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WorldSBK 2022: Rea's revenge or Razgatlioglu retains?

WorldSBK 2022 is nearly here. April 11 sees the start of a new championship - year 35 on the formerly Roman-based calendar.

The final off-season private tests have been completed and now the 24 regular WorldSBK machines (and nearly that number of regular riders, as things stand with the injury list) are heading to Motorland Aragon for the first of 12 rounds - in old money. That’s a full 36 individual races - in new money.

Tempting to think that as 2022 looks and feels like the most normal season for two years, it has also been a particularly long winter. It feels like it at least, with no Australian start in late February, as has happened in most seasons except 2021.


Worth remembering that we finished up in late November last year, via a remarkable finale at the new Mandalika track. Our perspectives of time and place have just been pushed forward, and gently stretched a little, with this season starting on the weekend of 8-10 April. Two days of official pre-season testing, between 4-5 April, precede Round one in Spain.

This is by no means my first rodeo when it comes to predicting what may or may not happen before a new season. Every year it has been easy to look at the entry list and think, “Oh yeah, even these ones should go well too…”

Experience, however, reminds us (via a niggling whisper from the back of our combined memory banks) that there are never quite as many potential world champions in reality as there are projected be at this time of year.

That said, we start this season with a new champion that only really true-blue Yamaha staff or supporters ‘knew’ would come out on top in 2022. It was not a surprise that Toprak Razgatlioglu came good with the big title win, but it was by no means a certainty this time last year.

Nonetheless, Toprak finally had all the Pata Yamaha tools at hand last year to let him take on the six-in-a row GOAT in Kawasaki green, Jonathan Rea, and then beat them.

2021 in general was a two rider slug-fest, with self-inflicted crashes, falls, tech fails, blue-on-blue nerfings, official sanctions and whole mess of on and off track spats. We loved it all, of course, and the ‘we’ were larger in scale last year than many previous seasons. Add in the nearly, nearly there effort from Scott Redding and the still awesome V4R Ducati last year and it was actually a 2.5 man-machine fight for the title, with other riders piling in with race wins and podiums.

So how are we looking for crowning the king, new or otherwise, in 2022?

Raz/R1 v Rea/Ninja should be epic again this year, partly as they and their podium grasping team-mates Andrea Locatelli and (a seemingly fully fit) Alex Lowes are both back alongside them next year. But maybe nobody is truly thinking ‘Loka’ or Alex will be champions this year.

So, we need another gilt-edged potential champion to spice things up even more in 2022, surely?
Try these fresh knee-sliders on a potential new champion’s suit.

Alvaro Bautista is quite in small stature in a physical terms, but his big talent. In his rookie WorldSBK season of 2019 he and his Ducati V4R cast a giant red shadow that ranged out over the full WorldSBK skyline. It blotted out the other potential stars for a long time - until Rea and Kawasaki came good as Bautista/Ducati self-immolated in a wildly unpredictable way.


After two tougher than expected HRC years in ’20 and ‘21, ‘Bau-Bau’ is back in the other shade of racing red again, and back into it big time as a championship contender; if test times are any indicator, at least. He has learned many lessons over three years, so you cannot write him off, even at 37.

Could anybody else, on Yamahas, Kawasakis, Ducatis or even the 2021 next level down BMWs or Hondas, challenge for the championship?
Of the established recent race winners, Michael van der Mark suffered what seems like a significant lower right leg break in a training accident, so his early season misfortune may well do his overall chances in. As may a BMW that is still playing catch-up, so far at least.

Scott ‘Never-write-him-off’ Redding? Well, maybe half a season and some more advances with the official BMW under him will allow him to get more wins, and be in late-season contention. But will he be able to be a genuine contender, simply because of his change of team, and a motorcycle with just one wet WorldSBK race win to its credit so far?

Talent is not the issue for many other top WorldSBK riders, even if many of the up-and comers are still to take their first WorldSBK race win. So we are, for the moment, counting out the likes of Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha) and Locatelli as truly potential champions.


Other top WorldSBK runners already have race victories under their belts, most notably Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Ducati factory squad), with four. He could be a surprise contender this year, possibly helped by his team-mate Bautista being more or less the same build as him. Allied to some changes to the Ducati to try and make it more consistent, nothing is impossible for Rinaldi, because he is fast and factory-supported. An outside bet, however.

The wildest of wildcard prospects before the championship has started? If the kind of race crashes that held Bautista back so much for the past two years on Honda are eradicated by the raft of new technical partnerships, then rookie rider Iker Lecuona’s good recent testing pace on the straight-line rocket ship Fireblade could see him there or thereabouts.

Never underestimate the riders who have all that experience of the GP paddock, even if it was mostly in Moto2. He’s started 30 MotoGP races, not just a couple and is probably the new-look HRC’s best hope.

But this year, for Lecuona to be a champion first time out? That would be an even more astounding feat than Razgatlioglu, Yamaha and Crescent Racing toppling the GOAT and all his herders last year.
Are there really more potential champions than last year? Probably not, if we swap Bautista for Redding at least. But the great thing about racing is that you never quite know when the next champion will take that final step to greatness.

Now, will there be new first time race winners in 2022? That’s another thing entirely… Gerloff, Lecuona, Locatelli, Xavi Vierge, Axel Bassani… Those are just a few with ambitions on that score, and packages underneath them fit to win at least one race - if things go their way. And that’s before we get to proven winners of the past, from Bonovo Action BMW, Eugene Laverty and Loris Baz.

Almost anything could happen in the fight for individual race podiums in 2022, thank goodness.

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