Lowes Takes First WSBK Win in Brno

After his domination of the first race at the Czech round of the 2018 Superbike World Championship, it was difficult to see anyone defeating Jonathan Rea, by this point the most victorious rider in World Superbike history, in the second outing in Brno.

However, Tom Sykes saw to that. On lap three of the race, after starting from ninth place thanks to the reverse grid rules, Rea tried a move on Sykes for sixth place at turn twelve, before the run up ‘Horsepower Hill’, but ran wide. Sykes, as you might expect, squared the corner off and tried to beat Rea out of the corner. Unfortunately, though, the pair made contact and Rea ended up in the gravel. That is the essence of what happened, but it did not end there.

Whilst the race was continuing, Rea stood at the side of the track and offered a sarcastic applause to his KRT teammate, obviously not impressed by what happened, and after the race he explained that he felt that Sykes ran into him on purpose, citing the 2013 World Champion’s line on the exit of the corner compared to Eugene Laverty’s in front as evidence since Sykes was out a little wider than Laverty. Rea also questioned why it always seems to be only with him that Sykes can fight and ultimately blamed his teammate for the incident. Obviously, Sykes himself had a different perspective on the incident and felt that Race Direction were correct in their verdict that it was a ‘racing incident’ and so took no action. Whatever opinion you have on this, you have to admit that there is no a clear rupture in the Kawasaki Racing Team garage, and the unsurprising continuation of Rea in Kawasaki – which was announced the following day – may also indicate that the number 66 is leaving the ZX10-RR at the end of 2018 to look for greener (bluer) grass in another garage.

Back to the race and, one lap later, Marco Melandri took the lead at turn one from Alex Lowes. Two corners after that, the Italian was in the gravel, his victory hopes gone. All of a sudden, the race was blown wide open: Rea, serial winner, was out; Melandri, the Brno specialist was out of contention and the two Yamaha riders were leading from Chaz Davies and Eugene Laverty.

Chas Davis. Image courtesy of ducati media

Given the struggles of Davies in the Czech Republic, a round which had not shown an upturn in form for the Welshman after a tough Donington, it was hard to see him getting near the Yamahas of Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes. The Yamaha riders were the first to try the new, wider, taller Pirelli tyre and it was one of the things which helped Michael van der Mark take the double back in the UK. On the other hand, Davies had struggled since its introduction and it would not be a ludicrous assumption that missing something with this new tyre is a major factor in the number 7’s current struggles – although, it is a surprise that it is he that is struggling, not the diminutive Melandri.

So, with Davies on the limit and with no answer to either of the two Pata Yamaha R1s, it was down to the Anglo-Dutch leading pair to decide who should be the victor: would Lowes take his first World Superbike victory, his first of any kind since the first British Superbike race at Assen in 2013; or would Van der Mark take his third win in four races on his first Brno visit? Judging by race one, it should have been Magic Michael’s all day – he had better pace than Lowes, and by the midpoint of race two he was making an impression on the 2013 British Champion. But Lowes responded. He managed the gap well and with three laps to go he seemed to break Van der Mark’s spirit as the Dutchman seemed to settle in for second place behind his teammate and be content with completing Yamaha’s first World Superbike 1-2 since Portimao 2011 when Marco Melandri led Eugene Laverty home at the Portuguese circuit. And that is how it went. In the end, Michael let Alex go and the Brit took a first win that has been a very long time coming, and a well-deserved one at that, too.

It was a stunning ride from Lowes. So many times we have seen him faulter in promising positions, especially back in the Suzuki days. But on Sunday the #22 showed off the revolutionised Alex Lowes; the rational, calm and consistent rider that began to emerge in the beginning of last season and who has begun to flourish in 2018 and this victory is just deserves for the change in attitude he took for 2017. In the preview for this weekend, I asked the question of whether the motivation Lowes gained from his teammate’s double victory in Donington would be enough to overcome Van der Mark this weekend should they end up in a position where they both had the opportunity to win, and he showed that it was.

Marco Melandri. Image courtesy of Ducati media

Perhaps more importantly, the win showed that the Yamaha is a genuine race-winning motorcycle. For sure, Rea and Sykes (in a separate incident to the one already discussed) crashed, Davies struggled and Melandri cost himself a chance of the win, but Yamaha still had to capitalise and they did so with a stunning 1-2. From now the most important thing for Yamaha is to manage expectations: ultimately they still aren’t quite at the level of Kawasaki or Ducati, but they are getting closer, and perhaps that is the most important thing.

Behind the podium trio of Lowes, Van der Mark and Davies (a great result for Davies, by the way, after another really tough weekend), Eugene Laverty brought home his Milwaukee Aprilia RSV4 in fourth place – his and the team’s best result of the season and proof of further steps forward from the SMR team, despite Aprilia’s limited interest in WSBK. Still, though, Laverty is complaining of his classic rear grip issues and whilst it is improving it is still not where he would like it. Amongst rumours of the team’s switch to Suzuki or BMW for next season, this result is quite positive in terms of the team’s chances of staying with Aprilia for 2019. What is not so positive is the signs coming from Noale, which all point towards furthering their efforts in MotoGP, highlighted by statements from Romano Albesiano after they announced the signing of Andrea Iannone to the MotoGP outfit for next year, in which he spoke of Aprilia’s increased commitment in GPs. Whilst Lorenzo Savadori backed up Laverty’s fourth place with a fifth of his own, you can’t help but feel there will be some different machinery behind the Milwaukee logos for next year.

Michael Ruben Rinaldi . Image courtesy of Ducati media

Following the two Aprilias over the line was in sixth, again impressing on the Aruba.it Junior Team Ducati. Once more, it was tyre wear towards the end of the race that cost the Italian-Venezuelan a chance to finish further up, but his ability is shining through this year. Unfortunately for Michael, he now has a four-week break until his next race in Misano. He is only doing the European races this season so he will therefore miss the next round of the World Championship in Laguna Seca.

Leon Camier will not miss Laguna, and will hopefully be in a better physical condition than this weekend when he arrives in California for round eight of the season. Of course, Leon is still suffering with pain and discomfort from his crash in Aragon back in round three of the series, but that did not stop him taking another top ten on Sunday with seventh place, another good result on the Red Bull Honda.

Xavi Fores completed yet another frustrating weekend, although nowhere near as bad as Donington, with an eighth place on the Barni Racing Ducati. It has been some slump from the Spaniard in the last few rounds, but hopefully he can return to the form that saw him take so many podiums in the first part of the season in the races coming up.

Toprak Razgatlioglu ensured he took two top tens away from his first ever race weekend in Brno with a ninth in race two to follow on from his tenth place in race one. This was the target set for him by the Puccetti Racing Kawasaki team, so despite it not being the stunning second place of race two in Donington, the Turkish rider should be happy with his weekend.

Roman Ramos rounded out the top ten on Sunday, to take his first finish inside the first ten riders of 2018. The new engine revs regulations have hit the customer Kawasaki teams extremely hard because, unlike KRT, they do not have the resources to find ways around the harsh rev limits placed on the ZX10-RR, but it seems that Ramos and the GoEleven Kawasaki team are finding their way, and hopefully the Spaniard can have a better second half of the season.

Loris Baz finished a disappointing eleventh – you get the feeling that both he and Althea Racing cannot wait to get to the end of the season so that they both can see the back of the BMW because they just do not seem to be getting the support they need to make progress.

Twelfth place went to Jake Gagne, again a way off Camier but again at a circuit he does not know. It will be interesting to see what Gagne can do at Laguna, a track he knows well,  because he needs to prove himself. He did, at least, beat PJ Jacobsen on the Triple M Honda who finished thirteenth, ahead of Yonny Hernandez and Marco Melandri who, after his excursion early in the race, finished fifteenth albeit without his rear brake pedal.

After a weird crash at turn ten which should have high-sided him but thankfully did not (thus highlighting the lack of grip in the intense Czech summer heat) Tom Sykes finished a lowly sixteenth, no doubt to the minor amusement of his teammate, Rea, but disappointment of Kawasaki, who ended Sunday with no more points than they had at the end of Saturday. Leandro Mercado and home rider Ondrej Jezek were the last of the eighteen finishers. Apart from Rea, only Jordi Torres failed to finish the race.

Drama and intrigue surrounded this race, but the biggest talking point is still Yamaha and their resurgence, this time spearheaded by Alex Lowes. Laguna Seca is next, previously a very good circuit for Ducati, but also for Rea and even Aprilia – Laverty is eyeing a podium. Can Yamaha win again in California, or will normal service be resumed by the World Championship leader and record breaking Jonathan Rea?

Featured Image courtesy of Ducati media

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