Two weeks on from another dominant performance by Alvaro Bautista and his ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati the Superbike World Championship heads to Aragon for the first European round of the 2019 season.
Six wins from six races mean Alvaro Bautista is clear at the top of the championship by twenty-six points over reigning champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK). The Spaniard has no doubt benefited from the power of the new Panigale V4R in the first two rounds of his WorldSBK career, and that advantage in straight line performance is likely to be a distinct advantage at MotorLand this weekend, with its long back straight and high-speed pit straight. It should not be underestimated, though, the way in which Bautista has found speed in the corners with the new Ducati. The V4R in the hands of Bautista is not simply pulling away on the straights and then losing a handful of time in the twisty sections, but Bautista is able to make similar times to Rea and the #1 Kawasaki in tighter sections, and this could be crucial at Aragon.
The most recent addition to Spain’s armada of world championship-level circuits is famed for its long straight at the end of the lap, but the series of corners which come before that are undoubtedly more important to lap time. Braking stability – both in a straight line and on angle – as well as mid-corner speed, acceleration and agility in direction changes are all important at MotorLand. It provides one of the most demanding layouts in short-circuit motorcycling.
The rider who has met those demands most regularly over the past few years has been Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati). He took his first win in Aragon back in 2013 race one on the BMW, and backed it up in the second race by securing the double. The Welshman also secured the double in 2016, as well as taking the race two wins in 2015, 2017 and 2018. It has not been a perfect start to life with the Panigale V4R, but a positive step for Sunday’s second full-length race in Thailand three weeks ago was clear before a mechanical problem ended his chances. At a track he gets on with so well, this weekend could be the one he needs to discover some more feeling with the new bike, and some confidence to go with it.
A confident, V4R-mounted Chaz Davies could be the last thing Jonathan Rea needs. The Northern Irishman has yet to defeat the new Ducati in the hands of championship leader Bautista, but has made the perfect damage limitation job so far in 2019: where Bautista has scored six wins, Rea has scored six second places. Quite simply, considering the obvious gap in machinery at the first two rounds, Rea could not have done more to this point in the season. However, if Davies finds pace this weekend and the Panigale is as fast in Aragon as it has been at Phillip Island and Buriram, three more seconds for Rea could become three thirds. However, to become a four-times World Champion, you cannot go into a weekend thinking that second place is the best option. Rea will only have a mind for the victory in MotorLand, although perhaps it will come down to more than the determination of the rider.
Aside from Bautista, perhaps the standout rider in WorldSBK in Thailand was Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK), taking three third places behind Bautista and Rea. Back in 2016, Aragon was the site of the latest-model R1’s first front row. Despite that, the bike has never achieved a podium in MotorLand, and neither has Lowes, two things the Brit will be aiming to change this weekend after such a positive second round in Thailand.
This weekend could go one of two ways for BMW. Their bikes suffers a lot in the straights but is fantastic in the corners. The way their weekend goes depends one whether they can make up for what they lose in the drag from turn fifteen to sixteen in the corners, or whether that near-kilometre-long run will see them overwhelmed by their more powerful competitors. As well as their sweet-handling chassis, Tom Sykes’ (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) record at the Spanish track is on the German manufacturer’s side. The Briton has scored seven podium finishes at Aragon, including two wins back in 2014.
Featured Image courtesy of Ducati