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5 underdogs to watch out for in 2020 WorldSBK

The 2020 WorldSBK Championship is upon us... who are the riders that Visordown thinks could spring a surprise this season?

Loris Baz - Ten Kate Racing Yamaha

The 2020 WorldSBK Championship kicks off this weekend at Phillip Island with plenty of focus on the likes of Scott Redding and Toprak Razgatlioglu over whether they or others can mount a challenge that brings Jonathan Rea’s five-year reign to an end.

However, there will be more than just the lead battle to invest interest in this season with a number of underdogs or up and comers to root for as they begin new tales. These are the lesser fancied riders we think you should keep an eye out for in 2020…

Leon Haslam

While the experienced Leon Haslam’s record in WorldSBK – and motorcycle racing in general – should in theory exclude him from being regarded as an underdog per se, he is very much perceived as the second rider in the Team HRC Honda team when stacked alongside star signing Alvaro Bautista

Indeed, while Honda had clearly set its sights on luring Bautista from Ducati’s grasp, Haslam’s signature was perceived as more of an afterthought. And yet as we sit here on the eve of the opening round, whereas Bautista is struggling to crack the top ten, Haslam is being touted for a podium on the Honda CBR1000RR-R’s debut.

While this disparity in form is partially down to Bautista’s inability to get the bike working in his narrow operating window, Haslam by contrast is finding the CBR1000RR-R very much to his liking. While he struggled to get the best from the evergreen Kawasaki ZX-10RR – a bike tuned to the needs of team-mate Rea – the new CBR1000RR-R has presented a blank canvas from which to craft to his liking

So, while Haslam may not be an ‘underdog’ in reputation, if he out-performs Bautista this weekend it will be quite the opposite of what people would have expected two months ago.

Loris Baz

In many ways, there is an argument for Loris Baz being the most impressive performer during pre-season testing so far. The Frenchman heads into his first full campaign as a Ten Kate Racing Yamaha rider and has been right at the sharp end of every session so far.

While Baz’s WorldSBK credentials mean seeing him at sharp end isn’t necessarily surprising, it’s easy to forget he has barely slipped outside the top five since 2020 testing began. This is impressive even before you consider he is riding a works-supported but still privateer Yamaha R1 in a modestly financed one-man team.

We could see during flashes of form that the Baz-Ten Kate-Yamaha relationship was a good one during last year’s part-season campaign, even if it lacked the finesse needed for it to be regularly up front.

Using its own electronics package and going its own way on development – which has included focusing on the 2019 engine in the run up to the opening round – is working in its favour as Baz matches works riders Toprak Razgatlioglu and Michael van der Mark on the timesheets, so much so that he is surely a podium contender this weekend.

If that happens it’ll likely be branded a big surprise, but really the signs are there right now…

Garrett Gerloff

It’s been a while since a front-runner in MotoAmerica (nee AMA Superbikes) made the leap over to WorldSBK but Yamaha at least has form in doing so having signed Ben Spies, who’d go on to win the title in his first year.

While no-one is expecting its latest Yamaha USA backed youngster Garrett Gerloff to win anything in 2020, it is hoped he can at least entice some US Superbike fans to pay closer attention to a world championship that has been dominated by Europeans (especially Brits) since Spies raised the crown.

On paper this will be a learning year for Gerloff as he adapts to WorldSBK electronics, circuits and tyres in a competitive environment.

However, he has shown solid form in testing so far and – more importantly – has matched and occasionally bettered Federico Caricasulo, a rider Yamaha has backed through the ranks for some years now.

There may be no US round on the schedule this year but Gerloff brings some much-needed international spirit to proceedings.

Sandro Cortese

While it wasn’t quite the headline grabbing rookie WorldSBK season some may have expected given his world title wins in Moto3 and WorldSSP, it was surprising to see a rider of Sandro Cortese’s calibre struggle to find a spot on the 2020 WorldSBK grid.

In the end it took the dismantling of the Pedercini Kawasaki team – which went from having two WorldSBK, two WorldSSP and two WorldSSP 300 entries to having just one single Superbike – to throw him an unexpected lifeline.

Announced just a week before testing, Cortese jumped on the Kawasaki ZX-10RR for the first time in Australia and made it look like he’d been there all along as he positioned just outside the top ten, satisfyingly ahead of the GRT Yamaha outfit he left.

Particularly strong in qualifying, Pedercini Kawasaki will almost certainly benefit from having such an experienced and decorated rider in its corner after a winter of turmoil.

Jordi Torres

Another last-minute addition to the 2020 WorldSBK grid, ironically Jordi Torres was supposed to ride Cortese’s Kawasaki before Pedercini was forced to release the Spaniard when its title sponsor collapsed.

Nonetheless, Torres – another quality rider threatened with being on the sidelines – lands at MIE Racing, Honda’s satellite effort, aboard the new Honda CBR1000RR-R. He will make his debut from Round 3 at Jerez.

Crucially though Torres will be spending his year riding the bike in the Spanish Superbike Championship, a dovetailed campaign that could well give him an upper hand when it comes to adapting to the machine.

Coupled with his race-winning experience in WorldSBK, provided the team can give him the package to perform, Torres potentially has top ten potential… when he eventually makes his debut.

2020 Australian WorldSBK - Phillip Island SCHEDULE

2020 WorldSBK - Round 1 - Phillip Island, Australia
Weekend Schedule
FRIDAYSessionAUS timeUK time 
WorldSBKFP110:30 - 11:2023:30 - 00:20* Thurs PM UK
WorldSSPFP111:30 - 12:1500:30 - 01:15 
WorldSBKFP215:00 - 15:5004:00 - 04:50 
WorldSSPFP216:00 - 16:4505:00 - 05:45 
SATURDAY
WorldSBKFP310:00 - 10:2023:00 - 23:20* Fri PM UK
WorldSSPFP310:35 - 10:5523:35 - 23:55* Fri PM UK
WorldSBKSuperpole12:15 - 12:4001:15 - 01:40 
WorldSSPSuperpole12:55 - 13:2001:55 - 02:20 
WorldSBKRACE 115:0004:00 
SUNDAY
WorldSBKWarm-up09:30 - 09:4522:30 - 23:45* Sat PM UK
WorldSSPWarm-up09:55 - 10:1022:55 - 23:10* Sat PM UK
WorldSBKSuperpole RACE12:0001:00 
WorldSSPRACE13:1502:15 
WorldSBKRACE 215:0004:00