Out with the old, in with the young | Who are the 6 WorldSBK rookies?

As the likes of Tom Sykes, Chaz Davies and Leon Haslam head for pastures new, who are rookies looking to usher in a new generation for the 2022 WorldSBK

Iker Lecuona - HRC Honda

There is an argument to suggest the WorldSBK Championship will complete something of a generational shift ahead for the 2022 season.

A series that has traditionally favoured steadfast experience over punts being taken on fresh blood or looked to those dropping out of MotoGP instead of looking to who is coming up in WorldSSP, the 2022 WorldSBK Championship rider line-up has, for once, got a bit of everything.

As well as being the most international grid for many years - with the 24 riders representing 14 different nations - six of those will be making their WorldSBK debut at Aragon on 9-10 April. 

Moreover, they are coming in from all directions with transitions from MotoGP, Moto2, WorldSSP and even WorldSSP 300 for the first time. Replacing some of the series’ more stalwart contenders, such as Tom Sykes, Leon Haslam and Chaz Davies, the 2022 WorldSBK entry is on average a significantly younger line-up.

Last year, Andrea Locatelli and - perhaps unexpectedly - Axel Bassani were the big ‘noob’ standouts, so as we gear up for another season of production-based action, who are the fresh faces looking to stand out.

Iker Lecuona - HRC Honda

The path from MotoGP to WorldSBK has been well worn over the years and while the success rate of such transitions hasn’t always been hit over miss, the riders have generally been those in their autumn years of their careers looking for one last competitive filip.

It’s something that cannot be said for the latest MotoGP alumni looking to make his fortune in WorldSBK, with Iker Lecuona - at the tender age of 22-years old - still evidently in the burgeoning phase of his skillset.

It’s what makes his appointment by Honda particularly interesting - and potentially savvy - the Spaniard acquitting himself solidly in MotoGP on occasionally temperamental KTM machinery despite a distinct lack of experience symptomatic of his unexpected promotion to the premier class.

It means Honda and WorldSBK gives him a blank canvas from which to hone those skills and to potentially make the transition more seamlessly than others before him. Time will tell, but at the very least, a spurned Lecuona certainly feels he has a point to prove…

Xavi Vierge - HRC Honda

Much like Lecuona, Xavi Vierge comes to WorldSBK looking for new avenues after his Moto2 career stalled in the wake of his Petronas Sprinta Racing team shuttering its intermediate class effort.

Only two years older than Lecuona at 24, Vierge is another Spaniard with a decent GP pedigree to leverage. 

However, unlike Lecuona’s familiar route from MotoGP, Vierge is breaking the mould somewhat by moving from Moto2 to WorldSBK directly, and doing so in a full factory team at that.

Indeed, whereas several Moto2 alumni - such as Locatelli, Dominique Aegerter and Steve Odendaal - have headed straight for WorldSSP, Vierge is coming straight in at WorldSBK. 

Given the success of Locatelli on the Yamaha in 2021, should Vierge post strong results too, it might make the current Moto2 field more attractive propositions for 2023…

Philipp Oettl - Go Eleven Ducati

One of two riders graduating to WorldSBK from WorldSSP, Philipp Oettl presents an intriguing proposition aboard the Go Eleven Ducati.

Indeed, the German has been the surprise package of pre-season testing so far, proving rapid out of the blocks on his first touch with the privateer Ducati Panigale V4 R, Oettl found himself lapping fairly closely to the full factory Aruba machines in Misano.

While his two-year tenure in WorldSSP didn’t grab any race-winning headlines, he still notched up a noteworthy 11 podiums on the lesser-fancied Kawasaki ZX-6R package. Arguably this season’s rookie dark horse…

Luca Bernardi - Spark Barni Ducati

After a few lean years, the WorldSSP Championship has thrown up some exciting new talent in recent seasons with Luca Bernardi front and centre of this new generation.

The San Marino rider made his full-time debut in WorldSSP last year and immediately made an impact with a podium in only his fourth start. Multiplying the feat on a further four occasions, Bernardi might have mounted a challenge for the overall top three had a brutal crash in Barcelona not curtailed his season through injury.

Nevertheless, Spark Barni Racing knows a talent when they see one, which is why they’ve gone right ahead and plucked the 20-year old for a two-year deal to race in WorldSBK.

If Bernardi can learn WorldSBK as swiftly as WorldSSP, the Sammarinese has the makings of a Superbike star for the future…

Hafizh Syahrin - MIE Honda

Another rider with MotoGP credentials and switching directly from Moto2, Hafizh Syahrin makes a welcome debut in WorldSBK this season, no doubt looking to break more ground for his native Malaysia on the international motorcycle racing scene.

A triple podium winner in Moto2, Syahrin became the first person from a south-east Asian nation to compete - and score a top ten finish - in MotoGP when he lined up with Tech 3 Racing, first with Yamaha machinery in 2019 and then on a KTM in 2020.

Though a return to Moto2 failed to yield sparkling results, Syahrin is confident of an upturn in fortunes in WorldSBK.

The only question mark remains whether his MIE Racing Honda outfit can give him a machine that is up for that challenge.

Oliver Konig - Orelac Kawasaki

Inaugurated in 2017, the WorldSSP 300 Championship is perhaps just now beginning to see its youthful alumni flourish on bigger machinery with the likes of Ana Carrasco off to Moto3, Manuel Gonzalez getting a Moto2 gig after impressing in Supersport and a number of graduates making the transition to WorldSSP this year.

It is perhaps surprising then that the first rider to have competed in WorldSSP 300 to make it to WorldSBK is doing so in a direct leap from entry-level to premier class.

Indeed, Oliver Konig may not have stood out in the mammoth field of WorldSSP 300 entrants over the last few seasons but the Czech newcomer - who at 19-years old will be the youngest rider on the 2022 WorldSBK grid - but will no doubt hope skipping WorldSSP altogether he can survive being thrown in at the deep end.

Time will tell but Konig has at least already got a WorldSBK start under his belt after being tapped up by Pedercini Kawasaki for the 2021 finale in Indonesia.

For his 2022 WorldSBK tilt, however, he will ride the Orelac Kawasaki with the aim surely to prove WorldSSP 300 could be a hotbed of talent for teams willing to take a risk…