World Superbikes stumble into Italy this weekend for the 2nd time this year. This time however, it is at the historic Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, in Rimini on the Adriatic Coast. Having his lead chopped down by 20 points at Donington Park, Jonathan Rea will be feeling the heat that former champion and teammate Tom Sykes is putting on him.
Reigning champion Rea crashed out for the first time this season in race one at Donington Park, the first time he’s been outside the top 2, too. The Kawasaki rider has 55 points over teammate Sykes although that may well change this weekend. It was a confident double win last year for Rea at Misano, fending off pressure from Sykes in race one before dominating on Sunday. A repeat performance perhaps, or will it be an in form Tom Sykes to spoil a Northern Irish party?
Sykes’ victory at Donington Park was his first of the year, astonishingly. The Huddersfielder has only finished off the podium three times this season but too many third place finishes explain the gargantuan gap between him and his teammate. Last year, Sykes came away from Misano with two second places but he knows this year he has to beat teammate Rea. It all depends on how many bikes can get in between the two all conquering Kawasakis.
Chaz Davies made another mistake at Donington Park. Crashing out of the lead at Goddard’s in the first race, Davies sits a massive 75 points behind Jonny Rea. Two retirements have put Davies’ title surge on the back foot for now but if anyone can overturn, the Welshman can. We are coming to the circuits at which he dominated last year and it only takes a mistake from the Kawasaki pairing and Davies will be there to pick up the scraps. His best result at Misano remains a third place but he has crashed out three times from ten races.
Marco Melandri hasn’t looked like a serious championship threat all season and he completes the leading four in the championship, some 123 points behind Rea. Barring miracles, Melandri doesn’t look like a challenger for the top three however, stranger things have happened. The former MotoGP race winner hasn’t had a podium since race one at Imola and is yet to win a race on his WSBK return. The last time he visited Misano, he came away with two third-place finishes but like Davies, he has never won there. The new Panigale is yet to win there too, with the last Ducati victory at Misano coming from a Carlos Checa double in 2011.
Britain’s Alex Lowes put in a stirling effort to take his first podium in over two years at Donington Park. It was also Yamaha’s first of the year. Just one DNF all season, the former British Superbike champion is starting to surge forward and now with the pressure of his home round out the way, he can focus on trying to catch Melandri for 4th (he is only 16 points behind). Alex has had a best finish 8th at Misano, which he matched last year but nothing less than a top five will suffice for the Lincolnshire rider.
Teammate Michael van der Mark is in 6th place as he continue to work through his schedule of adapting to his new Yamaha. The Dutchman is yet to take a podium this year but you get the feeling it isn’t far away. Having been usurped out of 3rd in the closing stages of race two at Donington Park, he will come to Misano – like his teammate – with a bundle of confidence. He took a podium in the first race last year at the track on a dog-slow Honda but hasn’t won there – even in his Supersport days. Could Michael be an upset? Nothing will spur him on more than being just 19 points away from his teammate.
Keep your eyes open on other movers and shakers, such as Xavi Fores and Leon Camier, but also on Stefan Bradl, who recently completed a test at the track as the team continue to gain valuable data. Jordi Torres will always be in the top 10 but could spring a surprise in the races whilst the Aprilia pairing of Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori will be desperate to make up for an apocalyptically disastrous Donington Park.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko