Four weeks after the sensational opening round at Philip Island, the World Superbike paddock sets up shop this weekend at the Chang International Circuit in Thailand.
Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Ducati) scored a brilliant double last time out in Australia, and will be looking to increase his lead at the top of the championship. History has not been kind to the factory-supported Ducati team. In the previous three years that World Superbikes has been visiting the Buriram track, no rider aboard a Panigale machine has stood on the top step of the podium. The best result by any Ducati rider here is second place, achieved by Melandri’s teammate, Chaz Davies, in 2017. Davies will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing round in Australia, and reassert himself as the team’s number one. Davies has a good record here. Despite never having yet claimed victory, the 31-year old has finished on the podium twice here (second place in 2015 and third place in 2016).
Aruba.it Ducati will also be facing competition from their privateer counterparts. Xavi Fores (Barni Racing Ducati) was the standout independent rider from the opening round last month. The Spaniard threw the form book out of the proverbial window during the second race, to claim a remarkable third place finish just behind Melandri and Jonathan Rea (KRT) . At the Thai circuit we could see Fores feature prominently again, as the track suits the strengths of the Panigale 1199 as well as the ‘no holds barred’ style of its rider.
By their own admission the all-conquering Kawasaki Racing Team were disappointed to leave Phillip Island with two second place finishes. Despite starting the opening race from pole position, tyre trouble denied Tom Sykes. Jonathan Rea was beaten to the line in the thrilling drag race in race two. KRT have every reason to expect success this weekend. Since the World Superbike Championship first visited Thailand in 2015, the green and black machines have held an exclusive monopoly at the track with victory in all six previous races. Rea standing on the top step of the podium a staggering five times, with Sykes securing his victory in 2016.
Red Bull Honda looking to back up their strong performance from Australia. Leon Camier returned from the opening round with a solid haul of points for the team – underlining how far the team has improved since last season. The British rider defied all expectation, taking a brace of sixth place finishes. Most notably, in race 2 the Honda rider finished under 3 seconds shy of the winner. It was a challenging weekend for his teammate, Jake Gagne. The American had never before ridden the Phillip Island circuit, and the objectives were to simply learn the course, not crash and fight for points if possible. The rookie ticked all three boxes. It will be the case of “same again” this weekend as, having arrived from MotoAmerica, the 26-year old has never raced at the Buriram venue before.
Gagne is one of five riders who will be racing a superbike around the Buriram circuit for the first time this weekend. The other four being: Loris Baz (Gulf Althea BMW), Yonny Hernandez (Team Pedercini Racing), PJ Jacobsen (TripleM Honda World Superbike Team) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (Puccetti Kawasaki).
The Pata Yamaha team will be looking to improve upon their solid, if unspectacular, showing in round one. In the build up to the season much had been made of the growing rivalry between the two Yamaha riders, Alex Lowes (Great Britain) and Michael Van der Mark (Netherlands). If you include qualifying performances into consideration, Lowes arrives in Thailand with a 3-0 lead over his team-mate, having out scored his teammate in both races last time out. The Buriram circuit has not been a happy hunting ground for the team, with a best result of fourth last year for Lowes, being the highlight. Straight line speed is critical at this track, something the team spent a considerable amount of time working on during the winter tests.
Qualifying: Saturday, March 24th, 1330 Local Time (0630 GMT)
Race 1: Saturday, March 24th, 1600 Local Time (0900 GMT)
Race 2: Sunday, March 25th, 1600 Local Time (1000 BST)