The final round of the 2017 World Superbike championship comes from Losail, in the Qatari desert. Like the MotoGP event, the races will be held under floodlights, although one takes place on Friday evening and the other on the Saturday. This is to respect what is traditionally known as the Qatari weekend. MotoGP previously adopted this format, between 2004 and 2007. Jonathan Rea has never won a World Superbike race in Qatar and will be hoping that he can end that run. The battle for 2nd in the championship is also raging between Welshman, Chaz Davies and Huddersfield’s Tom Sykes. Will we see team order tactics from Kawasaki like last season, to deny Chaz Davies a chance of the silver medallist position?
2nd and 3rd last season are Jonny Rea’s best results in Qatar. The Kawasaki rider has already took wins at 9 out of 12 rounds this season and he will be hoping to make it 10 from 13. Rea has won the last two races and if he was to win the final two races of the season, it’d be the first time ever that Kawasaki have ended the season with four consecutive race victories. It would also be the first time since 1996 that a Kawasaki had done the double in the final round of the season, with Anthony Gobert being the last rider to achieve that. Rea will be hoping to pass Troy Bayliss’ tally of wins, a number at which he is currently level on with the Australian.
Chaz Davies is 2nd in the championship, on 363 points. This is the same number of points as Tom Sykes but Davies is ahead of him on the virtue of race wins countback. The Ducati ace has had a mixed season, blighted by errors which has subsequently led to his demise as a championship challenger once again. Chaz Davies did the double in Qatar last season and was 4th and 2nd in 2015. Back in 2012, Davies’ 363 points would’ve given him the championship, so he is by no means slow or slacking, it is just the inconsistency that has hindered him this year. Chaz Davies last had a pole position at Imola, at which he achieved a double win that weekend too. Can he repeat that achievement?
Tom Sykes is dead level with Davies in the points so that really could be the big focus this weekend. Sykes has had just two wins this season, his worst tally since his sole victory back in 2011, the year he started winning. Kawasaki as a manufacturer haven’t had a 1-2 since race two at Laguna Seca and will be desperate to sign off on a high. Sykes’ last win came in race one at Misano and his last fastest lap was at the Lausitzring, race one. Sykes, like his teammate, has never won at Losail before and had a best result of 2nd at the circuit in race two last season. The last time he won the last race of the season was in 2012 at Magny Cours – the same statistic applies for Kawasaki; the last time they won the final race of the year was the same year.
Marco Melandri has hit something of a run of form towards the back end of 2017. Leading the first Jerez race until a mechanical breakdown four laps from the end wasn’t ideal, however, the Italian fought back in race two and finished 2nd. It was his 12th podium of the season, which stands him in good stead for 2018. Melandri has great form at Losail too, battling with Valentino Rossi in the 2005 Qatari Grand Prix until just a few corners from home. He was only 8th and 4th in 2014 on the Aprilia but on a bike that he is starting to like, he could be a surprise. He qualified on pole for Jerez and if he does the same again at Losail, it will be the first time ever that Melandri has achieved back-to-back poles. Will he continue to set records?
Alex Lowes sits in 5th place on his Pata Yamaha. The British rider comes to Qatar 16 points ahead of his teammate, Michael van der Mark. Lowes hasn’t finished outside of the top 5 in the last four races and will be hoping to extend that run to 5 – something he hasn’t done before. The Yamaha R1 achieved a podium at Losail last season, with Sylvain Guintoli and they will be looking to repeat that achievement this weekend. Lowes’ best result in Qatar is 7th, from race one last year. Although he can’t reach 4th in the championship, the ex BSB champion will be wanting to come away from Qatar with nothing less than at least one podium. This would be the ideal platform for him to start next season from.
Michael van der Mark returns from his MotoGP commitments in Malaysia and will be doing everything possible to try and catch his teammate for a top 5 slot in the championship. The Dutchman had a 5th and 4th at Losail in 2015 but only a 9th and 11th last season – both occasions, for Ten Kate Honda. The 25-year-old did however win a World Supersport race at the circuit in 2014, so he has winning pedigree. ‘Magic Michael’ has been in the top 10 since leaving Germany and will hope to put together a strong end to his season. Will he shine brightly under the floodlights in Qatar?
It is the final round of the championship and although it has already been decided, you’d be wrong to think that there is nothing to look out for. As said above, the battle for 2nd in the series is well and truly alive and kicking. MV Agusta’s Leon Camier is also in a tight fight for 8th in the championship with Althea BMW’s Jordi Torres and Milwaukee Aprilia’s Eugene Laverty, with just 19 points covering them all. With Leandro Mercado not riding due to his Ioda Racing team pulling out, Lorenzo Savadori needs just three points to overhaul the Argentine rider.
Image by Ducati