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WorldSBK 2022: Whitham discusses title favourites

Making a welcome return to Eurosport in 2022, James Whitham will be the voice of wisdom when WorldSBK returns to Motorland Aragon this weekend and before flying out to Alcaniz, he sat down with bikesportnews.com to chew over the year ahead:

BSN: Although the publicity from Dorna suggests this this year will be much better than last year it seems like a two-horse race as the two best riders, Toprak and Jonathan, are on the two best bikes, Kawasaki and Yamaha, and it’s not going to be easy for Honda or BMW to get past them, is it?

JW: There’s some truth in that and the two favourites are going to be just those two. The good thing about it is that Jonathan has a plan and he impressed me quite a lot when we recently had breakfast together when he came over to see some friends in England and called in to see Lee Johnston.


He is not too upset with the championship that he lost last year. He said ‘I want to fight, I don’t want to win what people see as a one-horse race. I want to have a scrap and am quite prepared to roll my sleeves up and am looking forward to having another crack after addressing some of the problems which I think we had.’

He was very determined, looking forward to battles with Toprak and racing that was competitive. He recognises that he has to get better with the front end and go some way to matching Toprak in that area.

So, there is a hint of truth in what you’re saying that they are the two favourites. But I don’t think you can underestimate Alvaro Bautista who before has been what you might call the flawed genius. He led the 2019 series by, I think, something like 115 points and still Jonathan wrested it from him in the end. But it looks like, maybe, he has rekindled his love affair with the V4 Ducati and if testing time are anything to go by, he may be the man to beat and, with a fair wind and certainly at some circuits, challenge for the championship.

Yes, he did throw it away quite a lot and has already started leaping off a little bit this year, but I do feel that Bautista will, on occasion, have the speed. I still think that Ducati is a good bike and while teams have made tweaks there’s nothing really new in terms of development which has been allowed by Scott Smart. Bikes will start virtually where they left off last year and I expect the Ducati to be fairly rapid.

BSN: So, you’re saying that the Ducati is going to be the best bike on the grid which confirms what Tom Sykes was saying after that test at Misano. He said he just couldn’t see that Scott Redding on the BMW would have been the bike to beat anyone on a Ducati.

JW: Well, I think what Tom said was that if Scott couldn’t beat Toprak, and he was quite brutal, or Jonathan on what he considers the best bikes he’s not going to do it on anything else. I don’t know whether I would agree with that, but I do think the Ducati is still a damned good bike. And yes, the Yamaha is a really good bike but not in terms of speed. It is a typical Yamaha, not outstanding in any area but very, very good as a package.

As to the other teams I would think that Honda and BMW with the investment they have already put in would expect to be nearer the front than they are at the moment. That is not to say it is an easy thing they are trying to do especially with this testing limit.

That’s not to say it is not going to be an interesting championship. Although last year there weren’t five riders battling at the front, but the battles were fantastic, so I think we are in for a good championship.

Other things to note, there are six rookies this year and while I don’t think they’ll be challenging for the championship or maybe even the podium there is one called Iker Lecuona, ex-MotoGP, who is looking pretty strong for Honda. He is possibly not going to have a winning bike underneath him, but he is certainly capable of running near the front.


Same goes for Redding in that he’s already saying he doesn’t think he’s a got the bike to do the job which is a shame because he was one of the people last year that made the championship what it was. But you never know with Scott. He likes to play it down but sometimes has more speed than he lets on. Rinaldi needs to step up but whether he can I’m not so sure. I can’t really see anybody who I haven’t mentioned making a challenge.

BSN: Let’s talk briefly about the British Superbike Championship which starts over Easter weekend at Silverstone and particularly about the move of Tom Sykes and Leon Haslam to BSB. Tom seems to have got all the publicity and Leon very little. What are their chances of making a big mark in the home series?”

JW: I think for both of them it is going to be a bit of a challenge. A couple of things - first they are going to be racing on completely different circuits to where they have been. It’s one thing to be quick at Portimao, Misano or wherever else they go in a world championship although Scott Redding, never even having seen British circuits made it work for him a couple of years ago which was very impressive.

Starting with Tom first I am absolutely convinced that he will have the speed, he is still an unbelievably quick rider. Even in what may turn out to have been his last season in World Superbikes he would qualify on pole or front row virtually every single weekend. He is a fast, fast man.


My question about Tom is that he has got to be prepared to get his elbows out and do some scratching with people who will be determined to put one over him. I’m sure he is up for it, knows all the circuits and has the bike and the team to do it. But I still think he is going to need fire in his belly.

Leon is, quite possibly, the other way round. He is on a Kawasaki and he knows the Kawasaki. He is with a good team who know how to win races. He is the opposite to Tom in that Leon is bang up for it. He will be racing tractors when he is 60. That’s how he is. He really wants to get stuck in and he is not concerned with any of the circuits.

I don’t think he’ll have the pace round some of the circuits that Tom will have with the Ducati but that’s not to say that Tom is going to clear off and win, you’ve got to race to do that.

Tarran Mackenzie, the reigning champ, is unbelievably determined, prepared to push the limits and will have the pace. We saw that last year. Josh Brookes, if he can rekindle his old pace and the tests at Snetterton showed he could, then who knows? Tommy Bridewell, who on his day like last year at Oulton Park where he trounced everybody. There thing about BSB is that it is absolutely never a foregone conclusion and one of the reasons is that we have different circuits, a lot of riders can win races and a lot of bikes can win races which you don’t get so much in World Superbikes.

BSN: So, if you were forced to make a prediction, do you think Tarran is capable of retaining his title?

JW: Ah ha, I think he is capable of it but it is not going to be easy. He was injured pre-season and is still a bit sore. And all this testing in Spain which riders do is not necessarily good prep for wheat might turn out to be a wet and cold Silverstone. But the other man I haven’t mentioned but has definitely got the pace to do it is Jason O’Halloran who dominated the championship for the first half of last year. If he can put a run together, who knows.

But while it can be said that BSB is more unpredictable than WorldSBK in that there are probably more people who can win races I still think we have a good world championship in prospect.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m involved in it and certainly better than when Jonathan was dominating it. He is looking forward to mixing it this year…

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