WSB 2016: Stefan Bradl to ride in World Superbikes in 2017
Bradl will join the Kentucky Kid Nicky Hayden on factory Honda machinery
Stefan Bradl will become the second full-time German representative on the grid when he moves to the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship in 2017.
Now 26, Bradl will be 27 by the time the starting lights go out at Phillip Island next season, racing alongside Nicky Hayden at the Honda WorldSBK Team.
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Since claiming the German 125 title in 2005, Bradl has won 7 World Championship Grands Prix, claimed 8 pole positions and picked up no less than 19 podium finishes. The icing on the cake was the Moto2 World Championship title in 2011.
This week, Bradl spoke with WorldSBK.com by phone from his home in Germany.
Stefan, an early welcome to the WorldSBK paddock! How did this come about?
Thank you! Basically, I started to think about World Superbike around the time of the Barcelona GP. The situation with Aprilia was not clear, so I had to think about some other opportunities. I have followed World Superbike forever. It is close to MotoGP and we know each other very well. So I thought about it during the short break between the Barcelona and Assen GPs, then I met with (team owner) Ronald Ten Kate and the guys from Honda Europe while we were at Assen. That was the first time we had met and the idea was super good. I felt really welcome and the meetings we had were good. I felt great from the beginning and we came to an agreement.
Was there a key moment when you felt the switch was necessary?
In MotoGP this season, the 'silly season' and rider changes all came so early. My priority at the time was to stay with Aprilia because I feel good in the team and I wanted to continue there. They had already signed a rider (Sam Lowes), so there was only one place left for another. There was an opportunity for me to stay in MotoGP with another team, but when I got in touch with Honda they gave me a really good feeling to go and see what is happening in World Superbike.
In 2017 you will team up with Nicky Hayden. Excited?
I'm really looking forward to having Nicky as a team-mate. We know each other very well and we like each other a lot. We have had some really hard battles together in MotoGP. He is a great rider and he is already doing very well in World Superbike. I think we can work together quite well, trying to beat each other and spurring the other guy on! I think Honda has a really good team for next year.
Some of the WorldSBK circuits will be new to you...
I know the Lausitzring, but it's been about ten years since I last rode there. I don't think the new tracks are going to be super different because learning new tracks is not usually a big problem for me. The bigger challenge will be adapting: to see how much the bike is moving, which is probably going to be the biggest difference coming from MotoGP because, in WorldSBK, the bike is moving more and you have to use your body even more to compensate for things. And I need to see how the Pirelli tyres are.
The new Honda bike has been described as a ‘radical Fireblade' but we don't yet know why. Do you know something we don't?
I am confident [laughs]! Honda is a really big manufacturer and a good factory which whom I've good experiences in the past. I trust Honda. I can't really answer this question because I only know as much as you know! I know there will be an update, but whether the bike will be completely new or whether they will just change some parts I don't yet know. We will see when they bring out the bike. I don't know when it's going to be ready and when I can have a go on it, but I'm trusting the company and the team. For me, this is not the biggest challenge or the biggest problem.
Another new challenge for you is the two-race format...
Yeah, that is going to be different. I'm looking forward to having two races on a weekend because, if you have a bad one, you can make it better the next day! It's going to be a new strategy for the weekend and it's going to be different. I don't expect it to be a huge problem; I can learn from the other riders about setting up the bike a bit faster on Friday. The team has a lot of experience with that, so I'm sure we can develop a good strategy for the weekend. I'm really looking forward to having something new and to getting adapted. I hope I can do it as fast as possible!
What chance do you have to fight at the front?
It's really good racing in World Superbike. The guys battle hard. Obviously, I'm looking forward to it because I think I have quite good chances of being close to the podium and fighting for good results - something which was a lot more difficult in MotoGP for me recently. It's not going to be easy because the level in World Superbike is very high; I know all the riders and know they are very talented. I'm not just going to World Superbike and expecting it to be easy for me. I know that very well. I have to fight to be able to do my job properly, but I do think my chances are bigger to be able to fight for the podium more than I can in MotoGP at the moment. Obviously Kawasaki is going to be strong and probably the favourite again next season, but I think there will be a lot of chances for me to try and be on the podium. I will try everything to win races, but it will take some time to adapt.
Do you feel this is the start of a special era?
World Superbike is becoming more popular and more interesting for everyone. If you look at names like Nicky Hayden, Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes and all those guys, they have good experience and they know a lot about MotoGP as well. We all know each other very well. I'm looking forward to racing with these guys and I'm sure the popularity of World Superbike is growing. Maybe my name could make something attractive too! I will do my best to see how we can all continue to bring it forward.
Before you join us next year, we have the end of 2016. Who is your money on?
If I had to choose one guy, I think I'm going to go for Jonathan Rea. He won the title last year and he has a decent points advantage now. We know there are still eight races to go and that a lot can happen, but he is my tip for the World Championship.
Stefan Bradl will line up on the WorldSBK grid for the first time next season. However, his latest new challenge will come next weekend as MotoGP returns to Austria.
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