… | 6 of the best wildcards in WorldSBK… and 6 we want to see
Ah, the WorldSBK wild card… a chance for homegrown talent to take on all comers with a show of force that’s both frustrating for regulars and partly exciting for patriotic spectators.
An undeniable advantage of Superbike racing over MotoGP in that any “terrain hero” can step onto the international stage and take it to the top in the world, the craziest hands have done their part to toss the pack on the years.
Alas, the splintering of regulations means it’s not as simple as showing up and hitting the ground running these days, so wildcards aren’t as common as they once were. .
Nonetheless, this weekend’s British round of WorldSBK at Donington Park sees Tarran Mackenzie and Peter Hickman reminisce about the glory days with their own wildcards – can they repeat these unique classics?
Byrne shakes things up with Brands double
Shane Byrne (Monstermob Ducati) | Brands Hatch, UK – 2003
Of all the National Series, BSB has delivered the most headliners over the years with dozens of National Heroes arriving at Brands Hatch and Donington Park to both fly the flag and be a thorn in the side regulars.
John Reynolds made headlines in 2000 with victory in the Brands Hatch final, while he joined BSB sparring partner Chris Walker to steal the show at Donington Park earlier in the year.
However, Shane Byrne’s double success on the Monstermob Ducati in 2003 is the performance that lives on, with the Briton cementing his dominant run to the BSB title that year by demolishing his World Championship counterparts on home soil also in front of vast crowds.
Although it would take his 2008 BSB title to convince WorldSBK teams to put him on the grid, Byrne was untouchable that day as one of four (Ducati) riders to have tasted winners’ champagne all the season.
‘Super Sic’ sticks out his elbows
Marco Simoncelli (Alitalia Aprilia) | Imola, Italy – 2009
Few riders have such an impact ‘before’ arriving in MotoGP but (the tragically late) Marco Simoncelli was no ordinary rider, his daring attitude on the track and his charismatic rebound make him a fan favourite.
So much so that Aprilia gave him the opportunity to swap his Aprilia 250GP for an Aprilia RSV4 at a highly touted WorldSBK one-off at Imola.
Showing a quick learner as he transitioned from his flamboyant riding style to the RSV4, Simoncelli quickly established himself as a frontrunner, appearing far less experienced than he was.
Better yet, the fearless Italian even had the guts to ruffle Max Biaggi’s feathers with a chicane lunge that sidelined his esteemed teammate and eased his way to a famous podium.
Sykes secures future of Donington display
Tom Sykes (Rizla Suzuki) | Donington Park, UK – 2008
The 2008 BSB Championship was a zenith for the series in terms of both wildcards and exciting talent with each of the championship’s top four – Shane Byrne, Leon Haslam, Cal Crutchlow and Tom Sykes – earning a place on the world stage. for 2009.
However, among these was Sykes who might have settled for an extended stay at BSB had it not been for a grandstand performance at Donington Park.
Driving the ever-popular Rizla Suzuki, Sykes was on course for a shock victory at Donington Park after opening a four-second lead before a red flag halted proceedings. With the race restarted under global rules – meaning his lead was still intact despite a second standing start – Sykes battled with Troy Bayliss despite the Aussie being a fair distance down the road, just losing to the eventual champion.
Nonetheless, Sykes’ efforts caught the eye of Yamaha bosses, who signed him for 2009 before a move to Kawasaki for 2010 put him on the path to title glory in 2013.
Bostrom dominates WorldSBK rivals at Laguna
Ben Bostrom (Vance & Hines Ducati) | Laguna Seca, USA – 1999
One of the main contenders in the AMA Superbike Series at the height of the American series’ influence, Ben Bostrom established himself in the WorldSBK showcase with a superb wild-card outing at Laguna Seca.
Engaged in a season-long duel with Aussie Anthony Gobert on the Ducati Vance & Hines, the duo battled it out on the world stage at Laguna Seca, leaving the regulars to fight for victory.
They took one win each, but while Gobert’s success was already his seventh victory on the world stage, it was a first for the young Bostrom, who duly landed a full season contract with Ducati for 2000.
Biaggi back in force
Max Biaggi (Aprilia) | Sepang, Malaysia – 2015
After retiring at the height of his WorldSBK powers following his second title in 2012, there was strong speculation that Max Biaggi would one day return.
Although it will take another three years for that expectation to come true, he has proven tremendously that he still has what it takes to mix it up with the best that has emerged in his absence.
Choosing Sepang for his reappearance in the stands, Biaggi was back on form and on the podium, surpassing regular team-mates Leon Haslam and Jordi Torres in the process.
Japanese giants steal the show at home
Yuichi Takeda (Honda) vs. Noriyuki Haga (Yamaha) | Sugo, Japan – 1996
Why WorldSBK no longer travels to Japan for a round of a championship featuring three of its top manufacturers is anyone’s guess.
Indeed, it’s been nearly two decades since the series made the last of its popular visits to Sugo, an event that proved frustrating for regulars as they were often reduced to partial viewers at a show of local strength by various jokers. .
Akira Yanagawa, Hitoyasu Izutsu, Takuma Aoki, Keiichi Kitagawa, Akira Ryo and Makoto Tamada all won the home race, but Japan’s most famous battle for national honor went to Noriyuki Haga and Yuichi Takeda in 1996.
A high-profile fight between Yamaha (Haga) and Honda (Takeda), the pair fought for glory in Sugo, with victory going to the latter.
Still, Haga had come his way and – after picking up a win on his return to Sugo in 1997 as a wildcard – he began a career in WorldSBK which still puts him fourth on the all-time race winner list, despite never quite lifting the title trophy.
6 riders we want to see go wild in WorldSBK
Tarran Mackenzie…and just about any BSB driver
When we talk about WorldSBK wildcards, it’s hard not to think of a myriad of riders who have displayed their courage and determination against the world’s best over the years.
While a change in regulations has seen fewer ‘BSB vs The World’ offers in recent years, Tarran Mackenzie had planned to backtrack with his plot of three wildcard outings in 2022, although that appears to have been scaled back. to just the one that followed his pre-season injury.
There’s a litany of BSB riders we’d like to see take on the best at Donington Park, Assen and Portimao et al. although we would personally like to see Tom Sykes make a one-time return aboard the MCE Ducati to remind WorldSBK bosses what they are missing.
We also name Tommy Bridewell on the Oxford Ducati, Rory Skinner on the FS-3 Kawasaki and—for some variety—one of the Buildbase Suzuki riders is also lucky enough to stick his elbows out.
It’s hard to blame MotoGP’s smileiest winner, Danilo Petrucci, for his success at MotoAmerica last week, a double victory that’s a sure reminder that the Italian is still one of the most important and versatile talents around. of motorcycle racing.
By right, Petrucci is more than capable of rivaling his WorldSBK peers, while the stiffer and heavier Ducati Panigale V4 R package might actually be the stockier Petrucci’s preference.
With his MotoAmerica debut no doubt soothing his nerves, the two-time MotoGP rider is certainly high on Ducati’s priority list for a WorldSBK appearance before the end of the year.
The German IDM Superbike Championship may not be considered as star-studded as BSB, but it has produced strong performances over the years, including three-time champion Ilya Mikhalchik, who made waves on his WorldSBK debut at Aragon last weekend.
BMW SBK program leader Mikhalchik was called up to replace the injured Michael van der Mark and duly used his chance aboard the factory M 1000 RR to score a top ten start and finish for his debut. . He has since raced for the marque at Misano and Donington Park.
His eye-catching efforts – which have rather put his more experienced BMW teammates to shame – should do wonders for his WorldSBK stock, so perhaps another wild card in a place he knows well, like Most, could and should be on the cards for 2022.
It’s been a while since Japan has enjoyed a prominent presence in international motorcycle racing, but things have improved in recent years with Takaaki Nakagami showing off his MotoGP skills and Kohta Nozane stepping up to speed. in WorldSBK, while Ryo Mizuno and Takumi Takahashi made clear advances in BSB on the Honda too. The future also looks bright with Ai Ogura.
However, the candidate most likely to succeed “Nitro Nori” Haga in our affections – Katsuyuki Nakasuga – has chosen not to go global, preferring to ply his trade in his native Japan to devastating effect.
An 11-time All-Japan Superbike Championship title winner, Nakasuga has refused to make WorldSBK starts despite being an annual wild card for Japanese MotoGP at Motegi, while a few substitute performances at Valencia have even given in. sixth place and a podium to finish second in 2012.
You can nominate any MotoGP rider here for a WorldSBK wildcard, but of the 24 riders currently out there, Jack Miller would be in the best position to take on the big, good Superbike riders.
An Aussie who rides and races for fun, not just to pay the bills, Miller appeared at The Bend on a Ducati Panigale V4 R for the Australian Superbike Final and acquitted himself well on a largely production machine, scoring a podium.
Given that the MotoGP season will be over and dusted off by the time WorldSBK moves to its Phillip Island finale in November, we remain hopeful that Australia’s first motorcycle rider will make a headlining appearance.
Maybe it pushes the limits of what’s possible, but many have dreamed of seeing Valentino Rossi give WorldSBK a chance and if his MotoGP career hadn’t lasted two or three more seasons, there’s a chance that at least a handful of wild card outings may have taken place.
Ultimately, his only foray into Superbike was an appearance at the Suzuka 8 Hours, although it was at least a winning corner alongside Colin Edwards.
Still, with Rossi able to get plenty of track time at Misano on a Yamaha R1 (or Ducati Panigale V4 R via his VR46 connections) amid a fairly loose GT World Championship schedule, one would hope he might just be ready to appear for the Rimini round of WorldSBK.
It’s if his free time isn’t taken up with the arrival of his new little girl…