible we won’t see which way he goes.
World Superbike riders making the step back to British Superbikes is nothing new but never before have we had a rider who won two races in the previous season make the move.
Despite having finished fourth in the world last year, Haslam was unable to find a competitive seat in the world championship and has opted for a return to Britain.
Having twice finished runner-up in BSB, Haslam feels he’s got a score to settle and won’t be coming back to make up the numbers.
With a near-factory spec ZX-10R from Kawasaki, Haslam has the tools he needs to take on the likes of Byrne and Hopkins and we expect him to be fast out of the blocks.
The fiercest TT ever?
This year’s Isle of Man TT looks set to be one of the fiercest ever with the number of riders with race-winning potential increasing yet again. A few were starting to doubt TT legend John McGuinness but a dominant senior victory put him back on the map and there’s no question he’ll come out fighting this year.
Ian Hutchinson, another rider many had written off, stormed to three victories in 2015 and is in a promising position for this year’s campaign having signed with the Tyco BMW outfit. Both he and team-mate Guy Martin have lapped the course at over 132mph.
2015 was a bit of a disaster for Ballymoney’s Michael Dunlop, switching manufacturer at the eleventh hour it was a miracle he was able to run podium pace before crashing out of the Superbike race. Injuries sustained in that incident meant he would struggle for the rest of the week, ruling out a repeat of his 2014 dominance.
It’s expected Dunlop will continue with the Buildbase BMW team this season and will no doubt be back on form.
The fierce competition doesn’t end there with the likes of Peter Hickman, James Hillier, Lee Johnston and Dean Harrison continuing to show impressive progress.
Peter Hickman – Year 3
British Superbike racer Pete Hickman impressed making his debut on the roads in 2014, so much he became the fastest ever newcomer at both the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT.
He’d almost given himself an impossible task for 2015; how do you improve on that? Things became even more difficult when he suffered a 150mph off at Oulton Park just before the North West.
Nevertheless, less than a month later he still shattered his personal record at the TT and edged closer to the fastest men on the circuit with a 131.626mph lap.
He then went on to take his international road racing victories at the Ulster Grand Prix and Macau.
Moving into the factory-backed GBmoto Kawasaki outfit, this year he’s one to be watched for sure.
Britain isn’t exactly without motorcycling talent at the moment; we’ve more riders in the premier class than ever before, had riders on the podium in all three Grand Prix categories last season and won our first Grand Prix world title for the first time in almost 40 years.
Waiting in the wings to take over from the likes of Cal Crutchlow and Danny Kent is 14-year-old Rory Skinner, who already has an impressive list of accolades to his name.
Making his debut on the international stage last year in the Red Bull Rookies series’, Skinner impressed by taking pole position and two podiums at Aragon; just a day after turning 14.
He then made his debut in the Junior World Championship at Valencia, once again showing impressive form with a top ten finish against bikes fielded by front-running Moto3 teams.
Skinner will ride in the Junior Moto3 World Championship full-time this year; definitely a name to watch over the next few years.
Brits in Moto2
If all goes to plan, Britain will have two front-running Brits in the Moto2 championship with Danny Kent joining Sam Lowes in the intermediate class.
Lowes won one race last year on a bike widely acknowledged as a handful. Despite this, he was able to bring the Speed Up home to a fourth-placed championship position. Moving on to Kalex machinery for the year ahead, Lowes should be a title threat.
Having just won the Moto3 crown, Kent should be competitive too. Unlike past Moto3 frontrunners to move up, the Gloucester rider has experience in the 600cc class. Things didn’t go to plan for Kent aboard the Tech 3 Mistral 610, but he’ll already have a hand on the characteristics of the faster, heavier bike.