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Superbike shakeup

Both the Moto GP and World Superbike series will sport different looks on the grid next year – with a larger-than-usual number of rider and technical changes in both classes.

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Both the Moto GP and World Superbike series will sport different looks on the grid next year – with a larger-than-usual number of rider and technical changes in both classes.

The 2008 season finished up for both groups over the past two weekends. Champions had already been determined, with Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi back on top in Moto GP and Aussie star Troy Bayliss of Ducati taking his third Superbike title into retirement.

World Superbike

This should be the most interesting series to watch, as two new manufacturers enter the fray.

The Italian Aprilia firm is debuting a brand-new V4 machine, unique to the company in that its big sport bikes have all been V-twins.

The other new entry is BMW, which is entering a Japanese-looking machine that features an inline across-the-frame four-cylinder engine.

For riders, Aprilia has picked up Max Biaggi, one of the most successful Italian racers ever. He’ll be partnered by Shinya Nakano who, in spite of an excellent season in Moto GP on a satellite-team Honda (he finished ninth overall), didn’t get a ride in the class for 2009.

Both racers come from the world of 125 and 250 cc GP bikes and have similar styles (smooth, flowing, high corner speeds), which should make development a little easier. Both riders are considered talented at developing new equipment (Nakano may have the edge) – so if the engine works, Aprilia should soon be a force.

BMW has gone a different route, hiring a rider who’s superb on development and is known as an intellectual racer. Australian Troy Corser is coming off a term with the Yamaha factory team, run by Yamaha Motor Italia.

The two-time series champ (in 1996 and 2005) will be partnered by Spaniard Ruben Xaus who, although also a WSB veteran, is much younger and considerably more enthusiastic.

With three-time world champion Bayliss retiring, there will be changes in the factory Ducati squad as well. It has hired Japanese wildman Noriyuki Haga to replace Bayliss. Haga has never won the title, although he’s been second twice and third three times. Like Bayliss, he’s a crowd favourite, popular in the paddock, and exciting to watch. He’ll team with Michel Fabrizio, who’s going into his third season with the factory squad despite an up-and-down record.

Yamaha Motor Italia has hired two young guns to replace veterans Haga and Corser. American Ben Spies, three-time U.S. superbike champ, jumped from Suzuki when the factory didn’t offer him the Moto GP ride he wanted.

He’ll be joined by young British rider Tom Sykes, who is also jumping from a Suzuki team – the Rizla-sponsored U.K. Superbike contender, on which he finished fourth.

The satellite Ducati squad of Sterilgarda Go Eleven, which lost both its riders (Xaus and Biaggi), has hired new British champion “Shakey” Byrne, who will race with young Italian Alex Polita, who is moving up from a WSB support class.

Moto GP

Things aren’t any more settled in Moto GP, where Kentucky rider Nicky Hayden is leaving Honda after nine years to join Aussie Casey Stoner at Ducati. Hayden’s replacement at Honda is Italian Andrea Dovizioso, who is going into only his second season at the Moto GP level.

Kawasaki is also swapping half of its team, as the struggling Anthony West returns to the 600 cc World Supersport class – replaced by Italian Marco Melandri, who had a horrible year as Stoner’s Ducati teammate and is pleased to have gotten the Kawasaki ride. He’ll partner American John Hopkins, who also had a bad 2008 – although his poor showing was largely due to injury.

The biggest news from Moto GP is that there will be a single tire supplier in 2009: Bridgestone.

The Japanese company has had the better of Michelin over the past two seasons and many riders have been vocal about changing.

Moto GP series owners decided to take bids from suppliers – to avoid the friction and complaints that tires rather than riders were determining race results – and only Bridgestone stepped forward.

Larry Tate covers motorcycle racing for Wheels. He can be reached at larryt@primus.ca

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