Valencia GP: Dovi And Ducati Defy The Deluge

Andrea Dovizioso bested the treacherous conditions to take a brilliant victory at the Valencia Grand Prix.

Wet track conditions, as has been the case the almost the entirety of the weekend, greeted the riders on race day. In truth, jet skis would have been more appropriate at the Ricardo Tormo circuit than motorcycles, such was the almost biblical torrents falling on the asphalt

Dovizioso (Ducati) secured his third win of the season in commanding fashion. Avoiding contact at both race starts, the Italian settled into a metronomic rhythm, closing in the race leader, and passing effortlessly. As conditions worsened the Desmosedici GP18 remarkably began to perform better, the back tyre acting almost as a rudder helping its rider to square-off every corner and avoiding those treacherous painted lines and kerbs. Not once did Dovizioso put a wheel out of line, or even suffer a wobble. A true masterclass in wet weather conditions.

The result sees Ducati break their 10-year hoodoo at the Ricardo Tormo, following Casey Stoner’s victory for the team here in 2008.

Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) had a near perfect weekend, surfing the rivers across the circuit to a brilliant second place. It was his fifth podium finish this season, and without doubt his finest to date. There will be a small air of disappointment as Rins had led for much of the curtailed race, and for the opening few laps following the restart. Once again, the fault – if any – lies in the lack of horsepower to the Ducati. Rins simply stood no chance on the main straight. If the team can coax enough power out of the engine to be competitive in a straight line, that first breakthrough win for Rins will become a certainty in 2019.  

Pol Espargaro claimed his first podium finish for the Red Bull KTM team in the premier class. It was also the Spaniard’s first rostrum finish since moving up from Moto2 in 2014. Having had to fight his way through the field twice (courtesy of the red flag delay) the 27-year old produced without doubt his finest performance to date, carving his way ahead of his rivals with what looked like astonishing ease. The result will send a wave of confidence through the team as they head into winter testing on Tuesday.

Michele Pirro (Ducati) wildcarding this weekend, led the charge for best of the rest in 4th place. The Italian led home the retiring Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda). It was fitting that Pedrosa (P5) finished the lead Honda rider home. There were emotional scenes upon his return to the team box after the race.

Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) claimed the best independent rider award with his 6th place finish. The young Japanese rider has steadily improved throughout his rookie season in the premier class, and brought home his best result to date in extremely testing conditions. A successful first season, and both team and rider will look to build on this over the winter.

Johann Zarco (Monster Tech3 Yamaha) and Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM) spent the entirety of the restarted race locked together in a thrilling battle for seventh place. The Frenchman eventually emerging victorious and securing for himself the top spot in the independent riders’ championship. For Smith, it was a solid result as the British rider bids farewell for now to racing full time in the premier class. In 2019 he moves to the Aprilia Gresini team to take up duties as test rider – though he will still wildcard in up to five rounds next season.

It was a case of so near again for Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha). Having produced a fine performance prior to the red flag delay – having originally started P16 on the grid – the former world champion looked set to finish on the podium, and once again spare Yamaha’s blushes. However, with just a handful of laps remaining, his bike lost all grip at turn 12, spinning him off into the sodden gravel trap. The Italian remounted and eventually finished in P13.

It was also a disappointing finish to Alvaro Bautista’s MotoGP career. The Angel Nieto Team rider, moving to spearhead Ducati’s factory effort in World Superbikes from 2019, crashed out with 6 laps remaining of the race.

Scott Redding (Aprilia Gresini) narrowly missed out on a top ten finish, finishing just behind Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda) and Hafiz Syahrin (Monster Tech3 Yamaha) respectively. A solid result and relief that his annus horribilis is finally at an end. The 25-year old now bids farewell to MotoGP and begins life in the British Superbike Championship, on very competitive Ducati machinery for next year.

There was an extremely high attrition rate, due to the deteriorating track conditions. Amongst the fallers there were spectacular highside crashes for both Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) and Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar). Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) also endured a miserable race, despite starting originally from pole position. His season ending in a brutal crash with 15 laps remaining. None of the three were able to race at the restart, but all fortunately escaped injury.

Valencia GP Qualiyfing: Top Lap for Top Gun

Maverick Vinales stormed to pole position ahead of tomorrow’s Valencia Grand Prix, after breathtaking display in drying conditions.

The rain, which had turned the three main practice sessions into more of a jet ski contest, had finally relented. With the track rapidly drying, slick tyres were finally shod for the first time this weekend as qualifying began.

It was not a straightforward hour for Vinales (Movistar Yamaha). The 23-year old, as he had to go through the first qualifying session, having not made to top 10 after the first three practice sessions. With the track drying with every lap, Vinales timed his Q1 effort to near perfection, being the last rider over the timing line, benefiting from the best possible conditions. With Q1 a rehearsal, the Spaniard nailed his final effort in Q2. Threading the eye of the needle with sheer confidence and precision (one glance of the painted kerbs would’ve ended in disaster), Vinales’ time – 1’31.312 – was good enough for pole position by 0.068s. The beaming eyes from inside the helmet, as he rode into parc ferme, said it all.   

Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) secured the remaining places on the front row of the grid. Despite piloting bikes with polar opposite characteristics, both riders looked in complete control as the track constantly evolved throughout the session proving that in tricky conditions the riding style has more of an impact on lap time. Both will be expecting to deliver again tomorrow.

Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Ducati) backed up his form from practice with securing P4. The Italian has been ever present in the top 5 throughout the weekend, and with the promise of more rain tomorrow it would be a brave punter to bet against him securing at least a podium finish.

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) crashed at turn 4 on his opening flying lap, dislocating his shoulder as the bike slammed itself and rider into the deck. Remarkably, the reigning world champion returned to the track with 6 minutes of qualifying remaining setting a lap time good enough for P5, and a slot in the middle of second row.

Rounding out the second row is Marquez’ compatriot Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM) – his best qualifying result since Australia 2017. He and the team will be hoping history can at least repeat itself tomorrow with a top 10 race result.

Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) hooked it together in a frantic first qualifying session. The Italian mastered the drying conditions, setting the best lap time almost half a second clear of fellow qualifier Vinales. He heads up the third row of the grid tomorrow, in P7, and will be desperate to secure what is likely to be his last competitive result for some time.

It was, however, as disastrous qualifying for Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) who failed to make the cut into the pole position shoot out. The 39-year old will have to fight his way through the field tomorrow, from a lowly P16 on the grid.

Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati) just missed out on a place in Q2, the wrist injury was ultimately still causing him just too much trouble. Nobody can fault the Spaniard’s commitment to racing this weekend. Having steadily improved session-by-session this weekend, there will be a quiet confidence in his camp tonight that he can produce one final good result tomorrow for the team, before moving to Repsol Honda in 2019.

Maria Costello: “There is a path to a career in motorcycle racing for women”

A familiar name in the world of road racing, and one of the leading figures for women in motorsport – Maria Costello has become the first woman to be named president of the TT Riders Association, in the organisation’s 67-year history.

Maria took some time out to answer my questions, ranging from her new role to her racing career and more.

Maria Costello, the new president of the TT Racers Association (image: CostelloRacing)

EH: Congratulations on your appointment as President of the TT Riders Association. For the benefit of our readers, what does the organisation do and what does your role as president involve?

MC: My role is to assist them in raising their profile, encourage riders and ‘Friends of the TTRA’ to become members and support them in any
way that help them achieve their goals. You can find out more from their
Website: http://ttra.co.uk

EH: How did you become interested in motorcycle racing – and motorsport in general?

MC: It began when I left school and started working as a Trainee Veterinary Nurse and needed to get from home (which was in a village in the middle of nowhere) and get to work in Northampton and I got a Honda Melody scooter. Not the coolest of machines but I loved the freedom it gave me. Then friends of the family suggested I get a motorbike and I quite fancied their son and he took me round the motorbike dealers but ultimately I fell in love with a Yamaha TZR125 and that was my first proper motorbike. Then one day on my way to work I got knocked off by a car driver with dodgy eyesight. I was injured and my motorbikes was broken but I recovered and the compensation money from the insurance company bought my first race bike and the rest is history. You can read more about it in my book: ‘Maria Costello – Queen of the Bikers’.

EH: You have had considerable success at the Isle of Man TT – a regular top 15 race finisher in all entered classes as well, the accolade of being the fastest woman ever around the mountain course as well as a podium finisher at the Classic TT.  Very much a place that’s a sort of home-from-home for you. What does it take – both mentally and physically – to successfully compete at the world’s toughest race?

MC: Determination, preparation, respect, support and more determination.

EH: In addition to the TT, you’ve also been a regular competitor at other leading international
events – such as the Northwest 200 and the Ulster Grand Prix. What attracts you to
the road races?

MC: Road racing has become my home and I feel very fortunate to compete
on real roads. It’s where I get the greatest feeling on two wheels.

Maria Costello in action at the Leathemstown Road Race meeting. (Pic. Gary Hamilton Images)

EH: Its well known that you’re an ambassador for organisations such as “Dare To Be Different” programme. There are undoubtedly many talented women racers around, but what do you think are the main problems that are preventing them from achieving their motorsport ambitions, and what can be done to open up the sport more to them?

MC: Society and the way we perceive is largely the problem as young girls have not been considered for two wheels motorsports at a young enough age. We know the best in the world started from a super young age and that’s what needs to happen for young girls. Things are changing and I think it’s important to highlight what women can and are achieving to show that there is a path to a career in motorcycle racing for women. Role models are important and they need to be visible to the youngsters that could be the future of the sport male or female.

EH: Following on from the previous question, what is your opinion on the new ‘women only’ car racing series that’s starting up in 2019?

MC: It’s not necessary. Women can compete on equal terms and should be supported as equals.

EH: Finally, what advice can you give for all the young (and not so young)
aspiring racers out there?

MC: Just do it, it was the best thing I ever did and although I’ve broken 24 bones, it’s still the best! Follow your dreams!

Ducati Debrief: “We have made a good step forward”

Andrea Dovizioso secured yet another podium finish this season, with a hard fought third place during the Australian Grand Prix. Such were the scenes of celebration beneath the podium and back in the team garage, a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking they’d won the championship.  

The celebratory scenes from Sunday starkly contrast with last year’s corresponding Grand Prix, which was a complete disaster for Ducati. Slow times during the practice and qualifying sessions resulted in the humiliation of both factory riders, Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo, having to start from the fourth and sixth rows of the grid respectively. The race fared even worse as between them they could only manage a frankly woeful three points. It effectively killed all realistic possibility that the Italian rider could become world champion that season.

Dovizioso demonstrated serious front running pace all throughout the weekend, rarely being found outside the top 5 of the timesheets. A remarkable feat in itself as, traditionally, the Phillip Island circuit is one of the worst for Ducati. Without any long straight to blast away from the pack, and a plethora of fast sweeping corners (so long the nadir of all Desmosedici machines), the Italian team generally grit their teeth and pray for the round to end quickly. To negate the severe loss of lap time due to the above reasons, riding style – and commitment – becomes of paramount importance.

It cannot be underestimated how brave Dovizioso is under braking, regularly being given the title of ‘Last of the Late Brakers’. Although there is no official measurement as to the stopping points of each rider, from the TV images the Ducati man does visibly brake later than the rest of his rivals. In addition to this, he possesses pinpoint accuracy with both his corner entry and exit lines. All of which results in an extremely competitive performance regardless of the circuit.

Speaking after the race, Dovi was beaming in the winners’ enclosure: “Phillip Island was a fundamental test to understand our level of competitiveness and now we know we have made a good step forward over last year.” Typically understated as always. Ducati have made an enormous step with the development of their bike.

Andrea Dovizioso battles with Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) for podium honours. Such a thing was not even remotely possible last year.

Across the garage, there were equally joyous scenes. Standing in for the injured Jorge Lorenzo, 33-year old Alvaro Bautista enjoyed a brilliant first weekend on the Desmosedici GP18. Having not ridden this year’s machine at all before the Friday practice sessions, the Spaniard went to considerable length in the build up to the weekend, stating that Ducati “had no real targets to aim for”.

Perhaps predictably as a consequence, he took a few tumbles during the early stages of the weekend as he learnt where the performance limits of the factory bike were. Despite this, Bautista produced a faultless race day performance, looking completely at one with the factory bike – and racing it as if he had been for a full season. His riding style – comparable to that of Casey Stoner – suits the Desmosedici, and the Spaniard relishes the physicality required to haul and wrestle the bike through the faster corners. Having started from P11 on the grid, Bautista charged through the pack, dicing for a place on the podium alongside his teammate for almost the entirety of the race before falling back to consolidate fourth place.

Speaking after the race, Bautista explained the reason for dropping behind his teammate:  “In the last few laps I made a few small mistakes and lost contact with Dovizioso and Iannone, but in any case I’m very happy with my overall result, especially for the team and for Ducati, whom I would like to thank once again for the trust they have shown in me.” Any disappointment for not making the podium quickly evaporated, having achieved a lifetime ambition to race for the factory team.

Having taken some time on Friday to adjust to the GP18 performance limits, Alvaro Bautista produced a stunning ride on race day.

Despite not taking the race victory, Dovizioso has nevertheless demonstrated to the full just how far Ducati have developed the Desmosedici this season. It is still a rocket down a long straight, but crucially they have now made a bike that is stable enough at most circuits to enable the riders to attack the faster corners with confidence.

As for Bautista, he has almost certainly secured the factory ride now for as long as Lorenzo remains out injured. The result for the Spaniard could not have come at a more opportune moment ahead of his move to World Superbikes next season, with the factory supported Aruba.it Ducati team. A clear statement of intent to the established front runners of the series, watching on from their hotel rooms in Qatar.

Australian GP Review: Yamaha Finally End Winless Drought

Maverick Vinales ended the longest winless streak in the history of the Japanese manufacturer with a blistering ride, at the Phillip Island circuit.

Having qualified in the middle of the front row Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) was a constant presence at the front during the opening stages. This in itself was an early warning sign to the field, as the young Spaniard has routinely dropped back through the pack at the start of most races this season.

After a few laps, in which to allow the tyres to warm up on the cool track surface, Vinales forced his way to the front with some brave manoeuvres at the Hayshed and over the top of Lukey Heights. Once in the lead the Yamaha man pulled clear from his rivals with ease, setting a series of fastest lap times until he’d opened up a more than manageable lead of 4 seconds…  

There was a ferocious race-long battle for the remaining podium places. Andrea Iannone (Team Ecstar Suzuki) eventually secured second place, after holding off the ever-present Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) in third. The two Italians wound back the clocks to Austria 2016, when (then as Ducati teammates) they’d diced it out for victory.

Alvaro Bautista (Ducati) first weekend on the 2018 factory Desmosedici machine, secured a brilliant fourth place. Replacing the injured Jorge Lorenzo, the achievement of Bautista cannot be understated. Prior to this week he had never ridden the 2018 Desmosedici before, perhaps reflected in his relatively modest starting place on the grid – P12. Powering his way up the order and once settled into his rhythm, he was not be moved outside of the top five, even leading his team leader for multiple laps. A strong display from arguably the most underrated rider on the grid.

Alvaro Bautista stormed through the field at Phillip Island on his debut appearance for the factory Ducati team.

Although Bautista eventually dropped back from Dovizioso and Iannone in the closing stages, he had more than enough in hand to fend off Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) and Alex Rins (Team Ecstar Suzuki). Both men had fancied their chances in the run up to this weekend of emerging with at least a podium finish to their names. Rins will not be too disappointed with his fifth place as in truth his Suzuki, whilst working well through the faster flowing corners, struggled visibly down the main straight with a lack of power. Rossi, despite wringing every ounce of performance from his M1, will leave the circuit tonight wondering how on earth his teammate could cruise to victory whilst he could only manage P6.

Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Ducati) was the first independent rider under the chequered flag, giving the passionate and knowledgeable home crowd yet another reason to cheer. On an old GP17 machine, the popular Australian gave it everything – even leading on the opening laps as he had done so this time last year. Although disappointed in his personal result, his team were in a very celebratory mood after the race and with good reason – Two Ducatis in the parc ferme winners’ enclosure (Miller and Dovizioso). Additionally, five riders aboard Desmosedici machines scored points – compared to this time last year when the best finisher for the manufacturer was Scott Redding in a very modest fourteenth place.    

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) and Johann Zarco (Tech3 Monster Yamaha) involved in a frightening collision on the entry to turn 1 early in the race. Approaching the fast right hand bend, Marquez moved across to the left hand side of the track to open up the corner entry. However, unsighted for the Spaniard, was Zarco’s Yamaha. With nowhere to go, and no time to take any evasive action, the Frenchman struck the back of the Honda and speared off into the gravel – reportedly at around 280kph. The Yamaha was completely wrecked in the aftermath, but thankfully Zarco walked away shaken but not stirred. True testament to the both the trackside safety measures, and the air-bags inside the riders’ leathers. Marquez retired from the race soon after, but both will be fit to fight it out again next week in Malaysia.

Bradley Smith secured a solid finish in tenth place for the Red Bull KTM team. Prior to the race it had been another difficult weekend for the 27-year old, but dug in once again dragging the RC18 kicking and screaming into a very respectable position.

Finally. a mention for Belgian rider Xavier Simeon (Avintia Reale Ducati) who scored his first point in the MotoGP world championship with fifteenth place. It has been a difficult debut season for him, having spent the majority of it aboard the outdated GP16 Desmosedici. However, since Tito Rabat sustained his broken leg at Silverstone, Simeon has been on a GP17 machine and today he showed he can be competitive in the premier class.   

WorldSBK Qatar: Race 1 – Double Delight For Kawasaki

Kawasaki Racing Team secured their fourth 1-2 finish of the season, as Jonathan Rea led home Tom Sykes under the floodlights of Losail.

Rea made the holeshot from the grid to take the lead at turn 1 and, as so often is the case, began pulling clear from the field almost immediately. Once with a manageable gap, the newly-crowned 4x world champion was able to dictate terms with his familiar metronomic rhythm. Today’s victory makes it 17 for the Northern Irishman this season – equalling the record set by Doug Polen, way back in 1991.

Tom Sykes, in his final weekend for the Kawasaki Racing Team has not been prepared to go out on a whimper. The Yorkshireman secured pole position in qualifying earlier this afternoon, and also had his sights set on victory. Whilst his teammate ensured that this was impossible, Sykes secured second place – his first podium finish in five races (and his eighth of the season).

Such is the vast length of the Losail International Circuit (5.38km) and the technical nature of the corners, within a couple of laps there were considerable time gaps already opening up between the various groups of riders. Nevertheless, there was action aplenty as riders diced and duelled with each other.  

Xavi Fores (Barni Racing Ducati) and Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Ducati) thrilling fight over fourth and fifth places. Lacking the cornering stability of the factory counterparts, Fores produced a strong defensive ride on his independent Ducati, utilising the raw horsepower to pull as much of an advantage down the 1km long main straight, and holding a defensive line through the sweeping corners. However disaster stuck for the Spaniard as technical issues forced him to drop back through the pack – eventually crawling home in P13.

His loss was very much Melandri’s gain, as well as more than a fair amount of relief. Despite throwing everything at him, the factory Ducati man could not find a way past the independent Ducati rider. The Italian, who is seeking a new ride for next season, finished in P5 – collecting a very respectable 11 points for the factory backed outfit.

Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Ducati) started P11 on the grid and immediately set about trying to carve his way up the order. Doubtless he was motivated on by the ongoing battle for second place in the championship with Dutch rider Michael Van der Mark (Pata Yamaha). Van der Mark eventually finished in P7, taking the bragging rights today and ensuring that this personal battle for honours goes down to the final race tomorrow. Both riders however were royally mugged in the closing stages by Loris Baz (Gulf Althea BMW). The Frenchman had done a remarkable job of preserving his tyres, and blasted past the duo who could offer no reply.

Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia) and Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha) were locked in a thrilling battle for the final place on the podium. Both riders have looked strong throughout the weekend so far, with Laverty firmly putting himself in the proverbial shop window for a potential ride with Red Bull Honda next season. However it was Lowes who emerged the triumphant, forcing his R1 machine past the Aprilia on the final lap, holding on to third place through the final corners. Laverty will at least have the consolation of starting from pole position on tomorrow’s partially reversed grid.

Jake Gagne (Red Bull Honda) secured his best finish of the season so far, with a hard fought ninth place. It has been a tough debut season for the young American, with his place under much scrutiny in recent weeks. A solid return of points today might go some way to securing his future in the class for 2019. Additionally, the result makes up for his teammate Leon Camier who crashed out with 10 laps of the race remaining.

Rounding out the top ten, and being the first independent rider home, was Toprak Razgatlioglu (Puccetti Kawasaki). The Turkish star once again managed to extract the most amount of performance from his ZX-10R machine, fighting with the Hondas and Lorenzo Savadori (Milwaukee Aprilia) for much of the race.   

Australian GP Preview: Caution Thrown To The Wind As MotoGP Heads Down Under

The 2018 MotoGP Championship rumbles on this weekend to the spectacular Phillip Island circuit, just off the mainland of Australia.

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) is now freed of the pressure to secure the championship, having secured the title last time out at Motegi. As such, the 25-year old has licence to throw all caution to the wind in pursuit of yet another victory. It has been another remarkable season in the career of the Spanish rider, who has become the youngest 7x world champion (and youngest 5x premier class champion). 

Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) is looking to make it a second victory in three years at the circuit. The British rider has been in excellent form this year, piloting the factory-supported satellite Honda to fifth place in the championship – including victory in Argentina and podium finishes at Misano and Japan. Crutchlow is under no illusions that victory (or even a podium finish) will come easy, despite his strong record at this track. In the Thursday press conference he was reported saying as many as ten different riders all have a realistic chance to take the spoils on Sunday. 

Cal Crutchlow destroyed the field to win the 2016 Australian Grand Prix

The characteristics of the Phillip Island circuit may benefit the teams which are traditionally more stable handed through long, sweeping corners. As such, both Team Ecstar Suzuki and Movistar Yamaha have potentially much to gain. The latter will particularly be determined to produce a strong result, having struggled throughout the season. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) and Alex Rins (Suzuki) respectively will be expected to lead the charges for their teams again this weekend. Rossi will be desperate to not only break Yamaha’s duck for the season, and end the team’s winless drought which stretches back to Assen, 2017.

For Rins, there is now the feeling it is just a matter of time before the Catalan rider wins his first grand prix. The 22-year old has secured multiple podium finishes this season – his most recent being a hard fought 3rd place last time out in Japan. In addition, he has been a regular presence inside the top 5 since the summer break. Phillip Island presents him with perhaps the best chance of the season to claim victory, and become the first Suzuki rider to win a grand prix since Maverick Vinales at Silverstone in 2016.

Alvaro Bautista makes his bow as a factory Ducati rider, this weekend. The former 125cc world champion is standing in for the injured Jorge Lorenzo at Phillip Island, and could potentially be doing the same next weekend in Malaysia. Bautista has comprehensively outperformed the GP16 and GP17 Desmosedici machines, regularly finishing races inside the top 10. The promotion to the factory team is also a very public ‘thank you’ from Ducati Corse, before he moves to World Superbikes in 2019 for the Aruba.it Ducati squad on the new V4 Panigale.

Local rider Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Ducati) will be hoping to give the partisan home crowd something to shout about this weekend. The Australian has, by his own admission, struggled for consistency on the year-old GP17 Desmosedici machine. His best result this season was a fourth place finish at the Argentinian Grand Prix, a round which also saw him secure his maiden pole position.  However, one need only cast their mind back to this time last year when, aboard the truly uncompetitive MarcVDS Honda, Miller took and held the lead of the race during the opening laps at the island. Now on a Ducati, there is every possibility of at least a podium finish should he keep the bike on the tarmac.

Finally, MotoGP welcomes back another Australian rider this weekend. Mike Jones is stepping in at the Angel Nieto Team, whilst Bautista is at the factory Ducati team. Jones is a familiar name to the paddock, having ridden for Avintia Ducati back in 2016 and scoring a championship point. A former Australian Superbike Champion, another chance to perform in front of his home crowds is a self-confessed dream come true for the affable 24-year old from Queensland.

MotoGP Qualifying and Race Schedule

Saturday: Qualifying 1 – 06:10-06.25

Sunday: Race – 05.00      

WorldSBK Qatar Preview – More Records Beckon For Rea

The curtain falls on the 2018 Superbike World Championship under the floodlights of the Losail Circuit.

So here we are, after twelve rounds and seven months of globe trotting, the FIM Superbike World Championship reaches its final round this weekend at the Losail International Circuit, in Qatar.

It is the final time that the current race format will be used. From 2019 onwards World Superbikes will have three races each weekend, comprised of two ‘regular’ length races and one shorter ‘sprint’. The precise details – such as scheduling and points allocation for the sprint are yet to be confirmed. The general understanding is that the regular length races will remain in their current slots (one each at the end of Saturday and Sunday), whilst the sprint will begin Sunday’s race program.

As ever, all eyes will be on Kawasaki Racing Team’s Jonathan Rea.  Having completed another victory double last time out in Argentina, the reigning world champion has his sites set on breaking the outright points record for a single season. It should be worth noting that Rea currently holds the record, having finished the 2017 campaign with a total of 556.  To break his own record, Rea will need to score 37 points, which in simplest terms equates to a race win (25pts) and a fourth place finish (13pts).

There is also another record which the Northern Irishman could break this year – the number of race victories in a season. Another double this weekend will see Rea catch and surpass the current record of 17 wins in a season – set by Doug Polen, on a Ducati, way back in 1991. Should he do that, then only the record for number of world championships would remain on his hit-list.

Jonathan Rea is set to break all the records in WorldSBK history.

Across the other side of the KRT garage, and there is a real sense of the end of an era. Tom Sykes will ride for the team for the final time this weekend, bringing down the curtain on an eight-year relationship with the Japanese marque. Whilst this season has been difficult for the Yorkshireman, both rider and team can look back fondly over a period of considerable success, including 34 wins and 47 pole positions. Not to mention that Sykes claimed the first championship crown for the team back in 2013. Both he and the team will be hoping to go out on a high, with one final victory together.

The ‘end of an era’ feeling is magnified further in the Aruba.it Ducati garage. For the Ducati Corse supported team, they say farewell to both Marco Melandri and the V-twin engine Panigale R machine this weekend. Whilst there is an undeniable level of disappointment in the team, that the Panigale has failed to follow in the wheel tracks of its illustrious predecessors (every previous Ducati Superbike model has been ridden at least 1 championship title), it has been tempered by the testing results of the upcoming Panigale V4 machine – which is being introduced for 2019.

Nevertheless, much is on the line this weekend for Ducati’s number one rider, Chaz Davies. The Welshman has battled injury ever since the mid-season break, having broken his collarbone in a crash during training. The highly physical demands of the somewhat volatile Ducati, have ensured the injury has not healed. Despite this considerable setback, Davies is still fighting for second place in the championship. With the Losail circuit traditionally playing to the Panigale’s straight line strength, the Qatar round presents Davies with his best chance of securing a brace of strong results for the first time since back at Imola.

Michael Van der Mark (Pata Yamaha) is also gunning for second place in the championship and, sitting just 16 points behind Davies, knows it is a very realistic possibility. The Dutchman has had an outstanding campaign, and has fully lived up to his pre-season billing as the most exciting prospect of the series.  Two race wins and a further eight podium finishes this season, have put the 25-year old in pole position to secure that second place overall.

Will it be Chaz Davies (Left) or Michael Van der Mark (Right) who finishes as ‘Best of the Rest’ this season?

This week also sees the final outing for the Shaun Muir Racing team, in their current guise as Milwaukee Aprilia. After weeks of speculation, the team will switch from running Aprilia machinery, to the newly updated BMW S1000RR. The deal reportedly also includes significant factory support from the German manufacturer. As a result of this, it is all change as far as the riders are concerned. Sykes moves across from KRT, whilst Markus Reiterberger moves up from the – now defunct – European Superstock 1000 class having won the championship aboard a BMW.

The decision to hire two new riders for 2019 leaves the current incumbents (Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori) without a ride for next season. Both riders feel they should be at one of the factory supported teams. This is especially the case for Laverty who has taken two podium finishes and a pole position this season, on his way to scoring 145 points. At time of writing there is just one seat left available with such a team – Red Bull Honda.  Expect the pair to throw the kitchen sink and more this weekend, as they desperately try to secure that seat for themselves.

WorldSBK Schedule – All times BST

FRIDAY

Superpole 1 – 14.30-14.45

Superpole 2 – 14.55-15.10

WorldSBK Race 1 – 17.00

SATURDAY

WorldSBK Race 2 – 17.00

 

Titles On The Line At Magny Cours

The 2018 FIM Superbike World Championship is set to be decided this weekend, whilst history could be made in the junior class, at the beautiful Magny-Cours circuit in France.

Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) has his first clear cut opportunity to wrap up the Superbike World Championship this weekend. The 31-year old arrives at the French round with an imperious 116-point lead to closest rival Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Ducati). Provided Rea finishes the weekend with a lead of 100 points or more, he will be crowned champion with two rounds of the season to spare.

For Davies, as the only other rider now with any mathematical chance of winning the championship, it simply “win or bust”. The Welshman produced a heroic ride in Race 2 last time out in Portimao – defying the pain caused by a badly broken collarbone, and holding off Rea in a thrilling scrap over the race lead for the first half of the race. Although still not 100% recovered, the fortnight’s break between Portimao and Magny-Cours will have considerably aided Davies’ recovery and fitness.

Chaz Davies (#7) produced one of the rides of the season at Portimao, defying his broken collarbone to hold off Jonathan Rea (#1) for as long as he did.

With the championship now an exclusive affair between Davies and Rea, the remainder of the field are focused solely on the glory of race wins. Alex Lowes and Michael Van der Mark (both Pata-Yamaha) have not shied away from this being their sole objective for the final three rounds of the season. Van der Mark arrives this weekend off the back of another impressive performance, claiming podium finishes in both races in Portugal. Now with 9 podiums to his name this season, the flying Dutchman looks the most likely of the pair to add to his brace of victories this season.

There is also the matter of pride – and indeed team honour – at stake in the battle to secure a top 10 finish in the standings. Five riders – Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pucetti Kawasaki), Loris Baz (Gulf-Althea BMW), Lorenzo Savadori (Milwaukee Aprilia), Jordi Torres (MV Agusta) and Leon Camier (Red Bull Honda) – are all in this fight, and are covered by just 18 points.

Savadori will be desperate to return a brace of strong results this weekend, having crashed out of Race 1 at Portimao when sat in a comfortable podium position. With his place in the Milwaukee team for next year reportedly uncertain at best, he perhaps has the most to gain by ensuring he finishes the season inside the top 10.     

World Supersport 300

Ana Carrasco (DS Kawasaki Junior Team) Is on the verge of creating history

Ana Carrasco (DS Junior Team Kawasaki) is on the verge of making history this weekend. Should see clinch the Supersport 300 championship on Sunday, the 21-year old Spaniard will become the first woman to ever win a solo world-level series. With two wins this season, and 90 points to her name, Carrasco arrives at Magny-Cours in pole-position at the top of the standings.

However, Carrasco will be pushed all the way to the chequered flag this weekend, as there are three other riders who can also win the ‘300 crown. Scott Deroue (Motoport Kawasaki), Mika Perez (Kawasaki Parkingo Team) and Luca Grunwald (Freudenberg KTM) are all within striking range of the title.

Deroue is closest to catching Carrasco, with the young Dutchman sitting on 80 points. How fitting it should be that these two should be duking it out for the title – in 2014 they were teammates together in the FIM Moto3 world championship. A difficult campaign for them both saw them seek pastures new. Carrasco remained in Moto3 in 2015 the following year – but racing for a different team, whilst Deroue entered and won the British Motostar championship.

Although we cannot completely discount Perez and Grunwald, it is highly likely that – come Sunday night – it will be either Ana Carrasco or Scott Deroue who is crowned world champion.

Irwin Goes Green For 2019

 

It has been announced today that Glenn Irwin will ride for the JG-Speedfit Kawasaki team for 2019.

The Ulsterman will move from the BeWiser Ducati team following the conclusion of this season, and join up with the Bournemouth based outfit for their first winter test in November.

The prospect of riding the new Kawasaki Ninja ZX10-RR next season was clearly too good an opportunity for Irwin to turn down, having described the new bike as “phenomenal”.

Irwin is no stranger to Kawasaki machinery, having ridden for the Gearlink team in the British Supersport championship before getting his big break in the Superbike class. Regarded by many riders, journalists and spectators alike, his move back to Kawasaki machinery now will present the 28-year old with his best chance to date of winning the British championship.

Irwin has had considerable success with his time on Ducati machinery – most notably three back-to-back superbike victories at the International North West 200, and numerous podium finishes in the British championship. Both he and the BeWiser Ducati team have made it clear that they intend to do all they can, in their final 5 races together, to take one last race victory together in BSB.

Now that Irwin has become the first rider to put pen-to-paper for a 2019 ride, it is widely expected that a flurry of rider announcements will follow over the next few weeks.