World Superbike format shake-up as Jonathan Rea pursues fifth title
Jonathan Rea left the World Superbike Championship record books in tatters following a stunning 2018 when he raced to a record fourth consecutive title, but the Kawasaki Racing Team rider enters the New Year with a new challenge and a new three-race format when he starts the defence of his title in Phillip Island, Australia from February 22-24.
In another attempt to spice-up the championship (or is it another attempt to stifle Rea's dominance?), organisers have added a 10-lap sprint race to the programme on Sunday mornings for 2019 alongside the usual Saturday and Sunday feature length races.
The sprint race will have new reduced points of 12 for a win, nine for second position, seven for third and six down to one for fourth to ninth, with the two main races scoring the normal championship points.
Ten riders ahead of the new season have won 181 WSBK races between them, Rea of course on top with an incredible 71 victories followed by Tom Sykes 34, Chas Davies 29, Marco Melandri 22, Eugene Laverty 13, Leon Haslam five, Ryuichi Kiyonari three, Michael van der Mark two, and Alex Lowes and Jordi Torres one each.
New machines and teams will spice things up in 2019, with the all-new Ducati V4 Panigales in the hands of ex-MotoGP rider Alvaro Bautista, Davies and Michael Rinaldi, and the Go Eleven Team of Laverty is expected to take the fight to the updated Kawasakis of Rea and Haslam, the factory supported BMWs of Sykes and Markus Reiterberger, Lowes and Van der Mark, Melandri and Sandro Cortese on factory Yamahas and the new Honda SBK effort in collaboration with Moriwaki, HRC and the Italian Althea concern replacing Ten Kate with Leon Camier and Ryuichi Kiyonari.
Rea is looking forward to the challenge saying: "I'm statistically the best Superbike rider in the world with another two seasons in front of me. It's a great feeling and one I've worked really hard to achieve.
"Winning does become an obsession for both myself and the team and we will continue to dial in the updated Kawasaki at the tests prior to Phillip Island and then take each race as it comes.
"I'm just having fun riding the bike and enjoying every minute of it."
Many people's Road Racer of the Year, Peter Hickman (Smiths/Carl Cox BMW) won a dramatic 10-lap Robert Holden Memorial race at Wanganui's Cemetery Circuit in New Zealand, sweeping past celebrating local star Scott Moir (Suzuki) metres from the chequered flag to become the first non-Japanese manufacturer and first international rider to win this prestigious race held in memory of the Kiwi rider kiled during TT practice in 1996.
Josh Hanlon won the Ards Club Trial with the promoting club's Stuart McClurg, Russell Houston and Phillip McClurg taking the Team Award. Ryan Farquhar finished seventh in the Sportsman Class, losing just two marks.