The 2023 WorldSBK Championship resumes at Assen this weekend with six-time champion Jonathan Rea - as ever - fronting the home charge over the North Sea with a new member of the ‘Brit Pack’ in tow, British Superbike Champion (BSB) Brad Ray.
While a bright new future awaits the bespectacled fan favourite, Rea arrives in the Netherlands after an extended break hoping not to pick up where he left off, which was precisely picking himself off the floor after crashing out of race two.
But with 17 wins at Assen alone to the good, the Ulsterman is the rider most likely to take the fight to the unstoppable Alvaro Bautista, according to our James Whitham…
So, which of the British riders is going to come out fighting this weekend, and how will Brad fare on his long awaited debut?
“I am rather hoping that Jonathan cheers me up at a place where, going back years, he has had his most incredible rides, some nothing short of spectacular when he was on the Ten Kate Honda. I’ve never seen a bloke ride a bike like he did round there and I’m hoping he raises his game because whatever is happening with the Kawasaki, where he’s been mired down with all sorts of shenanigans, we need him to be competitive.”
But Kawasaki are confessing that their bike is quite old and they need something
much newer… is the ZX-10RR really past its best now, even for a rider like Johnny?
“Well, they wanted upgrades and I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t get some because it was quite obvious that Ducati were going to be spectacularly fast this year based on what they did last year. I think the organisers were a bit steady in not addressing that and giving Kawasaki the extra 500rpm they wanted and which would have helped.
“Yamaha is a good bike but certainly nowhere as quick as the Ducati… more specifically a Ducati with a very confident Bautista on it. So I do hope that Jonathan can get something of a season going, likewise Toprak although he has never dominated there as he has at other places.”
Let’s talk about Brad - can he continue the rich tradition of BSB Champions making it big on the world stage?
“Going through the Brits, Alex Lowes is a benchmarker for what Kawasaki is capable of and I think anything more Jonathan does on it is due to him and not the bike. It is a brilliant first round for Brad Ray because he knows the place and he knows the bike, although he hasn’t ridden here for a bit, the bike will suit the place.
“I also think that Brad doesn’t have to do anything silly. I don’t want him thinking it is his best chance for a result because he knows it so well and making a mess of it. He still has to think about the long game and he now has a full season with all the European rounds. He doesn’t have to impress straight away at the expense of taking a risk. I think Brad would be really happy with a top ten.”
How about the rest of our lads; Scott Redding is having a tricky start to the season on the BMW…
“Scott’s ability isn’t in question and nobody likes to admit they’ve been struggling. I know the team well and they’re all good people. Brits for the most part, and Shaun [Muir] who runs the job is organised, intelligent and they’re doing what they can but there seems to be some kind of disconnect at that level with the German factory side of the team, there always has been.
“I hope this year is when they turn it around. Struggling? Yes, I guess they are. They tend to go their own way, with electronics for example. However, it was very encouraging at Silverstone with Josh Brooks and the new M 1000 RR.
“But there were a lot of mitigating circumstances with quite different electronics regulations for BSB and a short Silverstone circuit that is quite different to anywhere else and doesn’t represent anywhere else, even in the UK.
“It’s a quick bike so no problem with speed in WorldSBK, except perhaps Ducati, but that can’t always transfer to race results.”
We must not forget about Taz Mackenzie in WorldSSP too…
”They’re developing that Honda to fit the rules they’ve been given. Every single bike in that championship is assessed individually and given regulations to try and balance the performance. For the most part it’s worked quite well but they don’t have Scott Smart tweaking those results every other weekend.
“He was really good but is not working for them now. That means the rules might be a bit stagnant for now and some bikes might develop into better ones than others. It has to be fairly fluid when you are trying to balance bikes across the season, different configurations etc.
“Once Honda can get a bike fit for purpose I think Taz will be able to run at the front, which he proved in the wet - which is always a great leveller - at Phillip Island. If he can get an engine he’ll be able to perform, maybe this weekend.
“We also have our two other British representatives - Harry Truelove and John McPhee. The WorldSSP offers the opportunity of finishing in the top ten if you’ve got something which is competitive. McPhee, coming in from Moto3, has surprised me a couple of times this year and Truelove knows Assen, so we will see.”