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Common Tread

Yamaha YZF-R1 done with boot camp, goes into battle

Sep 24, 2015

Yamaha promotes its new YZF-R1 as borrowing its envelope-pushing electronics from the MotoGP M1 racebike, but there's this other world championship series in which the race bike is supposed to be based on the production bike.

So if you really have a killer street-legal sport bike, shouldn't you be racing it in the Superbike World Championship?

Yamaha has finally succumbed to that logic.

Next season, Yamaha will return to the Superbike World Championship with riders Sylvain Guintoli and Alex Lowes, with the team run by Crescent Racing out of Britain, and with sponsorship from Italian snack food company PATA. Both Crescent and PATA are familiar in the SBK paddock. Crescent has been racing Suzukis in SBK.

Yamaha YZF-R1 in MotoAmerica
The Yamaha YZF-R1 in MotoAmerica trim. Next year, expect to see a big PATA logo on the fairing in the Superbike World Championship. Yamaha photo.
Some in the United States had dared hope that a return to SBK by Yamaha would open a seat for new MotoAmerica champ Cameron Beaubier to move on to the world level. Instead, a year without a U.S. rider at the top level of world championship road racing looks ever more likely (things didn't get any better with the news that Nicky Hayden broke his right thumb in a training crash this past weekend). Beaubier will be on an R1 next year, but he'll be defending his MotoAmerica title, not trying to follow Ben Spies' path.

It's hard to argue with the choice of Guintoli and Lowes, however. Both will no doubt be happy to trade in their current race bikes for the R1. Guintoli won the Superbike title last year on the Aprilia but looks set to finish sixth this year on a Honda. Former British Superbike champion Lowes currently rides for the Crescent team, so there will be no time lost getting used to a new team or new tracks, as there would be with a rider like Beaubier. Lowes has shown promise, but the GSX-R1000 is as dated as Guintoli's Honda. Just as Roger Hayden, who, after finishing second by less than a tenth of a second in four of his last five races, is counting the days until he gets an updated GSX-R1000.

MotoAmerica superbike race
The Yamaha YZF-R1, ridden by Josh Hayes (1) and Cameron Beaubier (6), won every race in the MotoAmerica series in 2015, leaving Roger Hayden (95) very frustrated on his Suzuki. In 2016, we'll get to see what the R1 can do on the world stage. Photo by Philip Somersall.

By comparison, the R1 has already won the MotoAmerica championship, winning every race, and currently leads the British Superbike Championship and the FIM CEV Superbike European Championship. It also won the Suzuka 8hours Endurance Race with MotoGP riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, along with Japanese superbike champion Katsuyuki Nakasuga. With those successes, and a MotoGP manufacturer title well in hand, a new assault on WSBK is the obvious next step for Yamaha.

60th anniversary Yamaha YZF-R1
Gratuitous photo of the 2016 Yamaha YZF-R1 in 60th anniversary paint. Just because we can. And pixels are cheap. Yamaha photo.
Spies' magical rookie season in 2009 remains the only time a rider has won the SBK title on a Yamaha. Now, let's see what the new R1 can really do.