This weekend the Superbike World Championship heads to Donington for round eight of the 2019 season.
Despite his speed advantage in many races throughout 2019 so far, Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing -Ducati) has only a sixteen-point lead coming into Donington. In part, this is thanks to his crashes in Jerez and Misano, both in the Sunday full-length races. Additionally, it is down to Jonathan Rea’s victories for Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK in the previous rounds, the Northern Irishman taking a 50% win-rate from the past eight races.
Donington provides an opportunity for the Spaniard to fight back against the four-times World Champion, though. The British track is one Bautista knows from his Grand Prix days. The #19 accrued four podiums at Donington between 2004 and 2009 when Donington staged its most recent Grand Prix, including a win in 2006 on his way to the 250cc World Championship. Rea, on the other hand, has taken two wins at Donington in WorldSBK, the most recent coming in 2017 race two.
However, Donington has undergone changes since Bautista last races there, and will be somewhat unfamiliar to the Spaniard. The British round of the 2018 championship was not a straightforward one for Ducati, who didn’t achieve a single podium in either race, with Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) scoring the Panigale’s best result of the weekend on Sunday with fifth place, nearly five seconds of the win.
The Ducati, though, has changed for this year, of course. The V4R has, in the hands of Bautista, enjoyed a significant pace advantage over the field at almost every track so far on the calendar and – whilst BSB have only visited the ‘National’ layout at Donington which misses the Melbourne Loop – the WorldSBK Ducati riders will be encouraged by the triple win of Scott Redding on the Be Wiser Ducati when the national championship was in Donington earlier this year.
Bautista’s biggest strength with the Ducati – as a rider – this year has been his ability to carry corner speed. This should be highlighted in the first part of the track – from Redgate to the Foggy Esses – which consists mostly of long, medium-to-high-speed, corners. In comparison, Jonathan Rea has, as in the past with Kawasaki, proven especially strong in braking, which should be highlighted by the final sector, the aforementioned Melbourne Loop, which is comprised of heavy braking and hard acceleration. The crucial part this weekend in the context of the championship is which of Bautista and Rea can get closest to their rival in their prospective ‘weak point’. Rea’s previous prowess in the mid-corner, for which he was famed at Honda, would suggest before the weekend that the reigning champion has the advantage, but Bautista has proven wrong several predictions already this season.
It is likely that the battle for between the championship leaders will not be a private affair at the front of any of the three races this weekend. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) is coming into Donington off the back of his best race in WorldSBK at Misano where he led Rea for much of the encounter, and missed out only on the final lap. Additionally, it must not be forgotten that Donington was the scene of Razgatlioglu’s first WSBK podium in 2018 when he beat Rea to second place.
Of course, Donington last year was also the scene of Michael van der Mark’s double win for the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team. Van der Mark missed all three races in Misano thanks to a practice crash on Friday which also put him in doubt for this weekend. However, the Dutchman has been passed fit, although BSB’s Tarran Mackenzie is on standby if the Dutchman has to pull out.
Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) has a fantastic chance to add to his solitary WorldSBK win this weekend, with the Yamaha’s strong recent record at the British track and his own tendency to perform in front of his home crowd.
2018 was a disappointing year for Tom Sykes in general in his final year at Kawasaki. His first year at BMW Motorrad WorldSBK has been positive, though, and with the Briton taking his and the 2019 S1000RR’s first podium together in Misano, he arrives in Donington in good form. Between 2013 race one and 2017 race one, Sykes was unbeaten in Donington, and the combination of his hard braking style in the final sector and the BMW’s strong performance in the mid-corner in the first part of the lap should prove a strong one this weekend and perhaps one that can challenge for the win.
Eugene Laverty is back in action this weekend for Team Goeleven after being out since a practice crash in Imola, although the #50 is by no means at 100%. Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team), on the other hand, is still missing this weekend, and will not be back in Laguna Seca, either – nor will he be replaced in Britain or California. Markus Reiterberger, contrarily, will be replaced this weekend by five-times Isle of Man TT race winner Peter Hickman, as the German rider is out with the flu.
Featured image courtesy of Ducati