Despite Alvaro Bautista’s (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) dominance throughout the first four rounds of the season, it was Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) who went into Sunday’s Superpole race in Imola for the fifth round of the 2019 Superbike World Championship as the favourite for the race win thanks to his demolition of the field in Saturday’s first race.
Although storms were forecast for Sunday, and eventually led to the cancellation of the second full-length outing for the WorldSBK riders, the Superpole race took place in the dry, albeit under a veil of cloud.
With the grid being the same as for race one, it was Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) who started from pole, and as in race one it was the Welshman who took the holeshot and led into the Variante Tamburello for the first time. Unlike race one, however, Rea was unable to pass Davies into the Variante Villeneuve.
However, when Davies missed the apex of the second part of the Variante Villeneuve, Rea sensed an opportunity in Tosa, so threw his Kawasaki inside Davies’ Ducati, but ran wide and the #7 was able to keep the lead as they made their way towards Piratella.
Rea was able to get to the front before the end of the first lap, though, when Davies ran wide at the final chicane. In fact, Davies was fortunate to keep his Panigale V4R on the track, and even more fortunate to only drop to third, behind both Rea and his teammate Bautista. Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) was also close behind, but unable to take advantage of the 2011 Supersport World Champion’s mistake.
Not that Rea was in need of an opportunity to have a lap to himself at the front, but he now had it, and with Bautista between himself and Davies, there was a good chance for the Northern Irishman to extend his advantage at the front.
Bautista did not lose too much time on the second lap, though, although Rea still extended his advantage by just over a tenth. But the early signs were good for Bautista, it looked as though he could perhaps go with the reigning World Champion.
However, by the end of lap four, Rea’s advantage had grown to over one second, and with six laps to go it seemed that Rea had his first ever Superpole race win in the bag.
As the race approached half distance, and as Rea’s advantage was slowly creeping out, the battle behind the four times World Champion was intensifying between the two factory Ducatis of Bautista and Davies. A mistake from Bautista in the first Rivazza allowed Davies to cut down the Spaniard’s inside and whilst the #19 tried to cut back on the exit of the second Rivazza, Davies had him covered off.
With four laps to go, Davies now had a clear run at Jonathan Rea out front. Bautista was now haemorrhaging time to his teammate, perhaps experiencing difficulties with his SCX rear tyre.
At the same time as Bautista was dropping back, Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) was suffering with rear grip, too. Like Bautista, he had chosen the SCX rear tyre, and been strong at the start whilst fighting with the two Pata Yamaha WorldSBK bikes of Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark, as well as Leon Haslam in the battle for fourth. After mid-distance, though, with van der Mark having cleared off up the street, Razgatlioglu was now fighting with Lowes and Haslam for fifth, with no edge grip nor drive grip. Clearly, although there was a new SCX rear tyre for the Imola weekend, it was still not what the riders needed for the ten laps of the Superpole race.
Meanwhile, back at the front, Davies and Rea were trading lap records as the Welshman tried to close the gap to the front, and Rea did his best to keep him at bay.
With nine tenths between the two as they went onto the penultimate lap, it looked like Rea had the race win locked up, and this was confirmed as they went onto the final lap with 1.8 seconds covering the top two combatants.
In the end it was a second race win of the weekend and a second of the season for Rea, who took more points out of Bautista, cutting the championship lead of the Spaniard to forty-three points. In all it was as close to a perfect race as Rea could get. He was perhaps fortunate that Davies made the mistake at the end of lap one, because without a doubt the Welshman had the pace to go with Rea, but ultimately the four-times champion did enough, and he will be hoping that the strong performance at Imola will be the start of his fight back in the title race against Bautista.
Whilst the mistake of Davies was a blessing for Rea, it was the source of disappointment for Davies himself, who undoubtedly lost his best shot at a win this season as he ran wide in the Variante Bassa at the end of lap one. Nonetheless, the #7 showed good speed throughout the weekend and, like Rea, will hope that this is a sign of things to come for the next races.
For the first time this season, Bautista was beaten by his teammate. However, his worst finish of the season came perhaps in the best possible race, because the points in a Superpole race are much less than those of the full-length races. Furthermore, it is possible to argue that Bautista could have been closer to the front two with a different tyre choice, because he was clearly suffering with the rear grip in the second half of the race. The Spaniard was lucky, overall, in Imola, mostly for the fact that a wet race was avoided, but also for the fact that his teammate retired in race one. It was certainly about as good a damage limitation job as the #19 could have hoped for.
Fourth place went to Michael van der Mark. The Dutchman would have been happy to have the race he did in the Superpole race, because in the second half he was completely alone on the track. Far behind him were Alex Lowes and Leon Haslam, who were fifth and sixth, respectively. Especially for Lowes, this result was impressive, considering his delicate physical condition in the weekend.
Razgatlioglu’s tyre choice limited the Turk to seventh place, which he just held on to from Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) by 0.280 seconds. It was a dramatic race for Sykes. He had to start from pit lane, which meant that his chances were restricted before the race began, but the Englishman had a brilliant start to the race, and was strong fighting through the pack to finish eighth, although after having a strong chance of a podium on Saturday the #66 would have been disappointed to come away from Imola with just two points.
Just a couple of tenths behind Sykes was Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) who returned to the top ten after missing out in the first race, whilst Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) rounded out the top ten for the second time in the weekend.
Twelfth place on Saturday for Tommy Bridewell – replacing Eugene Laverty at Team GoEleven – was impressive, and equally so was the joint-BSB-points-leader’s eleventh place in the Superpole race; with the #46 beating wildcard Lorenzo Zanetti (Motocorsa Racing); series regular and reigning Supersport World Champion Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK); Leandro Mercado’s replacement at Orelac Racing VerdNatura Hector Barbera; and BARNI Racing’s Michael Ruben Rinaldi who completed the points.
Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) had a dreadful Superpole race, and finished seventeenth, behind Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team), whilst Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) was the final finisher in eighteenth.
There were no retirements from the race, but as in race one, Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) was absent from the grid after his crash in Superpole.