The spectacular Motorland circuit, in the heart of the Aragon desert, provided the backdrop to the opening round of the European leg of the 2017 World Superbike championship. The first round back on the continent is often remarked as the ‘second start’ to the season, as teams traditionally bring a host of upgrades and revisions to their machines.
Ducati Bring The Fight To Kawasaki
Aruba.it-Ducati’s Chaz Davies finally managed to open his account in this year’s championship by claiming victory in the second Superbike race, on Sunday. It so nearly could have been a brace and a full 50-points for the Welshman, had he not suffered the cruelest of blows on the penultimate lap of Saturday’s race and high-sided off the track. Nevertheless, a stunning ride the following day ensured that Jonathan Rea’s (KRT) incredible early season run of victories was ended. The championship standings may still firmly be in the favour of the triple world champion, but Davies has now marked himself as his chief rival in the duel for the highest honour in production bike circuit racing.
Resurgence At Yamaha
Whilst the green and red machines currently have a stranglehold on the race victories, Pata-Yamaha have emerged from this weekend as undoubtedly ‘best of the rest’. The Japanese manufacturer have made no secret that they are concentrating more resources into their World Superbike challenger. The team now work in close proximity to the Yamaha-M1 MotoGP factory outfit in Italy. Whilst limited in what upgrades they can produce for the R1, the team have vowed to make the championship a three-way shootout at the top. With Suzuka 8-hour winner Alex Lowes leading their on-track efforts, the Aragon round proved to be a real step forward for them with a consistently strong showing across the weekend. Indeed, Lowes was keeping pace with the front runners during Sunday’s race before out-braking himself into the T13/14 chicane and dropping back. Nevertheless, the promises of improvement have clear substance, and it surely will not be long before the team find themselves on the podium.
Not All About The Factories
Aragon was not all about the factory powered teams. There was a strong showing from the smaller, privateer teams. Jordi Torres, spearheading the efforts of the Althea-BMW outfit, was one of the standouts of the weekend. The Spaniard provided more than just pride and consolation for the home crowd by securing finishes inside the top ten for both races. It should come as little surprise that it is Torres who is effectively leading a resurgence in among the privateers – he is the former Spanish Moto2 champion, and has a CV loaded with victories across a multitude of categories. During the run up to the 2017 season, there had been open concerns amongst teams and supporters alike that the factory dominance of Kawasaki and Ducati in recent years had rendered the privateers uncompetitive. There is still an undeniable gap in outright performance of the machines, but riders like Torres are keeping the likes of Yamaha and Honda more than honest.
Honda On The Long Road Back
The first round on European soil also produced some good news for the Red-Bull Honda team. With two former world champions and MotoGP contenders piloting the new ‘Fireblade’, Aragon showcased the progress the troubled factory outfit. With a raft of upgrades including a new engine map and stiffer suspension, both Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl made it into the second Superpole qualifying session. Whilst the races still proved difficult and only minor points were all that the team could secure, there is potential in the bike. The riders have the quality to deliver the results. They just need the team to provide the upgrades.
Eddie Hocknull @EddieHocknull