New season promises new challenges and WorldSSP (World Supersport) is certainly the series to look to in terms of challenges. Revving up to the magical Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit from 24th-26th February, the ever competitive class is about to enter a new season, and the challenge for the title will continue to be hotly contested amongst the world’s best production riders.
Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) suffered a blow to his title defense campaign as he was forced to fly home from the Official two day Phillip Island test on Tuesday night, and announced he is to sit out of the opening rounds of the season. After an injury sustained over winter, the Turkish rider chose to miss the remainder of his team’s winter testing plan, before he flew over to Australia to try out his fitness. Completing over 30 laps across the two days it was decided that despite his top six pace he will return home to rehabilitate. Potentially missing out on 50 points in the opening rounds, Sofuoglu won’t be too disheartened – in 2016 he went into the third round of the season with an 18 point deficit and suffered two DNFs, but still came out as champion.
Moving over to MV Agusta for the 2017 season, PJ Jacobsen (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) will be looking to get back to winning ways in the World Supersport series as he makes the switch to the Italian factory. The American begins his fourth full season in the class and is no stranger to the twists and turns of Phillip Island, securing a top five finish around the circuit last season. Proving he has a fast pace ahead of the season kick off, Jacobsen ended the Official two day Phillip Island test on the top of the timing sheets which means he will be able to take confidence into the season ahead.
A clear contender to bring the fight to Sofuoglu this year is Jules Cluzel (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda), as he embarks on a new season with a new team. Bouncing back from a tough mid-part of the season last year, the Frenchman was back to his winning ways in the closing rounds of 2016. He will be hoping to continue this run of form aboard the Honda, and with two team-mates in Robin Mulhauser and Hikaro Okubo he won’t be short of support and even some tight competition.
GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team are starting their season with Lucas Mahias and Federico Caricasulo as the Japanese factory returns with a factory supported effort for 2017. Mahias moves up alongside the Yamaha team, with whom he had great success in the STK1000 series in the latter stages of the season – he finished on the podium in three out of the final four races. Meaning it will make for a smoother switch for the Frenchman. Italian Caricasulo provides a seasons worth of WorldSSP knowledge, on top of a strong record around the Australian track. Taking second position in his debut finish around the testing Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit last year, Caricasulo brings positive memories and a strong understanding of the season ahead.
It would be hard to ignore the new addition to the WorldSSP grid; Kallio Racing Team as we head into a new season. Originally a one-event team for the final three European rounds of 2016, they dazzled as Nikki Tuuli secured three podium finishes in as many races. Ran by former MotoGP™ rider Mika Kallio, the experience behind the team certainly won’t be lacking. Heading to Phillip Island with duo of Tuuli and Sheridan Morias, they will offer a variety of knowledge around the stunning circuit. South African Morias boasts a wealth of experience in Australia but is yet to secure a podium finish there, so they will work together in order to get the best potential out of their YZF R6 machines.
Joining Sofuoglu aboard the Kawasaki ZX-6R will be young Brit Kyle Ryde (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing), moving onto his second season in the World Supersport series. Last season saw Ryde have a strong start to his weekend Down Under; qualifying in ninth position but crashed in a practice session, which meant his race performance suffered. An unsettled 2016 brought the 19 year old some tough results; however signing for Puccetti Racing will give Ryde the chance to showcase his true potential.
Profile Racing enter 2017 with a British duo of riders at the helm in Luke Stapleford and Stefan Hill, as they hope to bring the Truimph Daytona 675 up into podium contention for 2017. Ending last season on a high, Leicestershire’s Stapleford took pole position in a stunning Superpole session under the floodlights, at Losail International Circuit. He will be hoping to take this strong feeling into the new season, and the adrenaline fueled Phillip Island is a good place to start. Teamed with fellow Brit Hill, the pair will no doubt be working together to bring their machine up to the best of its potential.
Other teams worth a mention heading into the season opener, which kicks off on 24th February at 9.45AM LT (+ 11) are GEMAR Team Lorini, who with Aiden Wagner and Kyle Smith, who won the closing round of 2016 in the closest race of the season. Team Kawasaki Go Eleven have signed WorldSSP regular Gino Rea to take on the tight 2017 season as he’s accompanied by Kazuki Watanabe, who takes on his first season in the closely fought WorldSSP series.
As always the WorldSSP season is set to be a closely fought battle and the famous Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit is the best place to kick off the drama.