Is BMW the dark horse of the 2020 WorldSBK Championship?

BMW kept itself to itself during WorldSBK testing but showed a strong pace as official practice at in Australia began - have they been underestimated?

Tom Sykes - BMW Motorrad WorldSBK

Of the five manufacturers competing in the 2020 WorldSBK Championship, it’s fair to say BMW has maintained the lowest profile of the leading runners thus far.

Firstly, it didn’t get embroiled in the typical silly season speculation-fest by signing Eugene Laverty over the summer and making it clear Tom Sykes was going nowhere, has limited its entry to just the two works bikes and has seemingly kept its powder very dry in private testing.

Indeed, while attention focused on reigning champions Kawasaki, the fresh line-ups at Yamaha and Ducati, plus of course the brand-new Team HRC Honda CBR1000RR-R effort, the Shaun Muir Racing-prepared BMW Motorrad WorldSBK team slid somewhat under the radar.

However, official pre-season testing revealed on day one that BMW should be ignored at its peril after Tom Sykes very nearly topped the timesheets on the S1000RR, while Laverty bounced right into the top ten having failed to trouble the upper end of the timesheets in Europe.

The sudden turn of pace didn’t come as a surprise to Sykes, who confirmed the team had declined to set headline-grabbing lap times during private testing in favour of improving its weaknesses over a longer distance.

“For me a very positive start here in Phillip Island, it’s never been my strong point, but I think it’s just credit to the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team and credit to a successful winter test. We worked very hard on a lot of different parameters on the BMW S1000 RR [and] we kept out of trouble.

“A lot of guys in winter testing were certainly setting impressive lap times but we were able to focus on the race tyres and try to develop what we have, try and bring our base level to where we need to be.

“Straight away [today] the bike felt nice, quite easy to ride around Phillip Island so very happy with how today’s gone.”

Why it has all been building to this point for BMW

It was originally intended the new generation BMW S1000RR would be making its full factory debut in WorldSBK this season, with 2019 spent conducting testing behind the scenes.

However, the manufacturer was encouraged to instead throw itself into racing but be prepared for it to be a development year. As it turns out the S1000RR emerged as a strong stock package, albeit one that seemed a bit down on power compared with its rivals.

As such, a pole position at Donington Park was followed up by four podiums – the brand’s first in seven years – showed what was possible, but the S1000RR was always a bit behind in race day performance especially in group fights.

It’s an area the team has clearly been working hard to improve and now with the chance to really stretch the ‘legs’ of the S1000RR, there is some pace in reserve. Encouragingly, a glance at the speed traps in Phillip Island show BMW well in the mix compared with the likes of Yamaha and Kawasaki.

If Kawasaki, Ducati, Yamaha and even Honda have been touted as race winners this year, it seems BMW should also be considered amongst this group.

The WorldSBK Championship may be a little light on manufacturers, but given you have to go back to 2013 for the last time four brands won a race in a season (2012 saw five) then if the quintet above can challenge for victories this season it’ll represent quality over quantity at least.