WorldSBK: Who Can Challenge Bautista in Thailand?

For the fifth time in its history, The Buriram International Circuit in Thailand will play host to the second round of the Superbike World Championship.

The 2019 season began three weeks ago in Australia, with Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) taking all three race victories in dominant fashion. The Spaniard enjoyed a dream debut in WorldSBK, no doubt aided by the straight line performance of the new Ducati Panigale V4R, which should also be useful in Thailand, with the two long straights in the first sector. Whilst Bautista will undoubtedly arrive in Buriram the favourite for the victory in all three races, the Thai round could prove to be more of a challenge for the 2006 125cc World Champion.

Primarily, that challenge is likely to come from reigning World Champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who has won six out of the eight WorldSBK races held at the Thai track, including doubles in 2015 and 2017. Last year, the Northern Irishman faced struggles with on the brakes, as they overheated due to the heavy stops of the Buriram International Circuit combined with the extreme Thai heat. However, in response, the championship allowed larger brake ducts in Imola and Donington, which proved a successful remedy for the ZX-10RR’s problems. Still, though, it remains to be seen whether a similar situation will be encountered by Rea in this year’s Thai round of the Superbike World Championship – if he does it could leave Bautista free to take three more comfortable victories.

For the teammates of Rea and Bautista, Thailand is an interesting prospect.

Leon Haslam, (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) has not been to Buriram since 2015 when he rode the Aprilia RSV4 to two second places, meaning he can be fast at this track, but has less experience at the venue compared to his rivals. Haslam was strong in Phillip Island three weeks ago, and were it not for a crash in race one on Saturday, could have had three podiums.

Chaz Davis at Phillip Island 2019. Image courtesy of Ducati

On the side of Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati), however, the weekend is more of an opportunity for him to get closer to finding the feeling he wants from the Panigale V4R, having struggled with the new machinery since he first tried it last November. Davies appeared to make some progress in the second full-length race in Phillip Island, and will hope to continue along a similar path this weekend, on a circuit at which he often struggled with the V-twin Ducati, but was victorious at last season.

The other two Panigale V4R riders of Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven) and Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) are looking along similar lines to Davies, trying to find a better feeling from the bike. The task is made more difficult for these satellite riders, though, since they have different suspension manufacturers compared to the factory team, and so what they can learn from Davies and Bautista’s data and settings is limited.

The Pata Yamaha WorldSBK team would have been disappointed with their weekend in Phillip Island, having looked promising with both Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark throughout the weekend, and throughout the preseason – especially with Lowes – yet failed to make the podium in any of the three races in Australia. To add insult to injury, the new Yamaha team, GRT Yamaha WorldSBK, made the podium with Marco Melandri in the first race of the weekend. The battle for top Yamaha promises to be a great one in 2019, and the outcome of this weekend’s races will be interesting in respect to that fight.

It became clear during Phillip Island that strongest point of the new Ducati is its engine, whilst the new BMW S100RR had exactly the opposite issue. Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) rode superbly in the first race to take seventh place, but the power deficit of the BMW became more apparent in the two Sunday races, where Sykes made a bad start and could not find his way through the field, riders just powering away or past him on the straight. The situation will remain the same for this weekend, which will likely prove costly for both Sykes and his factory BMW teammate Markus Reiterberger in the first sector of the lap.

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