The Californian sun welcomed the Superbike World Championship for race one of round nine of the 2019 season, which saw Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) take his eighth win of the season and extend his championship advantage.
From his first Laguna Seca pole position, Rea made the holeshot from Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) who came from third on the grid to follow the Northern Irishman into turn two, the first braking point of the track.
Bautista’s pace on the opening lap was not spectacular, though, and the Spaniard’s ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati teammate, Chaz Davies, moved through in the penultimate corner. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) was able to pass Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) at turn six for fourth place and, in the early part of the race, was able to go with the leaders.
It was not long, though, before Rea, Davies and Bautista were able to get away at the front. There was fighting brewing between them, though. Davies had chosen the SCX rear tyre, designed for the ten-lap Superpole race, and knew he needed to get to the front to make the most of that choice. He made a move on Rea at the Andretti Hairpin, but was unable to make it stick. At this point, Bautista’s pace was starting to pick up and the #19 was beginning to pressurise his teammate.
Bautista’s challenge for the win was over before long, though, as he crashed out at turn six with twenty-one laps to go. The Spaniard was able to get back on, but didn’t have the pace to reach the points. To pour the salt into the wounds of the 2006 125cc World Champion, he was later lapped by Rea and Davies.
After Bautista’s crash, Davies’ time was running out to make a move before his tyre went away. That move never came, and eventually Rea eased away to what became an eighth win of 2019, which he took by 5.693 seconds. Rea’s twenty-five-point extension took his championship advantage to forty-nine points which, with four-and-two-thirds rounds to go, including Magny-Cours, makes the championship look significantly less attainable for Bautista. The turnaround in fortunes between the championship’s top two since Imola has been stark, and completely unexpected which has been reflected in the surprise of almost everyone involved with the championship from the fans to the riders themselves.
?@jonathanrea takes his 5th consecutive VICTORY of the season and increases his lead in the championship to 49 points! #USAWorldSBK ?? pic.twitter.com/yLA0N1lPH7
— WorldSBK (@WorldSBK) July 13, 2019
Davies’ second place was his first rostrum since the Imola Superpole race and the result of what appears to be a breakthrough with the Panigale V4R for the Welshman over the course of this weekend. In the two remaining races Davies will be aiming for his first win of the season. His preference towards the SCX tyre might suggest his best chance will be the Superpole race. With Bautista at such a mathematical disadvantage in the championship, it will be interesting to see the extent to which Ducati now ask Davies to play the team game for the rest of the season, and whether Davies will be in the position to help out his teammate if that is what is asked of him.
Toprak Razgatlioglu continued his run of podium positions, taking at least one in every round since Imola. It was a lonely race for the Turk, finishing two seconds ahead of Sykes in fourth, who was unable to respond to Toprak’s lap one move, and seven seconds behind Davies. Toprak’s poor qualifying position of seventh place didn’t impact his race as much as initially thought, since he didn’t have the pace of the leaders regardless of where he started.
Sykes’ fourth place might not have been a podium, but BMW will have been happy to beat the factory Yamaha of Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) in such a tight track. Equally, fifth will have been below the expectations of both Lowes and Yamaha coming into this weekend, where they were on the podium one year ago.
Sixth place went to Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) who had a fantastic race on the privateer Kawasaki, running in fifth place for much of the race before his SCX tyre gave best and had a few goes at flicking the Spaniard. Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) was able to take his broken wrist to another top ten with seventh place ahead of Loris Baz (Ten Kate Racing – Yamaha), Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) and Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) who completed the top ten.
Eugene Laverty (Team Goeleven) finished his first race since Assen in eleventh place, still suffering with two broken wrists. Particularly the right wrist was a problem for Laverty, a problem which is helped, relatively, by Laguna’s layout which contains only four right-handers. Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) was twelfth ahead of Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team), Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK), who looks somewhat lost at the moment with the YZF-R1, and Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) who took the final point on his return to the World Championship after missing Donington with the flu.
Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) was the final rider to finish on the lead lap in sixteenth, whilst Alvaro Bautista finished seventeenth after his crash.
Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) went down about half-a-lap before Bautista at the Corkscrew, whilst wildcard JD Beach (Attack Performance Estenson Yamaha) retired from his first WorldSBK race with twelve laps to go.
Featured image courtesy of Ducati