Leading the way with the #1 plate is 2010 WSBK Champion Max Biaggi of the Aprilia Alitalia team. Thanks to Biaggi, Aprilia captured the rider and manufacturer championships in just its second year of competition with the RSV4 Factory superbike. Biaggi will be teamed once again with Leon Camier who scored three podium appearances and eight top-five finishes in 2010.
Noriyuki Haga will add a fourth RSV4 Factory to the grid in his first season with the Pata Racing satellite team. Haga had a disappointing 2010 season by his standards, finishing sixth for his lowest placing since a seventh-place showing in 1999. Haga still managed to win two races and score an additional four podium appearances for the now defunct factory Ducati team, but it remains to be seen how he’ll perform after switching to a different Italian bike.
The Bologna-based manufacturer may have shuttered its factory WSBK effort but there will still be at least four Ducati superbikes on the grid. Carlos Checa presents Ducati fans their best hope for the title this season, coming off a third place finish last year with the Althea Racing satellite squad. Checa set the fastest lap at the final pre-season test at Phillip Island, with his 1:30.578 time breaking the circuit superpole lap record by half a second. To provide some perspective, Casey Stoner’s fastest lap at last year’s Phillip Island MotoGP round was 1:30.4, making Checa an early favorite for this weekend’s round.
Also riding Ducati machines are Sylvain Guintoli and Jakub Smrz on the Effenbert-Liberty team and Maxime Berge on the Supersonic team. Guintoli was second to Checa at the Phillip Island test while Smrz was fourth, showing the Ducati 1198R still has the potential to win.
Kawasaki will be looking to challenge with the new 2011 version of the ZX-10R with a three-rider line-up of former MotoGP racer Chris Vermeulen, Tom Sykes and Joan Lascorz. Vermeulen will miss the opening round as he continues to recover from knee surgery last July and isn’t expected to return until the fourth round at England’s Donington Park in late March. Sykes showed some improvement through the 2010 season with top ten finishes in the five of the last six rounds while Lascorz set a faster lap than Biaggi at the Phillip Island test.
As the newest machine on the grid, the 2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R will draw a lot of attention. Besides the threesome on the works machines, Kawasaki will be represented by Team Pedercini riders Roberto Rolfo and Mark Aitchison.
BMW will have four S1000RR superbikes on the grid with Troy Corser and Leon Haslam on the factory team and James Toseland and Ayrton Badovini on the BMW Motorrad Italia team. BMW entered the WSBK championship the same year Aprilia did, but without the Italian manufacturer’s motorcycle racing heritage, BMW’s progression hasn’t been as quick. The addition of Haslam to the team will help. Haslam finished second in the 2010 championship with three wins and 14 podium finishes, but his best results came in the first half of the season.
Toseland will be looking to regain his form on the BMW Italy team. The two-time WSBK Champion will be joined by Badovini who dominated the 2010 World Superstock Championship, winning all but the final race of the season.
Yamaha will have two entries in Eugene Laverty and former MotoGP racer Marco Melandri riding the YZF-R1. Laverty finished second in the 2009 and 2010 World Supersport Championships while Melandri, the 2002 250cc Grand Prix World Champion, will be making his WSBK debut this season and he is still not 100% after off-season shoulder surgery so it may take several rounds for him to find his form.
There will only be two full time Honda racers this season, with Jonathan Rea and Ruben Xaus racing in the iconic Castrol Honda red, white and green. Rea had a scare at Phillip Island, with a 130 mph crash sending him to the hospital with hand and wrist injuries. X-rays revealed no fractures in the wrist and Rea says he hopes to compete in the season opener. Before the crash, Rea was setting fast lap times and if healthy, will pose a threat for the world title. Xaus will be trying to rebound from a disappointing two years with BMW.
Michel Fabrizio will be the lone Suzuki regular on the 2011 WSBK tour. The former Ducati factory racer and the Suzuki Alstare may appear to be underdogs this season, but both Fabrizio and the team have provent rack records.
Fabrizio won’t be the only GSX-R1000 rider at Phillip Island however as Yoshimura Suzuki and former Australian Superbike Champion Josh Waters will race as a wild card entry.