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.

Suzuki Springs To Success

The Aragon Grand Prix marked the high point in the championship for Team Ecstar Suzuki as riders Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins secured the team’s best result of the season so far.

All the talk in the build up to the weekend had been positive. Knowing that they cannot compete yet with the likes of the factory Repsol-Honda and Ducati teams with straight-line speed, Suzuki focused all their set up work on two objectives: cornering speed and suspension.

With the circuit being composed of 17 corners – a perfect blend of high, medium and low speed and considerable changes in undulation – setting a bike up to glide through each apex would significantly compensate for time lost on the 1 kilometre back straight. Additionally, with the Spanish climate boasting sunny skies and hot temperatures, ensuring the bike would be kind to its tyres would be critical.

It cannot be underestimated how much the physical loads forced onto the tyres through the front forks and rear shock spring affect the set up. In an ideal world suspension would be set as softly as possible, allowing the front forks to absorb every bump and vibration, enabling the tyre to ‘float’ over the track. The reality however, is that setting the suspension too soft reduces the feeling the rider receives as to what that tyre is doing – which ultimately affects confidence in both attacking corners at speed, and how much braking the rider feels they have to do. Effectively, they are simply reduced to blind guesswork.     

In contrast, set the suspension as stiff as you can, and the rider will feel everything the tyre is doing. They will also feel every bump and vibration too to the point where all the feelings merge and no clear distinction can be made. It is what is referred to in the industry as the dreaded ‘chatter’. Additionally, setting up the suspension in such an aggressive way, is a guaranteed way to destroy the tyres within a handful of laps.

Alex Rins (above) had the confidence to push the limits of the Suzuki this weekend, thanks to the feedback and stability generated from the suspension.

Finding an optimal balance between the two settings, is somewhat of a ‘holy grail’ for riders and teams alike. Indeed, this very thing hampered the Suzuki team all throughout 2017 as both riders regularly bemoaned a lack of ‘front end feel’.

Having spent both Friday practice sessions working tirelessly to find such a balance, which involved customary excursions to the gravel traps, both Iannone and Rins had clearly found something to work with. The laps times tumbled, and off-track escapades became fewer and further between. Most tellingly of all, the times didn’t fall away during long runs. Qualifying saw both riders secure top ten grid positions, but it was in the race where the hard labour on the set up came to fruition.

Iannone (P3) and Rins (P4) diced with each other throughout the 23 laps, with the pair battling each other all the way to the chequered flag. However, as a complete demonstration of their success, it was the gap to race winner Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) and second-place man Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) – just 1.26 seconds. Testament to how far Suzuki has improved their GSX-RR machine this season.

Andrea Iannone (above) scored his third rostrum finish of the season. Suzuki now have five podium results between their riders.

The podium for Iannone also means that the team have lost their concessions for the remainder of the season. For those unfamiliar with how this works, every factory team who did not score a podium finish (in dry conditions) during the 2017 season was given a much larger allocation of test days, plus slightly relaxed regulations on fairing homologations and engine allocations.

To offset this, a points system is used during the season to gauge the competitiveness of those teams with concessions – 3 points for a win, 2 points for a 2nd place, and 1 point for a 3rd. Scoring 6 points across the season will see the factory ‘lose’ its concessions as they are now deemed competitive enough to no longer require them.   

Suzuki are not expecting quite as strong a result next time out, in Thailand. The layout of the Buriram circuit makes it a Mecca for those with serious speed on the straights. However, with more technical tracks such as the Twin-Ring Motegi (Japan) and Phillip Island (Australia) on the horizon – there is still the likely result of more podiums for the smallest of the Japanese factory teams.     

Title In Sight For Marquez As Ducati Falter

In the heart of the Spanish desert, the destiny of the 2018 MotoGP World Championship has become a little closer to being decided this afternoon, after a thrilling grand prix at Aragon Motorland.

It was an explosive start from the lights as Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati) crashed out at the first corner. The pole-sitter ran in hot under braking and brutally high-sided out of the grand prix, completely wrecking his championship hopes. The Spaniard has looked strong all weekend, particularly over the long runs during Friday practice, and was considered the pre-race favourite. It is the first time that Lorenzo has crashed out in two consecutive races was in 2011, at Malaysia and Valencia.

Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) therefore inherited the early race leader with Marquez (Repsol Honda) behind. Marquez had gambled pre-race by electing to run a soft slick rear tyre. Once settled into their rhythm, the two pushed on hard enough to comfortably clear their nearest pursuers, but still being slow enough to not burn out their tyres either. Once the rear tyre loses grip around Aragon and starts spinning, it’s generally game over for the rider.

Dovizioso and Marquez diced with each other throughout the race. The pair, reigniting memories of last season’s thrilling championship duel, put on a masterclass in racecraft this afternoon. The overtakes were hard won, and every last inch of tarmac would be used in the process. But each move was clean. Make no mistake, these are two riders at the very pinnacle of their trade.

Defying the recent convention of the long left-handed final corner being the prime overtaking spot, this contest was at its hottest through the highly technical corners of the opening sector. The Ducati would storm ahead through the sweeping right-hander at turn 2, whilst the Honda would have the edge through the fast left-hander at turn 5. All of which resulting in the two, more often than not, being locked next to each other as they dropped through the corkscrew section.

Marquez was finally able to break free after setting a scorching time on the penultimate lap. Having forced his way back into the lead at turn 12, the Spaniard used every ounce of rubber left on his tyres to prize himself away from his closest championship challenger. Such was the equality of performance between the Honda and the Ducati, the slender advantage of just 0.3 seconds was ultimately enough of a buffer.

Hunting in pairs – Alex Rins (#42) and Andrea Iannone (#29) gave Team Ecstar Suzuki their best finish of the year.

Team Ecstar Suzuki firmly enjoyed their day in the sun as Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone engaged in an equally thrilling battle for the final podium spot. The pair nearly came to blows early on, as Iannone forced his teammate to the edge of the track down at turn 12. Once the early race nerves had abated, the duo showed a remarkable turn of pace to always keep the race leaders within touching distance. The duo regularly traded places across the 23 laps sometimes cleanly – sometimes considerably less so. The gestures made to Dorna’s world feed cameras by team boss Davide Brivio aptly summed up the drama.

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) and Aleix Espargaro (Gresini Aprilia) both enjoyed a timely return to form this afternoon. The duo, although never in contention for the podium, spent the race locked together scrapping over fifth and sixth places. On this occasion, it was Pedrosa who took the bragging rights. Nevertheless, sixth place is the best result for Aprilia so far this season. To say 2018 has been a slog for the Noale factory team would be an understatement, but today is proof that progress with the RS-GP is being made.

Yamaha’s woes continued today. Valentino Rossi (P8) and Maverick Vinales (P10) was all that the factory team could manage. For Rossi, the result however should be classed as a recovery job well done, having started the race from the sixth row of the grid, in P18. Coming into this round it was clear to everyone that it would be difficult weekend for the factory team. However after testing here a few weeks ago which was reportedly very positive for the team, overall the Aragon GP will go down as yet another dark chapter in their Annus Horribilis.   

The European leg of the season has now been concluded. In two weeks’ time the MotoGP circus will make its debut at the Buriram circuit, Thailand.

You never say never in this sport, especially in grand prix racing, but with a lead of 72 points over his rivals, it is now very hard to see anyone other than Marc Marquez from being crowned 2018 world champion.

MotoGP Aragon Preview – A Desert Storm Awaits

The MotoGP circus rumbles into the heart of the Spanish desert this weekend, as the championship battle resumes at the breathtaking Motorland Aragon circuit.

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) arrives at his home round with a 67-point lead at the top of the standings, and perhaps with one hand already on the world championship crown already. The Spaniard has been formally recognised this week by the Motorland circuit, having had the sweeping left-hand turn 10 named after him. Form at this circuit is good for the four-time premier class champion, having claimed three victories here in 2013, 2016 and 2017.

That said, Marquez has not taken victory since the German Grand Prix back in July. Failure to win this weekend, would see him equal his longest winless streak in MotoGP (4 races Malaysia, Valencia (both 2017), Qatar and Argentina (both 2018). Whilst this is still a record which most mortals will dream they had, at this stage of the season – and with the world championship at stake – this is the sort of thing that could seriously test his mental resolve.

This weekend’s grand prix presents Ducati with its ultimate ‘litmus test’. The Desmosedici-GP18 is a missile in a straight line, much like its predecessors. However this year, the Italian team has been very vocal about the performance gains they have made with the stability and cornering ability of their machine. Aragon-Motorland will provide a thorough examination for these claims, with the circuit boasting numerous ‘S’ bend switchbacks, and long medium to high speed corners. It is a test which Ducati riders must not only pass, but completely out-perform their rivals if they are to realistically keep up the fight for the championship.

Expecting to lead the way for the factory team this weekend is Andrea Dovizioso. The Italian reasserted his position as Marquez’ closest title contender, having taken victory last time out at Misano. Motorland Aragon has not traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Dovi, having not finished on the podium here since 2012 with the satellite Tech3 Yamaha team. Nevertheless, he is confident that he will be able to continue his championship resurgence this weekend having spoken yesterday in the press conference that: “The bike is fine, it is now about setting a good rhythm”.  

Andrea Dovizioso last featured on the podium at Aragon in 2012, for the Tech3 Yamaha team (above).

Behind the main battle for the championship, there is the increasingly thrilling on-track scrap for the best of the independent riders. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) currently leads the way on 119 points, after a strong ride in Misano saw him finish on the podium. Johann Zarco (Monster Tech3 Yamaha) and Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Ducati) are both hot on his heels with 110 points each. Petrucci, buoyed by increasing support from the Ducati factory (in preparation for his arrival at the factory team in November), believes this weekend he will have the pace to push the frontrunners all the way: “We have same support as they (Dovizoso and Lorenzo) do. For sure we will have pace to fight for podium. Maybe more.”

For the Movistar Yamaha factory team however, this weekend is expected to be another painful experience. Although considerable progress has been made with the electronics since the summer break, the Aragon circuit relentlessly targets Yamaha’s other main deficiency – engine power. With three long straights around the course, a bike which is sluggish under acceleration will be severely exposed against the competition.

Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales know this, and as such will be focusing the M1 to perform as smoothly and efficiently as possible through the track’s 17 corners in order to recover as much lap time as possible. Such is the way the season has unfolded for the team, just having one bike in the top five here will be considered a good result.  

Finally, there is a newcomer to the championship this weekend. Jordi Torres will be make his MotoGP debut for the Reale Avintia-Racing Ducati team, standing in for the still injured Tito Rabat. Torres will be most familiar to followers of World Superbikes, with the Spaniard riding in the series for MV Agusta. He is no stranger to the grand prix paddock, having ridden for multiple seasons in the old 125cc category and the Moto2 class. In the latter he had considerable success, being a multiple podium finisher and a race winner back in 2014.

Whisperings From Portimao

World Superbikes roared back into life over the weekend with Round 10 taking place in Portugal. Another brace of victories for Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) means he just needs to score 9 points at Magny-Cours to secure his fourth consecutive world title.

However, there were other stories to emerge this weekend other than Rea’s dominance.

Schedule Success

Before the weekend had started, it was announced that WorldSBK would be trialing a new ‘race day’ schedule for the remaining rounds of the season. The objective of which was to boost attendances on the Sunday, which have been alarmingly sparse for the last few seasons.

The general consensus behind this was that spectators are ‘put off’ by the feature race opening proceedings, with the support classes following. In short, the day is effectively over by 1pm with most paying punters tending not to stay for the ‘junior’ categories.

By reversing the schedule, Sunday felt more like a traditional race day, with the Superbike race being the grand finale to the weekend. The success of this change was in clear evidence at Portimao as the attendance was visibly higher than last year.  Certainly a step in the right direction to bringing back the crowds.

Word in the paddock is that – following a ‘fan survey’ conducted in partnership with the Motorsport Leadership Group – Dorna will be implementing further changes to the race weekend schedule next season. Details of which will be announced during the winter.

Kept Waiting For History

The phrase “History waits for no man” may well be true – however, it is certainly having to wait for Ana Carrasco. The young Spanish rider is on the verge of becoming the first woman to win a solo motorcycle world championship series.

Carrasco (DS Kawasaki Junior Team) has had a tremendous year in the World Supersport 300 class, featuring two devastating race wins at Imola and Donington Park earlier in the season. The former was secured by a colossal margin of 13 seconds. To put that into perspective for an ‘average’ winning time gap, it is normally around 0.5 seconds as competitors slip-stream each other from lights to flag on their small 40bhp machines.

Although she was unable to secure the championship in Portimao, she heads into the French round (the final round for the ‘300 class) with a ten-point lead at the top of the standings. Provided she can finish on the podium, Carrasco will become the world champion – regardless of where her rivals finish.

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

Tom Sykes – Where To Next?

Whilst Rea was busy taking the 65th and 66th victories of his superbike career, it was another difficult weekend for his teammate Tom Sykes. The 2013 world champion secured a brace of 5th place finishes. Were it in any other team, this would go down as a very solid weekend. The Yorkshireman cut a gloomy figure this weekend. Despite best pretenses from rider and team, all is not well at his side of the garage.

If ‘silly season’ rumours have any substance to them then it appears likely that Red Bull Honda are making advances for him in 2019. He would almost certainly be partnered alongside Leon Camier, and would no doubt increase Honda’s chances of returning to winning ways next season.

Alternatively, speaking in an interview to Eurosport UK prior to Sunday’s race, Milwaukee Aprilia team principal Shaun Muir openly admitted to be interested in signing Sykes for next year.

Two things are certain: Sykes is still a quality rider, and does have options to remain in WorldSBK for 2019. A change of team could be just what he needs to bring the best out of him again.

All Change For Milwaukee

Finally, as alluded to above, Shaun Muir is openly looking at bringing at least one new rider into his team for next season. However, being the shrewd competitor and businessman that he is, the Milwaukee outfit seem set to change manufacturers for 2019.

Currently running factory supported Aprilia machinery, it the team are discussing options with them, BMW and Suzuki.

From a British fan’s perspective, a potential deal with Suzuki could open the door for Bradley Ray to make his move into world level racing. The 21-year old (currently wowing spectators and TV viewers in British Superbikes) has made no secret of his desire to move up and compete in world championships. With all his BSB experience on Suzuki machinery, it would be a straight forward move for both Mailwaukee and Ray to make.

However, it seems that BMW are in fact the most likely option which Muir will take up. With the S1000RR model being significantly upgraded by the German manufacturer for 2019, the promise of being the most competitive machinery  of the three is likely to be the deal maker.

Super Six for Jonathan Rea at Portimao

Jonathan Rea stretched his winning streak to six straight races this afternoon at the Autodromo Algarve – also securing his sixth straight victory at the circuit (a run which began back in 2015).

Due to the partial grid reversal system implemented for Sunday’s race, Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) started in ninth place. Such is his extraordinary ability, combined with the strong ZX-10R, he made light work of most of his rivals climbing up to fourth by the end of the opening lap. Unlike yesterday, Rea was made to work for his lead, and was not able to storm clear into the distance even when he had just clear tarmac in front of him. Today was about providing a timely reminder to the (very few) critics he has left, that his racecraft is as razor sharp as ever.

In the closing stages, as his rivals threatened to close him down, Rea managed to raise his own tempo, demonstrating to the others that he still had plenty of rubber left on his tyres should they want to push the limits with him. They were not. The art of subtly controlling a race is yet another area of strength for Rea. No matter what his rivals tried, Rea always had an answer good enough to beat them off. A sixth straight win secured, and the championship lead has now grown to 116 points.

Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Ducati) produced another heroic display this afternoon. Starting from pole position, the Welshman once more defied the pain barrier for as long as he could, dueling with Rea throughout the first half of the race for contention of the lead. When fully fit, Davies is the only man who can consistently challenge the triple world champion at the front of a race.

Even when nursing a badly broken collarbone like today, Davies was more than a handful. Wringing the neck of the volatile Panigale-R around the 20 laps of the roller coaster that is the Portimao track. Eventually though not even he could defy his injuries and, having eventually been passed by Rea, dropped back to a more manageable pace. Davies ended up finishing in P4, just ahead of the other KRT machine ridden by Tom Sykes.

Whilst a podium place was ultimately a step too far for Davies, it was not so for his teammate Marco Melandri. With his future in WorldSBK up in the air, the veteran Italian needed a strong showing this weekend. That is precisely what we got. Third place today means that Melandri has now featured on the podium three races on the bounce – equalled only by Rea. Although never really in contention to challenge for victory in either race, the points accumulated this weekend has seen Melandri close down Sykes in the rider standings to just 11 points.

Michael Van der Mark (Pata Yamaha)  produced one of the overtakes of the season to secure his second place finish today, disposing of both Davies and Melandri simultaneously at turn one on lap 14. Since taken his maiden victory in the class – back at Donington in May – the Dutchman has gradually begun establishing himself as the number one rider within the team. Today marked the ninth time this season that the 25-year old had finished on the rostrum.

In contrast, it was a very difficult weekend for Alex Lowes on the other Pata Yamaha machine. As with Saturday’s race, the British rider found himself caught up in the mid-field carnage on the first lap, and found himself bogged, scrapping for minor points places. Lowes finished down in P11 – some 20 seconds behind the front runners, and just fending off American rookie Jake Gagne (Red Bull Honda).

After the calamity of race one, today’s outing was far more straightforward for Milwaukee Aprilia. Having fallen off when a podium finish had beckoned, Lorenzo Savadori produced a solid ride to finish in P6, out-dragging his teammate Eugene Laverty to the line on the final lap. For Laverty, P7 draws a line under this weekend where lady luck so cruelly turned away from him.

Just behind the Aprilia riders came Michael Rinaldi (Aruba.it Ducati Junior Team) and Loris Baz (Gulf Althea BMW) in P8 and P9 respectively. The latter has enjoyed a good weekend on the privately run S1000RR machine, finishing both races inside the top 10.

The 2018 FIM World Superbike Championship resumes with the French Round at Magny-Cours, September 28-30.