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After a Disastrous 2017, the Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team Faces an Uphill Battle (with video)

At the beginning of 2017, Hayden and Bradl had high hopes.

The 2017 campaign was full of promise when ten Kate Honda signed Red Bull as its title sponsor. The Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team would feature two former World champs in Nicky Hayden (MotoGP) and Stefan Bradl (Moto2) aboard an entirely-new Honda superbike platform designed to take on the class powerhouses of Kawasaki and Ducati. Needless to say, things didn’t turn out as planned.

Even before the tragic mid-season death of Hayden, the new team and new bike were far from competitive beneath the two World champions. The bike didn’t handle well, lacked power, and had poorly integrated electronics … problems that, for the most part, never went away. A result inside the top 10 was welcomed by a team that began by expecting consistent podium finishes.

After the loss of Hayden, Bradl had his own problems (including injuries) resulting in his termination by the team, which will bring two new riders for 2018. American Jake Gagne and Brit Leon Camier (a former British Supersport and Superbike champ with extensive WSB experience) have far more humble palmares than the Hayden/Bradl duo, but must take on Kawasaki and Ducati teams that are stronger than ever. An odd position for a Red Bull sponsored team.

Here is a video highlighting early testing by Camier with the team prior to the 2018 series.


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55 Comments

  1. JPJ says:

    WSBK is still the most competitive racing series. Kawasaki, and Ducati, as mentioned both have strong teams. The remaining teams all have become better Yamaha, Suzuki, and BMW. The Team Red Bull / Honda, will improve as well. Phillip Island coming soon. Broadcast BeIn Sports.

    • VLJ says:

      Most competitive? The same guy has run away with the championship three straight seasons, and in all three years his teammate plus the lead Ducati rider were his only (semi) competition. In fact, WSB has become so un-competitive that they even tried changing the rules to handicap the Race One winner by punting him down the grid for the start of Race Two.

      With only two factory teams, and absolute domination by the factory Kawasaki squad, WSB is easily the least competitive series of the bunch.

  2. wjf says:

    Who cares, supercross starts on Saturday

  3. The Street Standard says:

    Looking forward to seeing how this new rider roster plays out for Ten Kate. Many are aware of the performance issues concerning their Honda, but consider what what Zarco and Floger have done at Tech 3 (in GP). They’ve got some mojo working on non factory mounts (although I’m not 100% sure what improvements were made to the Tech 3 Yamaha by the time of their arrival). Despite not having the MM93-esque resumes, did the fresh blood invoke winning ways on equipment that didn’t seem to work as well for Espargaro and Smith? I wonder if we’ll see similar effect with Camier and Gagne.

    • Norm G. says:

      Q: did the fresh blood invoke winning ways on equipment that didn’t seem to work as well for Espargaro and Smith? I wonder if we’ll see similar effect with Camier and Gagne.

      A: NATCORK says “wonder no more”.

  4. mickey says:

    I’m not convinced that Honda is serious about WSBK or MotoAmerica. It’s obvious they are serious about MotoGP, but MotoGP is the premier showcase in which to demonstrate your prowess where WSBK and Moto America are mere side shows in comparison. Generally when Honda gets serious about a race series they go all out and eventually come to dominate. I’m also not sure that Kawasaki’s and Suzuki’s dominance in their respective series have meant much in the way of sales boosts for them. Seems to me the big gains in supersport sales in the last few years have been with BMW, KTM and Aprilia, none of which dominate any series. I could be wrong, but that’s how it seems to me.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “I’m not convinced that Honda is serious about WSBK or MotoAmerica.”

      even in his advanced years, Mickey still sees with better than 20/20 vision in both eyes.

      re: “I could be wrong”

      no, “you are correct sir”. (Ed McMahon voice)

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      They certainly haven’t been, but Redbull is. I have to wonder if their money comes with the contingency that Honda provide more support to Ten Kate? Or maybe even a more competitive platform in the next couple of years?

      The whole Redbull thing surprised me. I can’t imagine they would invest this much into a program unless they could define a clear direction forward.

      • mickey says:

        Jeremy, I wonder if it’s enough for Red Bull to be emblazoned all over the factory Hondas and their riders, for all the world to observe every race, or if they expect Honda to produce a winner for their investment?

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          Consumer brand management isn’t my profession, but I would have to think that every brand wants a winning identity. I honestly do think Redbull expects wins, not immediately but certainly over the next three years. An underdog story is probably good for the brand, too (enter KTM in MotoGP and now Honda in WSBK,) but only if it makes hay on a relatively accelerated timeframe.

          KTM and Honda have good credentials. Plenty of other teams they could have splashed those graphics on for less money me thinks if that is all that matters.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “I can’t imagine they would invest this much into a program unless they could define a clear direction forward”

        i still contend Redbull arrived under the auspices of the race 2 reverse grid (which i’m still a proponent of btw). the idea being TenKate aren’t mugs and would at least get some camera time. i’m fairly certain that was the pitch Ezpelata made to Mateschitz.

        while it didn’t even remotely work out this way for the Honda Dutchmen, i doubt that you’ll see any protests being filed over the reverse grid out of team PATA Yamaha or camp MV Agusta.

        re: “only if it makes hay on a relatively accelerated timeframe”

        yes, the “ZERO to HERO” story line is the ultimate objective, with this you and Mickey are both correct, so it’s really a wait and see. it was always going to be difficult with year 1 Blade since they made so many underlying changes to the frame.

  5. Buckwheat says:

    Might Bradl actually be retained for purposes of testing by Honda? (Although I’d prefer to see him get a few years on the KTM GP bike with the belief he could outperform Smith)

  6. ROXX says:

    Come on MD, time to cover MotoAmerica.
    Yeah Suzuki won more races than not, but it was great fun watching others get under the skin of Tony Elias.
    There was a fare share of late lap heroics as well.
    Time to start supporting an American racing series that actually offers entertainment.

    RB-Honda in WSBK is the last thing on my mind regarding Moto racing.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      “RB-Honda in WSBK is the last thing on my mind regarding Moto racing.”

      And I suspect MotoAmerica is the last thing on everyone else’s mind. 🙂

      Seriously, though, MA does get coverage here. I’m not sure what kind of viewership the series receives at this point, but I do hope it grows up to become a feeder series to MotoGP or even WSBK.

  7. PatrickD says:

    My view for several years is that Leon camier has been the rider who has consistently overachieved. getting the MV past the Hondas, Yamahas, BMWs and Aprilias most weekends has been somewhat overlooked.
    I think he deserved better than the Honda, but they’ll get their best their best possible results with this guy.
    Honda have been embaressingly poor for almost a decade in this class, seemingly baffled by traction electronics. Can’t be nice when you’re the biggest in the world.

    • “Honda have been embaressingly poor for almost a decade in this class, seemingly baffled by traction electronics.”

      I have a more cynical view of the situation with Honda in SBK, after seeing so many years, and wonderful riders, come along, obviously without the equipment to get them to the top. My conclusion is that, for some reason, Honda just don’t care about superbikes anymore. I wish it wasn’t true.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        “…Honda just don’t care about superbikes anymore.”

        I suspect that there is some truth to that statement. I believe perhaps what Honda has realized is that the correlation between winning WSBK races and selling motorcycles has come unglued a bit. Ducati and BMW sell a healthy number of superbikes despite having little in the way of race results in recent years. The Big Four may still dominate the race track, but I’m not sure that earns many points in the status race anymore. I think the market to whom that quality really matters has been largely priced out of the sport bike market. Most people with thick enough wallets to buy into the superbike market value bling factor over race results. That, and by most accounts, the Euro sport bikes apparently are stronger performers and equally good street bikes vs the Japanese in stock form.

        • Hot Dog says:

          A lot of people have been priced out by the cost of insurance.

          • As expensive as new, top o’ the line superbikes are, you really think so? I am a pretty typical mid-40s rider with a good record and insurance barely registers on the price of ownership for me.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            It isn’t the typical mid-forties rider that once drove the market. It was the rider you were in your mid-twenties, who probably would need to concern himself not only with the cost of the bike, but the cost of insurance and maintenance as well. That is the demographic that is effectively getting priced out of the market, and their adrenaline once fueled the sport bike industry.

        • Indeed the motorcycle market, particularly involving sportbikes, isn’t what it used to be. No doubt there are many factors, but it’s safe to say that winning on Sunday doesn’t sell as many bikes on Monday as it used to.

          That said, for a company as large as Honda, if they wanted to succeed in SBK, surely they could afford to. We have all seen them throw big money at various, fairly oddball projects over the years.

        • JVB says:

          Euro street bike sales are undergoing the same boost that KTM dirt bikes went through a few decades back. Once the price differential became small, then folks opted for the euro option. Subsequently KTM was able to invest more in development, which lead to them making some really competitive bikes that you can now buy.

          I likes watching Camier fight with the MV. Just hope the Honda isn’t still a slug. Rea has been phenomenal! SBK racing 2nd through 10th has been quite competitive. Even Yammy started to get their act together towards the end of the season.

    • MotoMaster39 says:

      I have to imagine that Honda has traction control pretty well understood, considering their record in Moto GP. If I had to put money on what their problem in WSBK is, I’d say that their bike is underpowered overall, and or, it has a very narrow powerband. For the amount of praise that Honda always gets for making an awesome chassis and suspension settings, their engine must really be a dog for them to do as poorly as we’re seeing.

      Kawasaki is on a completely different level right now though. They are the only ones who can beat the Panigales right now…This series would still be formula Ducati if Kawi didn’t have such a rocketship!

      • Dave says:

        Re: “I have to imagine that Honda has traction control pretty well understood, considering their record in Moto GP.”

        This means that “HRC” has traction control well understood. What could be happening here is that Honda is supplying Ten Kate with street bikes and some kit parts and a pat on the back. HRC might not have much influence on the ‘Blade.

        • MotoMaster39 says:

          If your bike is 5-10 HP down compared to the competition, electronic aids will do jack diddly for your race results.

          You could throw the most advanced HRC $20k traction control system on that bad boy, and the Kawis will still walk away from you on every straightaway.

          • Dave says:

            Ducati wins somewhat frequently from that deficit. Beyond a point, a horsepower advantage is only exercised on tracks with huge straightaways, then it’s a matter of who can harness the power they have the best.

            Remember, it wasn’t long ago that Tom Sykes would TQ only to fade mid race because his powerful Kawasaki was chewing through his rear tire too fast. Horsepower is important, but it’s not the only thing.

        • Norm G. says:

          re: “HRC might not have much influence on the ‘Blade.”

          correct they do not. at this point in their history there’s nothing HRC can do for TenKate that TenKate can’t do for themselves given the concept of homologation. as i’ve said previously given the current state of the competition, the Blade needs a “Titanium Home Makeover” of it’s top end if they were going to have a “snowball’s chance” of matching pace, but the rules don’t allow for substitution of material from OEM in the rods, valves, springs, cams, rocker arms, etc.

          to their credit, TK does have a trophy case filled with multiple #1 WSS Championships taken with the 600RR and lest we forget they DO have a #1 Superbike Championship. Toseland (with “Hannspree” sponsorship i think) won the title over a decade ago and did so with an old generation Blade with no HRC in sight. so they know what to do but again NATCORK.

          but at this point it’s moot, cause i believe i read they’re not only fitting a common ECU for 2018 but also instating REV limits (Dirk, story opportunity). this to combat the issue of “fancy top ends” in the Zed and the Duc. though you’ll be hard pressed to find them advertising it (sneaky bastids) i do believe the Zed has actually had an all Ti top end since M.Y. 2011 (OMG). after their exit in ’09 that’s when they first infused the kit with all their data learned from GP, then another 2 years later Tom takes the title. when we think back, before this win by Grinner, you couldn’t get arrested on a Zed, and have to go back to the mid 90’s and the exploits of Yanagawa and Russell on the mighty 7RR to see the last time Team Green was a “WSBK force to be reckoned with”.

  8. Dave J. says:

    It will be the same boring series again this year with the 2 Kawasaki’s coming in 1st and 2nd. The rest of the field making up the numbers! That includes the Ducati’s!
    Why doesn’t Jonathan Rea join MotoGP and see how he fares with the big boys!!

    • HS1... says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if they do everything they can to script Ducati as the 2018 juggernaut. By mid-season, Rea might be limited to his pit monkey bike at 2000 RPM’s. It looks like with the 113 press releases sent out everyday that the minions running WSBK have awoke to their irrelevancy. Expect something very different and very contrived.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “I wouldn’t be surprised if they do everything they can to script Ducati as the 2018 juggernaut.”

        i think you mean 2019 J-nuts. Chaz and “Melandro” must spend yet another season overriding their V12’s so called “displacement advantage” to get results. personally i don’t see either of them going for broke, no i say look for 2 blokes “phoning it in” with neither wanting to be “that guy” laid up with injuries come the first post season tests of their new VFR’s… err… i mean V4’s.

    • Fred M. says:

      In MotoAmerica Superbike, it was the two Suzukis (Tony Elias and Roger Hayden) that were dominant with Yamahas coming in second.

      I’d like to see World Superbike rules changes to require that bikes have unmodified engines, forks, shocks, and chassis. Limit changes to the following:

      1. Tires
      2. Brake pads
      3. Removal of street equipment (lights, mirrors, passenger pegs, kickstand, etc.)
      4. Fork and shock springs, but must be available at dealerships for no more than the price of stock rate fork and shock springs.
      5. Seats, control levers, and other rider fitment parts generally available at reasonable prices through the aftermarket.
      6. Safety items (safety-wiring fasteners, closed belly pan to catch oil, etc.).
      7. Adjustments provided by the stock bike.

      Most riders watching Superbike racing want to know which bike is best off the showroom floor, not which one is best if you put $100K into it with parts unobtainable by mere mortals.

      We have MotoGP if we want to see the pinnacle of non-production racing motorcycle engineering.

      • xLaYN says:

        Nice, probably you would need to add that you would need to sell more than 5k thousand units to avoid the RC version wich defies the “available at dealer” part.

      • Dave says:

        It’d be the end of the class, overnight. Even if you could convince the motorcycle makers to play, you’d see what we saw with 600’s. In 5-10 years, the bikes would become so expensive in order to be competitive in WSBK, that even fewer people buy them.

        I’m not sure any of the 1,000cc hypersport bikes sell 5k units/yr now. Isn’t the homologation rule 500?

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “I’d like to see World Superbike rules changes to require that bikes have unmodified engines, forks, shocks, and chassis.”

        i second Fred Merkel’s motion.

        was saying more than a decade ago (season ’03) these bikes are already “super”, this long before anybody knew from a paradigm shifting S1RR (M.Y. ’09) or kit loaded with an alphabet soup’s worth of electrics.

      • Alex says:

        The problem with stock classes is cheating. The SS300 class was rife with rule bending and cheating where teams are trying to one up the opposition. There were several disqualifications this year and those were only the ones that got caught red handed. Its so hard to police it, and so unfair to the whole class. Just let them go at it with minimal rules.

    • Norm G. says:

      Q: Why doesn’t Jonathan Rea join MotoGP and see how he fares with the big boys(?)

      A: cause like Mladin and Foggy, he already knows.

    • Vrooom says:

      You may be correct, but Kawasaki was not 1-2 last year, Ducati took second.

    • Vrooom says:

      While you may be correct about 2018, in 2017 Ducati got 2nd.

  9. David Evans says:

    No mention of PJ?

  10. Roma258 says:

    I mean, Jake Zemke is a mid-pack guy in MotoAmerica. Other than the Honda affiliation, why promote him instead of front-runners like Beaubier or Roger Hayden. The series could desperately use some American involvement, but this seems like an odd choice.

    • VLJ says:

      Jake Zemke?

    • HS1... says:

      Hey, just be glad they aren’t putting Paris Hilton on a pink and supercharged Vespa to try to draw American attention. It’s pretty obvious that they are desperately throwing whatever they can grab at the wall to see if anything sticks.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “just be glad they aren’t putting Paris Hilton on a pink and supercharged Vespa to try to draw American attention.”

        i’d kinda like to see that. the supercharged Vespa that is.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Saving money on riders to invest more into the machine.

      • Roma258 says:

        Pretty sure WSBK can offer equivalent of AMA salary and the top riders would jump at the chance.

        • Dave says:

          I don’t get the impression that many of the AMA guys make a much of a salary these days. I bet there are top-10 guys who have day-jobs.

  11. HS1... says:

    Wow, I’ve never seen a series get such a multitude more stories published during their off-season than when they are actually active (the word “active” is a misnomer for what their racing has became, though). The weather will warm in the northern hemisphere, MotoGP will awaken, moto journalist will be able to review bikes, and the snoozefest known as WSBK will fade back to the dark corners in which it know belongs. Losing Hayden in 2017 truly hurt, though.

  12. Randy D. says:

    Last years results was nothing to be proud of. Hopefully this year Honda will be competitive. Time will tell. If not don’t blame the riders. Good luck Jake.

    • Dave says:

      “If not don’t blame the riders.”

      Truth here. Clearly, this team wasn’t able to invest enough in development of their machines. I remember how long it took for KRT to get Tom Sykes’ ZX10r to go from a one-lap wonder to a bike that could keep the tires under it for a full race distance.

      If Nicky and Stefan couldn’t go fast on it then the equipment clearly was the problem.

  13. Norm G. says:

    re: “Bradl had his own problems (including injuries) resulting in his termination by the team”

    merely a move to save money since NATCORK.

  14. MGNorge says:

    That’s racin’!