There was no rest for the Superbike World Championship after the eighth round of the 2019 season in Donington, as one week later the paddock is in California for round nine of the season at Laguna Seca.
Despite Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) displacing Alvaro Bautista (AUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) from the top of the standings in Donington last week, the biggest news coming into Laguna is that GRT Yamaha WorldSBK’s Marco Melandri is retiring at the end of the season after more than twenty years of World Championship racing. The thirty-six-year-old Italian amassed twenty-two Grand Prix victories across the 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP classes between his debut in 1997 and 2010 before he moved to the Superbike World Championship with what was the factory Yamaha team alongside Eugene Laverty. Although he moved away from Superbikes in 2015 and 2016 at the request of Aprilia with whom he competed the 2014 WSBK series, Melandri was able to achieve twenty-two wins in WorldSBK for Yamaha, BMW, Aprilia and most recently Ducati. The Italian has not endeared himself, necessarily, to all of hisrivals (most recently Chaz Davies in Jerez) but has made a lasting impression on World Championship motorcycle racing and it will be interesting to see how he fairs in the final four months of his racing career.
Despite his success on the world stage, Melandri has found the top step at Laguna Seca only once, on the Aprilia in 2014.
Jonathan Rea, on the other hand, has four wins at the Weather Tech Raceway since it arrived on the WorldSBK calendar in 2013. The tight, twisty nature of Laguna should suit the Kawasaki of 2019 quite well in its battle with the Ducati Panigale V4R, and Rea’s championship fight with Bautista. Additionally, the hard braking zones of the Andretti Hairpin, the Corkscrew and the final corner should suit Rea’s hard braking style quite well, and could put him in line to extend his championship lead even further from the twenty-four points it currently sits at.
For Bautista, the challenge could be just as difficult as Donignton, with Laguna holding one quite important trait, with respect to the Ducati, which is similar to the British track, that is that there is little time spent at full throttle, and less time spent with the bike upright. Almost all of Laguna Seca is spent on the side of the tyre, and much of it is spent with half-throttle. Bautista has shown often this year that his Panigale is capable of being extremely fast in the high-speed corners, however in the low-speed the Ducati is better matched with the Kawasaki, which could work against Bautista, who has not visited Laguna since MotoGP were last there in 2013. Perhaps it should be noted, though, that Bautista’s result on that 2013 trip to Laguna was one in which he missed the podium to Valentino Rossi by less than half-a-tenth.
One of the surprises of Laguna Seca one year ago was Eugene Laverty, who finished third in race two for his first podium of 2018 on the Aprilia, and the RSV4’s final podium in the Superbike World Championship. Now at Team Goeleven, Laverty arrives in California still nursing two broken wrists after his Imola practice crash in May. Having tried to come back in Donington, but sat out after Friday afternoon, Laverty will try once more this weekend to be back on the grid before the summer break.
Outside of the two championship contenders, Rea and Bautista, there should be plenty of competition for the podium. Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) was able to achieve two podiums in Donington, taking his total for the season to six. Haslam’s main issue with the 2019 WorldSBK-spec ZX-10RR is still getting the bike stopped in the heavy braking zones and the three aforementioned big stops (Andretti Hairpin, Corkscrew, final corner) will likely prove problematic for the reigning BSB champion. However, the more flowing sections of the track should suit his style.
The same could be said for Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) who narrowly missed the podium in race two last week in Donington to Bautista and was third in Laguna race one last year. Lowes’ Pata Yamaha WorldSBK teammate, Michael van der Mark, will still be contending with his own broken wrist. The Dutchman was able to finish inside the top ten in all three races in Britain, and will be aiming for more of the same this time out.
Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) will probably be wondering at the moment what he has to do to beat Jonathan Rea, having been beaten in race-long battles by the Northern Irishman twice in the last two rounds. His own hard-braking style, more aggressive than Rea’s, could be effective this weekend, although Californian temperatures could lead to tyre degradation problems later in the race for the aggressive Turk. If he can manage the tyre, he should be there in the podium fight.
Featured image courtesy of Yamaha Racing