Joe Francis Happy to Not be “10mph Down” in Supersport

Joe Francis returns to the Supersport class in 2024, after five seasons spent on 1,000cc machinery, with the R4R Ducati team

Joe Francis, 2024 BSB Donington Test. - Ian Hopgood

Jack Kennedy is making a fairly high-profile move back to the British Supersport Championship, the class in which he has found the most success. Making a similar, but lower-profile move, is Joe Francis, who has been racing 1,000cc machinery since 2019.

Francis’ time on 1,000cc bikes, first in the Superbike class and then - in the last two years - in Superstock, saw him show flashes of speed, but he was rarely able to show that speed in a race.

Moving back to Supersport with Gino Rea’s Ready 4 Race Ducati team is bringing Francis back to a class in which he has excelled before, but which is also much different now to the class he left in the final part of the 2018 season, thanks to the introduction of the ‘Next Generation’ rules in 2022.

Francis says that the primary reason for moving back to the Supersport class is to be on competitive machinery again, especially in terms of straight line performance.

“I’ve been in Supersport before and I thought, the way the rules are now, if I lose a bit of weight [I’ll be more competitive]," Francis told Visordown at the recent Donington BSB test. Even in the speed traps, it’s a couple of miles per hour, whereas in Superstock I was 10mph down. I just wanted a change, really to just enjoy it again because I’ve lost a lot of confidence over the last couple of years, so now it’s time to build it back up.”

The Ducati Panigale V2 has been one of the standout bikes in the Supersport class since the category was updated in 2022 to include motorcycles with larger displacements than the bikes adhering to the 600cc four-cylinder formula that had become the standard for the class since its inception in the 1990s. The 955cc twin-cylinder Panigale arrived in the 2022 Supersport class along with a three-cylinder 765cc Triumph Street Triple and 798cc MV Agusta F3 triple. In the British Championship, the Suzuki GSX-R750 four-cylinder has also been raced under the new performance equalisation regulations of Supersport that allow these larger-displacement machines to be competitive with the traditional 600cc bikes.

“It’s difficult, because I’m probably still riding too much like a 1,000cc after being on a Superbike or Superstock 1000 for five years,” Francis said of his adaptation back to Supersport-class machinery. “So, I’ve got to get my head back in the way of riding like a 600cc. Although it is a twin, and almost 1,000cc - it’s got the torque, but you’ve got to use that to your advantage and you’ve still got to carry corner speed, so I’ve got to get back in the habit of doing that. I think once I get back in that habit it will come more and more naturally then.”

2023 saw the Panigale V2 dominate the Supersport World Championship with Nicolo Bulega, and the early signs from 2024 are that either 2021 Supersport 300 World Champion Adrian Huertas or 2020 European Moto2 Champion Yari Montella could follow in Bulega’s footsteps by winning the title this year on Ducati machinery. However, Francis has discovered this winter that riding a Panigale V2 is not as simple as twisting the throttle and setting the fastest time. Mostly, turning has been the area the #40 has discovered that he needs to work on for the upcoming season.

“At the minute I’m struggling to stop and turn,” he said. “So, I’m not able to use the power and the torque of the bike because I’m too busy trying to stop. I need to get it stopped and turned sooner [than I currently am] and then use the power, but that’s a bit of me and a bit of the bike, so we’ve just got to try and figure out the balance and go from there.”

The current corner entry problems are two-fold for Francis: both getting stopped and the turn-in phase are areas to be worked on. “I’m struggling to stop to turn, so I’m missing a lot of apexes, but I’m also trying to turn in. So, when I can get the bike to turn in more for me, when I’m off the brake and on the gas I’ll carry more speed because I’ll hold a tighter line.”

The 2024 British Supersport Championship begins next weekend (20-21 April) at the Circuito de Navarra in Spain.

Find all the latest BSB news on Visordown.

Image credit: Ian Hopgood.