World Superbike is in a very interesting situation; in fact, it is in the same situation as MotoGP was back in 2016, after Andrea Iannone took Ducati’s first win in six years at the Austrian Grand Prix, Ducati then became a threat, a realistic option for a race win in most races. In this instance, in World Superbike, it has been Michael van der Mark who has brought Yamaha into the realm of realistic contention for race wins. Now, instead of hoping for a win, Yamaha have to expect wins.
Going into Brno, there is no reason why they cannot win. Nobody has been to Brno, apart from the test earlier this year between the Dutch and Italian rounds of the World Championship, since World Superbike last raced there in 2012, when Marco Melandri on the factory BMW took both victories. Melandri also won in 2011, when he was aboard the Yamaha, sharing the wins with Max Biaggi on the Aprilia. Of course, it would be a surprise to see a BMW on the top step in the Czech Republic this weekend, given the lack of support Loris Baz and the Althea Racing team receive from Germany, although they expect to be able to continue their good form from Donington where Loris Baz qualified second for the first race of the weekend.
But with Yamaha’s recent gains, especially in cool conditions, it would not be out of the question that we could see Yamaha challenging again this weekend and, theoretically, the nature of the circuit should lend itself to the R1, since power is not what makes or breaks a lap in this circuit and corner speed is essential. But if Yamaha do continue their winning streak this weekend, will it be Michael van der Mark or Alex Lowes who does the winning? For sure, after his teammate’s double win in Donington, Lowes will be fired up for this weekend, but will that be a match for Van der Mark’s undoubtedly heightened confidence?
For Aprilia, it would be a surprise if they were to match the victory of Biaggi in 2011, the bike just is not there yet. After Eugene Laverty’s promise in Donington was let down by a sticking throttle, he will be after redemption this weekend, whilst Lorenzo Savadori will be hoping to build on his impressive form from the UK round of the World Championship. The positive for Aprilia is that they should have the power to launch them up ‘Horsepower Hill’, but will they have the chassis and the balance to get them through the rest of the lap with decent efficiency?
Kawasaki can never be discounted, though. It was a surprise to not see them take a win in Donington, partly because Tom Sykes has been so successful there over the years, but also because the layout perfectly suits the fluid riding style of the reigning World Champion Jonathan Rea. The current championship leader has the unusual ability to be able to run both high corner speed and stop-start riding styles in the same moment, which is perfect for Donington: running high apex speed in the first half of the lap is critical, whilst in the second half of the lap, through the Melbourne Loop, braking performance and acceleration are key. Somehow, Rea and his team manage to get the bike set up for both. In Brno, he will only need one, though, the corner speed. For sure, the braking stability and acceleration are important to be able to get in and out of the big ‘ess’ bends of Brno effectively, but you can counteract that well by running well through the middle of the corner with a lot of speed to carry good momentum, and that is typically what teams look for in Brno.
Furthermore, the KRT pair of Rea and Sykes are two of only four current World Superbike riders who have finished on the podium in Brno, along with Marco Melandri and Loris Baz. In fact, Rea is the only rider other than Melandri on the current grid to have won in Brno, which he did back in 2010 aboard the Castrol Ten Kate Honda. With this in mind, you might consider that the field will have a tough time beating either of the factory Kawasaki riders this weekend, but that was the thought going into Donington, and look what happened there. Moreover, Brno’s emphasis on corner speed severely hinders, in theory, Sykes who prefers the stop-start style of riding, and tends to run quite low corner speed. Finally, should both KRT riders be on the podium in race one, which is always likely, they will of course be starting on row three for race two and, whilst it might be expected that Rea should make a good start, the same thing might not be applicable to Sykes, who finds it difficult to overtake, typically, and that difficulty will only be increased by the difficulty in overtaking in Brno caused by the short straights.
Overall, we should be in for an interesting weekend in Brno, and Friday’s three free practice sessions will tell us a lot about what to expect from the races on Friday and Saturday.