Chaz Davies was on pole ahead of race one of the eighth round of the 2018 Superbike World Championship, but it was Jonathan Rea who, as you might expect, was favourite to take the race win, despite qualifying third.
Straight away off the line, Rea was past his teammate, Tom Sykes, for P2, and then set his sights on Chaz Davies. He had a look to pass the Welshman at the final corner on the first lap, but Davies squared the corner off to undercut the championship leader and beat him on the run out of the corner.
From then on, Davies and Rea stayed in line, Rea content to remain behind the Ducati as it pulled him clear of the rest of the pack. But, unexpectedly, Davies then started to pull away from Rea, and had about half a second before he locked the front at the top of the Corkscrew, and was forced to release the brake, run wide and let the #1 Kawasaki through.
After that, Rea was imperious and although Davies was able to keep contact with the Northern Irishman for a while after his mistake, with about ten laps to go that contact was relinquished, and the reigning champion stormed to his seventh win of 2018, extending his championship lead over Davies back out to seventy points.
As usual, Rea was immaculate in this race one. He made almost no mistakes the whole race, took his opportunity when it arose, kept hold of his tyre beautifully and finally took what was a well deserved win, however expected it was.
However, Rea admitted to being surprised about the pace of Davies, and how long the Welshman was able to keep at the front. Perhaps the key for Davies was using the older-spec, smaller rear tyre, which most have dismissed since the newer, larger tyre came in at Donington. Certainly, since that newer tyre arrived, Davies had seemed lass comfortable with the Panigale, which is interesting because the tyre has typically worked better for the taller riders, of which Davies is one. Either way, reverting to the smaller tyre seemed to work for him, and although he couldn’t fight until the end for the victory, he might not have even made the podium with the big tyre. Also, Davies chose the softest option rear, whereas almost everyone else chose the hardest; perhaps choosing a harder tyre, as well as some more changes, could bring Davies into play later in the race in race two, if he can get through the pack from row three as quickly as Rea.
Alex Lowes took his second consecutive World Superbike podium with third place, after his debut win in Brno a fortnight ago. It was a strange race for Lowes, simply because he seemed to be pushing on a lot for what he surely knew would be little reward. That said, we saw very little of him once he passed Tom Sykes at the top of the Corkscrew, so maybe what we did see was an anomaly. Either way, being so far clear in that third place at a circuit which has not favoured the Yamaha in recent years at all is a positive for the Crescent team, even if they were twelve seconds off the win. It will be interesting to see what Lowes can do from the head of the third row in race two. Laguna is a tough circuit to pass on – although obviously no one told Alex that, seeing his passes in race one – so he will need a good start if he is to fight for the podium again.
Eugene Laverty took his second fourth place in succession. The first lap was a tough one for Norge, dropping behind both Lowes and his teammate Lorenzo Savadori to sixth place. He maintained his tyres and towards the end of the race, he was able to fend of the resurgent Ducatis of Marco Melandri and Xavi Fores, who were coming back to him at the end, to hold onto the fourth place he took from Sykes in the same place which Lowes past the #66 Kawasaki: the top of the Corkscrew. The key for Laverty has been discovering some rear grip with the RSV4, which he has been searching for since the beginning of the season. Like Davies, Laverty suffered with the new tyre, but persevered with it and is now feeling the benefit of that. Starting from pole in race 2, Laverty has a genuine chance to make the podium for the first time since 2014.
Marco Melandri had a strange race. He came through the pack fairly well in the beginning of the race, but after passing Xavi Fores, he seemed to make a mistake, as he dropped back behind the Spaniard, only to re-pass him in the final laps. Ultimately, he did not have enough to pass Laverty for the reverse grid pole, but if he can get away well in race two from the front row, he has the opportunity to make a good race and fight for the podium – maybe even the win.
It was sixth place for Xavi Fores, who saw a return to form, and finished a massive seven seconds ahead of Tom Sykes, who had a nightmare. It seemed like Sykes’ rear tyre started to drop after about five laps, by lap ten it was dead and by the end of the race it had started to rot and the maggots had arrived. With such a dramatic drop off (he ended the race twenty-five seconds off the win), Sykes had no chance of fighting for any position and from the outside it seems he needs a miracle to reverse his fortunes for the second race.
Michael van der Mark continued his difficult weekend, finishing only eighth, fourteen seconds down on teammate, Alex Lowes. It looks like Magic Michael needs to live up to his name if he is to improve for race two, he just hasn’t looked competitive all weekend.
Jordi Torres was ninth, ahead of home rider, Jake Gagne who took his first top ten of the season, in tenth. Perhaps this is what Gagne needs to kickstart his season, albeit seven rounds late. Now Gagne is in circuits he knows he might be able to show a more competitive pace.
Yonny Hernandez was eleventh; Roman Ramos came from the back of the grid to twelfth; Karel Hanika (replacing Ondrej Jezek in Guandalini Yamaha) made his World Superbike debut in thirteenth; Lorenzo Savadori crashed at the final corner on lap two but got back on to get two points in fourteenth; Loris Baz also crashed, and was the final finisher in fifteenth, so like Savadori still scored points.
Leandro Mercado, PJ Jacobsen, Leon Camier, Josh Herrin and Toprak Razgatlioglu all retired. It was especially a shame for Herrin, who had shown strong pace over the course of the weekend.
Again, the biggest question from race one: can anyone stop Jonathan Rea?
Featured Image courtesy of Ducati.