Michael Van der Mark stunned the field to claim his first victory in the World Superbike Championship as series leader, Jonathan Rea, strengthened his title challenge.
Under gloomy skies, but thankfully dry conditions, the Dutchman left it late to secure the top honours for Race 1 of the UK round. Although being competitive during the practice sessions, the true race pace of the Yamaha R1 was not expected to be at the very front alongside the green machines of the Kawasaki Racing Team (KRT).
With no rider having completed a full race simulation, Van der Mark produced a perfect display of tenacity and tactical awareness – ‘race craft’ to use the cliche – across the 23-lap race duration. Having seen off his Pata Yamaha teammate, Alex Lowes, by the halfway point of the race, ‘Magic Mike’ began to close down the KRT duo of Rea and Tom Sykes.
Any uncertainty over tyre wear was put to rest by the ultra smooth riding style of the Yamaha man, who squeezed his way past Sykes at the Melbourne hairpin, as the Yorkshireman struggled for grip late in the race. Just a couple of laps later, he completed the same move on Rea. Such was his good work at preserving the life in his tyres, that he was able to pull clear of the triple world champion to ensure an historic victory. Van der Mark took his maiden World Superbike win, and also became the first rider from the Netherlands to do so. It was also the first win for any Yamaha team in the championship since Portugal, 2011. The celebrations may well run into the middle of next week.
The KRT riders both finished upon the podium, as to be expected at Donington, although this may well seem an anti-climax for the team, following their record breaking performance earlier in the day in qualifying with Tom Sykes. The 32-year old took the record for most pole positions (44 and counting) from Australian legend Troy Corser. He did it in style, smashing a new pole lap record: 1″26’663. Tyre wear was undoubtedly a problem in the closing stages of today’s race, not helped by the ferocious scrap between himself and Rea during the opening laps.
The defending champion seemed more relieved to have got through the race as well as he did. Speaking post-qualifying he revealed he had only completed short runs in practice, and had no idea how the bike would behave by the end of the race. The second place podium finish means he extends his championship lead to 59 points. Its a healthy advantage but there is no doubt he’s having to fight every step of the way this year.
Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha) finished fourth today after an early race scrap with his teammate. When the leading trio began to pull away, the British rider settled into his rhythm and brought home a valuable total of points for the team. After such a difficult weekend last time out at Imola, this result was very much needed. Any feelings of disappointment today will be tempered by the fact that he does have a bike capable of beating the Kawasaki machines, and that he starts Race 2 tomorrow from pole position.
Milwaukee Aprilia had a very solid race, finishing not far behind Lowes in P5 (Lorenzo Savadori) and P6 (Eugene Laverty). Savadori spent the first half of the race in the leading group on the track, before eventually the relentless pace was too much for the RSV4-RF. Starting tomorrow’s race from the middle of the front row increases the teams chances of being able to fight for a podium finish – not beyond the realms of possibility. Laverty still continued to impress as he is still recovering from serious injuries sustained in Thailand back in March. Although never able to directly challenge his teammate today, the Irishman fought off a resurgent Loris Baz (Althea BMW) who had qualified on the front row, earlier in the day.
Questions will be being asked very loudly, and long into the night, in the Aruba.it Ducati garages. The weekend so far has been nothing short of a disaster for the Italian outfit. Chaz Davies could only manage to finish in P8 whilst his teammate, Marco Melandri, failed to finish following a fast lowside crash at Goddards. Their junior rider, Michael Ruben Rinaldi, could only manage P12. All three of the riders’ bikes have been suffering from lack of stability upon both corner entry and exit, costing them dearly in terms of lap times. It will be a lengthy night for the team as they try and make the bikes competitive for Race 2 tomorrow.
As its the UK round of the series, there were a number of wildcards entering from the British Superbike Championship – five in total. Leon Haslam (Pucetti Kawasaki) was once again competitive around his home circuit. The Derbyshire man hounded his teammate, Toprak Razgatlioglu, across the duration and inherited P8 when the Turkish star unfortunately crashed out on the final lap.
Bradley Ray, racing his BSB-spec Buildbase Suzuki machine managed to bring home points with his finish in P14. Unlike the World Superbike machines, contenders for the British series are not allowed to run electronic aids such as traction control and anti-wheelie systems. As a consequence, the Suzuki was at a disadvantage to the rest of the field.
Luke Mossey (Pedercini Kawasaki) finished in P17, ahead of Gino Rea (OMG Racing Suzuki) in P23. Unfortunately for Mason Law (WD40 Kawasaki), a technical problem with the bike saw him pushed off the grid just prior to the warm up lap, and he never made the start.