The History of World Superbike

1988-2011 WSBK History

For the hardcore motorcycle-racing enthusiast, February spells a different kind of romance than just Valentine’s Day – it signals the start of the FIM World Superbike Championship.

World Superbike (aka World SBK, WSBK, or just SBK) has evolved exponentially since its inception in 1988 when the nascent series broke ground as a production-based motorcycle-racing program.

The appeal of WSBK was the fact that teams were running production motorcycles (highly modified, but none the less production-based). Superbike racing fans could see the same motorcycles that were on their local dealership’s floor mixing it up at speed on racetrack.

After humble beginnings the World Superbike Championship came under the guidance of the Italian Flammini Group (FGSports) in the early 90s. American sensation, Doug Polen, brought the series unprecedented exposure when the Texan dominated his rookie year in 1991, winning the title, and successfully defending the crown in 1992.

This helped ignite a powerful Ducati presence in the series, creating an engaging competition between the Italian powerhouse and the major Japanese motorcycle manufacturers (Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Yamaha) that lasts to this day.

The Flammini Group grew the series, securing prominent venues and developing a strong television package, bringing the racing to an immense viewership. By the mid-90s WSBK was on par with MotoGP in terms of fan loyalty and coverage. An important element embraced by World SBK was an atmosphere of access to its stars. Unlike MotoGP, fans were able to get close to their favorite riders.

In the 22 years since its inception, the World Superbike championship has had a major impact on the development and engineering of modern sport motorcycles. As manufacturers chased the increasingly significant WSBK crown-fast becoming a vital marketing tool-it drove rapid evolution in sport bike technology, with the consumer reaping the rewards.

By the end of the 90s every many superbike manufacturer was deeply involved with World SBK. Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, Ducati, Benelli, and Aprilia (and for a while Petronas) all had a major presence. A WSBK title sold a lot of motorcycles. In response, the manufacturers poured more backing into their race teams and the Superbike series continued to grow.

In 2004 the series adopted a controlled tire rule to ensure all of the teams were on equal equipment. Pirelli won the bid to be the exclusive supplier to the series. The controversial decision has since proven itself a wise move, creating closer racing and helping Pirelli to push development of their product, which is passed along to the products they sell to the public.

In 2008 the Flammini Group merged with Infront Motorsports and was rebranded Infront Sports & Media. The 2009 season saw a record seven manufacturers; Ducati, Aprilia, Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki, and BMW (as well as Triumph in Supersport) compete in the premiere class with 32 series’ regulars lining up on grids all over the world.

As a result, the World Superbike title chase has become one of the most hotly contested global championships.

Regulations put into place in 2008 allowed two-cylinder machines (Ducati) to have an engine capacity of 1200cc while in-line 4-cylinder motorcycles are limited to 1000cc. The minimum weight limit for Superbikes remains 162kg for four-cylinder machines and 168kg for two-cylinder 1200cc machines.

This rule change was made to allow all manufacturers to continue competing in the championship while maintaining a fair but competitive challenge. It also ensured that manufacturers developing V-Twins (namely Ducati) would still be inclined toward continued participation.

For 2011 WSBK visits thirteen world-class venues, with the two-race format delivering a total of 26 World Championship points-paying races. The World Superbike Championship series-with its electrifying Saturday Superpole qualifying-kicks off February 27th in Phillip Island, Australia.

The Down Under locale has become the annual start point of the series and is typically a showcase for new team/rider combinations and new machinery, all looking to claim the World Superbike Title.

World Superbike History | Past Champions

2010
Max Biaggi
Aprilia

2009
Ben Spies
Yamaha

2008
Troy Bayliss
Ducati

2007
James Toseland
Honda

2006
Troy Bayliss
Ducati

2005
Troy Corser
Suzuki

2004
James Toseland
Ducati

2003
Neil Hodgson
Ducati

2002
Colin Edwards
Honda

2001
Troy Bayliss
Ducati

2000
Colin Edwards
Honda

1999
Carl Fogarty
Ducati

1998
Carl Fogarty
Ducati

1997
John Kocinski
Honda

1996
Troy Corser
Ducati

1995
Carl Fogarty
Ducati

1994
Carl Fogarty
Ducati

1993
Scott Russell
Kawasaki

1992
Doug Polen
Ducati

1991
Doug Polen
Ducati

1990
Raymond Roche
Ducati

1989
Fred Merkel
Honda

1988
Fred Merkel
Honda 

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