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Shake-up to affect world champion Jonathan Rea's bid for treble

By Paul lLindsay

A well-respected broadcaster has already commented: 'The lunatics have taken over the asylum' following the implementation of some strange new rules for next season's Race Two format in the World Superbike Championship.

In short, our very own reigning and double World champion Jonathan Rea - and his only genuine peers signed up for the 2017 series so far, Kawasaki Racing Team team-mate Tom Sykes and Aruba Ducati's Chaz Davies - will effectively be penalised for being too fast.

Next season's handicap, which the Superbike Commission - the governing body for the World Superbike Championship - has implemented, is an attempt to try and spice up Sunday's feature Race Two, and possibly push some aspiring title contenders into the spotlight.

The major shake-up is to the grid positions for World Superbike Race Two, which will see the riders who finish from first through to ninth place in Race One having their grid positions re-shuffled in a complex formula.

The riders who finish Race One in fourth, fifth and sixth positions will start race two from the front row of the grid in first, second and third. The riders who finish Race One in seventh, eighth and ninth will start on row two in fourth, fifth and sixth positions on the grid.

This is where it gets even more interesting, and is more likely to affect Ulsterman Rea negatively as he targets a third straight World crown.

The winner of Race One on a Saturday will start Sunday's second race from ninth position on row three of the grid. The rider who finishes second on the podium in Race One will start in eighth position and the third-placed man in race one will start from seventh.

In short, the podium finishers in race one are demoted to the third row of the grid and their positions reversed for Race Two.

The remaining positions from Superpole qualifying will remain the same from 10th place onwards. That means if you fail to finish race one in the top nine, the best you can hope for is 10th place on the grid depending on your qualifying time.

It all sounds a bit complicated in an attempt to make the racing more exciting by forcing the podium finishers in race one to fight through traffic from the third row of the grid in Sunday's Race Two.

Penalising success is more akin to a handicap race in horse racing, and by adding obstacles (slower riders) for the leading Championship contenders it not only contravenes the ethos of World Championship racing but also adds an element of danger and potential gamesmanship.

Riders who find themselves in a battle for third place in Race One may feel that fourth place, which offers pole position in race two with the new format, is a better option than starting on row three.

And will the new rules appease or excite the already dwindling crowds who attend the series? Many fans haven't quite taken to the changes in effect for 2016 - with races split over two days instead of the hugely popular Sunday double-header.

It's a tough one to call, but with Rea, Sykes and Davies sharing virtually all 26 race wins between them in 2016, it's hard to see 20 or 30m of extra track in front of them, being much of an obstacle.

Surely with the introduction of leading riders like Eugene Laverty, Marco Melandri and Stefan Bradl, this crazy new rule wasn't needed.

Belfast Telegraph

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