After August was spent relaxing for many by the beach or visiting new places, for others, they were hard at work and with other duties. However, the 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is back to racing action after the August break as the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours hones into view for round nine of the season. It’s a track steeped in history. Where Championships have been won gloriously and lost hopelessly, where rivalries were formed, battle lines drawn and fallouts born. A place where the fans’ passion is fuelled by a euphoric atmosphere from the terraces and the paddock. Magny-Cours has it all and those recent-year duels have been the jewel in this circuit’s modern history – and there’s no sign of it stopping in 2023. Allez!
Tussle at the top: Mind the gap, will it get closer in France?
After late heart-ache for Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) last time out at Most in Race 2, Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) seized the day to take victory and extend his Championship lead to 74 points, but the momentum was firmly with his Turkish rival in the races prior and Bautista did crash during testing at Aragon just last week. The reigning World Champion has only taken one win at Magny-Cours, coming last year in Race 1, and history says that it’s very much Toprak territory, although we’ve seen before that previous results can’t be the sole indicator. Razgatlioglu has a mammoth task to stay in contention for the title after his Most misfortune in Race 2, but nothing is impossible. A technical, tricky and perhaps wet Magny-Cours could provide the key at a place where Toprak’s flourished before.
Off-track headlines: Rea’s 2024 future at the heart of return to track action
Rumours continue to circulate about the future of Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who has been linked to a shock switch to Yamaha for 2024. The six-time World Champion has won three of his titles at Magny-Cours and will focus his efforts on trying to replicate his victory from Most before summer; it’s a track that historically favours Rea and Kawasaki, although he was winless there last year. In fact, it was the scene of two of the biggest talking points in the last two years: 2021’s Superpole Race battle with Razgatlioglu, when Rea inherited the win after Toprak touched the green on the final lap, exceeding track limits, and also after his collision with Alvaro Bautista last year which took the Spaniard out. On the other side of the box, Alex Lowes is always strong in France, with five podiums in total and three for Kawasaki. He was fourth three times last year and aims for a first rostrum of 2023 since Mandalika after an Aragon test saw him as the only full-time rider testing 2024 parts.
All-Italian battle: Locatelli being pressured from Bassani, Petrucci and Rinaldi
There’s an intriguing four-way Italian battle in positions four to seven, as Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) seeks to snatch back P3 from Rea, with 24 separating them. However, there’s an attack from behind too, as Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) continues to show his worth and heads for Magny-Cours, where he was on the podium in both feature races in 2022. He’s just 20 adrift of ‘Loka’, whilst the rider making up ground on all of them is Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team), who has three podiums from the last seven races and a best of P2 last time out at Most. Whilst he is 52 points away from Bassani, if his form is to be anything to go off, he could be within striking distance by the final two rounds. Behind him, Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), who continues to have his future dominate his own headlines.
Honda and BMW: Who will come out ahead in France?
Many riders may have been on holidays but others had plenty to be getting on with. Xavi Vierge (Team HRC) got his knee down at Suzuka for the 8 Hours which he won on his debut, as well as with a proposal to his girlfriend. Elsewhere, Honda teammate Iker Lecuona completed three MotoGP™ events at Silverstone, the Red Bull Ring and the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, as he deputised for the injured Alex Rins, and both Lecuona and Vierge were present at a blustery Aragon test at the end of August. Lecuona was one of the fastest on the opening day, with Honda’s test team and rider Tetsuta Nagashima also in attendance with 2024 items. Will all the track time pay off at Magny-Cours, a circuit which was new to both in 2022 and where P9 was the best result they could manage.
As for BMW, Magny-Cours has been a circuit at which they’ve gone well at recently and they’ll hope to claim ground back and return to the top ten in the overall standings. Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) may be 16th in the Championship but his home round is always an important one, and he was on for a podium in Race 1 last year until a Turn 13 crash. Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) led a race for the first time with BMW last year there and took a best of P2; he’s still chasing a first podium of 2023. Teammate Michael van der Mark also hopes for a strong Magny-Cours after a tricky return at Most before summer, whilst Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) has shown plenty of potential, although results haven’t been replicated to the same level.
Ones to watch: Big names with points to prove all the way down the grid
Elsewhere in the fights throughout the field, the GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team return after a tricky summer break, when sporting director Mirko Giansanti sadly passed away. Dominique Aegerter and Remy Gardner both demonstrated their potential in the first half of the season, so expect Magny-Cours to be competitive for them. Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven) sits in 15th but is without a top ten since Donington Park; his best at Magny-Cours in WorldSBK was P11 last year, whilst it’s P4 in WorldSSP. Bradley Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) returns to action this weekend after missing Most for shoulder surgery, whilst it’s a special round for the GMT94 Yamaha team and Lorenzo Baldassarri, with the French squad gunning for a strong result at home.
Housekeeping and home hero return: Mahias back in action, Syahrin returns
There’ll be a change for the PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team, as Hafizh Syahrin returns to action after missing the last two rounds through injury but Eric Granado has MotoE™ World Championship duty at Misano and is thus replaced by Hannes Soomer. Tito Rabat (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) is also with MotoE™ and substituted by home-hero Lucas Mahias, who is back in WorldSBK. Isaac Vinales (TPR Team Pedercini Racing) and Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing MOVISIO) complete the order.