It’s but a few days until the first round of the 2022 World Superbike Championship kicks off at Aragon in Spain (it’s this weekend, 8 – 10 April, in case you didn’t know), and for the first time in longer than any of us can remember (since 2010, actually) a Yamaha rider’s defending the title. In fact it’s the first time since 2015 anyone but Jonathan Rea has started the season defending the title. Will the current WSBK champ, Toprak Razgatlıoğlu, be able to hold onto the number one plate, though? Or will the Kawasaki mounted former champ JR snatch it back? Perhaps it’ll be someone else’s turn to lift the WSBK crown, come the end of the 2022 season. This is what I think…
I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the 2022 championship will be a two-horse race, in the same way the 2021 championship was. Before anyone shouts at me, I know Redding was always there or there abouts, but unfortunately, he just didn’t win enough races to be really in with a decent shout at the end of the year.
If I’m being honest, I can’t see Redding doing any better on his new BMW than he did on the Ducati last year. There was only one BMW win last year (Michael van der Mark in Portugal). Redding did win a handful of races in 2021, but I don’t think he’ll win as many in 2022, on the Beemer. And I don’t think he’ll win the championship, either.
Andrea Locatelli didn’t win any races in 2021, but he was the best rookie (by quite a margin). I’ve got a feeling he’ll win some races in 2022. I think it would be a bit of a stretch to call him a genuine title contender though. I think he surprised plenty of people in ’21 by sticking it on the podium as many times as he did (four times; Assen, Most, Magny-Cours, Portimão), so you never know.
I’ve got a funny feeling Ducati are going to do something special this year, though. We all know how desperate Ducati will be to win. And I know Bautista had a bit of a crap year in ’21 on the Fireblade, but I’m convinced he’s still got it. He’s an ex world champion (2006) and a MotoGP podium finisher. And he should probably have been a WSBK champ in 2019, if the FIM didn’t change the rules mid-season. Now Bautista is back with Ducati, I’m convinced he’ll be fighting for race wins.
And speaking of MotoGP riders, there are a pair of ex-GP stars in Bautista’s old Honda colours this year. Iker Lecuona might not have set MotoGP on fire, but he’s had mega impressive pace up to now on the Honda WSBK bike. And his new teammate, Xavi Vierge, probably won’t take too long to get used to the big bike; he’s fresh from Moto2. If Honda give the boys a good bike I’d expect Vierge to be a decent top-ten lad and Lecuona to be a lot nearer the sharp end. I’ve got a lot more confidence in HRC’s new talent than most, I know. As for whether or not they’ll be proper championship contenders, I’m not so sure.
And then of course there is the aforementioned Razgatlıoğlu and Rea, who we know will be at the front. I think Razgatlıoğlu is hungrier for it. He’s on his way up, and he’ll be riding on a newfound wave of confidence. You can’t knock Rea’s skill. And he’s obviously one of the most experienced lads out there. But he’s done it all now. And he’s not getting any younger.
Unfortunately, as much as I’d love the likes of Bautista or Locatelli, or anyone for that matter, to crash the JR-Toprak party, I’ve got a feeling that the 2022 WSBK Championship is going to be another two way battle. And if I had to put money on anyone lifting the WSBK crown at the end of 2022, I think I’d have to put it on Toprak Razgatlıoğlu.