Back in the good ol’ days – in the early nineties – Ducati had risen to almost superpower status after rules regarding weight and displacement were changed to help make them competitive in superbike with the then-dominant inline fours. Ducati got their first World Superbike championship with Raymond Roche on a Ducati twin in 1990, and from there Ducati captured 70 percent of the world championships. Aprilia made a run at Ducati with their v-twin, but came up short. After Ducati got their first title, Honda has won the title three times, once with a v-four, and twice with a twin. For the 2003 season, only Ducati is fielding a factory world superbike effort, after Aprilia and Honda withdrew wholesale to concentrate on MotoGP. Other engine configurations in the WSB series are inline fours from Yamaha and the triples of the Foggy Petronas team.
After winning two consecutive world titles for Ducati in 1991 and 1992, Doug Polen won Ducati’s first AMA Superbike championship in 1993, and Troy Corser kept Ducati on top in America the following year. Despite Ducati’s world dominance, they did not enjoy the same status in America, despite having some very gifted riders in the seats.
The rules are changing again, to allow 1000cc inline fours in the superbike class. Depending on whether it is a national or world sanctioning body, different methods of restriction are present to keep the four-cylinder 1000s from running away in the horsepower race.
The national series in America will still feature the v-twins of Honda and Ducati. A variety of semi-factory supported Honda teams will be testing the superbike waters on the 954. Yoshimura Suzuki will have Mladin and Yates on GSX-R1000s, while Kawasaki fields a bored-out 750. Meanwhile, Yamaha will sit out the season while the AMA superbike rules evolve.
If the inline fours prove to be the way to go, expect Honda to drop the RC-51 like a hot oil drain plug and Yamaha and Kawasaki to enter the fray with all-new liter bikes. Even Ducati is running a v-four – in MotoGP. If the fours prove too much for the 999-based world super bikes, a v-four superbike from Bologna would not be too big of a surprise.