WorldSBK: Rea Demolishes Rivals for First 2019 Win

Although rain is expected for the second race on Sunday, there were good conditions for race one in Imola, for the fifth round of the 2019 Superbike World Championship.

Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) took pole position in the twenty-five-minute Superpole session with an out-right lap record, and he took the holeshot in race one, too. His lead did not last long, though, as Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) moved to the front at the entry to the Variante Villeneuve.

In fact, Davies’ race as a whole was over before the first lap, as a mechanical saw him drop out on the run down from Piratella to Acqua Minerale. The Welshman was able to get his Ducati back to the pits but what looked like a certain podium and a possibility to win was taken away before he had even gotten going.

That let Rea off the hook. Mostly, the Northern Irishman had held a pace advantage over the whole field for the whole weekend, but if anyone was going to go with the reigning World Champion it was going to be Davies. With his only potential challenger out, Rea had a comfortable run from lap two to the flag.

His first race win of 2019 was perhaps not how he imagined it, but Rea’s performance was more dominant than any of those he produced in his World Championship years, probably mostly out of his want to prove a point. His point is considered proven, as he took a dominant win by 7.832 seconds, although he slowed over the line on the final lap, and at one point his lead was as large as nine seconds.

The retirement of Davies meant that Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) had a straightforward run to second place. It was his first defeat in WorldSBK, but it came in a track he didn’t know, and where he was struggling with the stability of his bike. It will take some big changes to remain in the top two in sunday’s two races.

Alvaro Bautista finally loosing his winning streak at Imola WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Ducati

Third place was the most hard-fought position. Whilst Rea and Bautista were apart from each other as well as the rest of the field, the battle for third was strong. Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) held third early on after Davies retired, before a mechanical problem befell his S1000RR. That left Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK), Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK), Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) to fight over the last podium position.

Lowes eventually dropped out of the fight. He did not retire, so it is possible that the illness he has been carrying this weekend led to his drop in pace in the second half of the race. However, between Lowes’ factory Yamaha teammate, van der Mark; Haslam and Razgatlioglu, there was some quite spectacular fighting.

In particular, towards the end van der Mark and Razgatlioglu were throwing some big moves at each other, and one from van der Mark stood out: a big dive in Rivazza 1, similar to the one he tried on Marco Melandri last year which cleaned both riders out of the race.

This time it stayed clean, though, and the battling between the Turk and the Dutchman allowed Haslam, who ran on twice in the Variante Alta, to keep in touch.

On the final lap, Razgatlioglu pulled away, and left van der Mark to fend off Haslam for fourth, a task which the #60 was up to.

It was Razgatlioglu’s first podium of the season and, after his call up for the Suzuka 8 Hours, one which came with good timing for the #54 after a difficult first part of the season. It will be interesting to see how the all-action Turk can handle the races tomorrow, scheduled to take place in the rain.

Having come so close to the current model R1’s first podium in Imola there will be some disappointment at fourth place for both van der Mark and Yamaha, but after what has been a tough weekend a fourth place in the opening race of the weekend is at least something to build on for Sunday.

Haslam will have been disappointed to come off worst in the three-way battle for third and end up fifth, especially to be beaten by a satellite Kawasaki, and especially when the pilot of that satellite Kawasaki is heavily rumoured to replace him in the factory team in 2020.

Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) was able to pass Alex Lowes late on for sixth place, whilst Lowes came home in seventh, a couple of tenths shy of his Yamaha stablemate.

Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) had an awful day. He crashed in the morning which meant his team had to rebuild his bike. In Superpole, the Italian had an oil leak on his back tyre, which meant that, when he changed from the left side of the tyre to the right side in the middle of the Variante Villeneuve, the Ducati flicked him and caught fire in the gravel trap. Another rebuild job faced the BARNI Racing Team but it was one they were able to achieve and, despite starting from the back and suffering pain in his neck, Rinaldi was able to fight his way to eighth.

Lorenzo Zanetti (Motocorsa Racing), wildcarding this weekend, took his CIV-spec Ducati to ninth place, ahead of Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) who completed the top ten.

Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) finished eleventh, ahead of Eugene Laverty’s replacement at Team GoEleven, BSB joint-championship leader Tommy Bridewell who impressed with twelfth place and four World Championship points despite not riding in FP3 due to a technical problem.

Ryuichi Kiyonari at Imola WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Honda pro racing

Hector Barbera (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) finished thirteenth, ahead of Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) was fourteenth and Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) was the final finisher and took the final point in fifteenth.

Rinaldi’s oil leak seemed to start in the second part of the Variante Villeneuve in Superpole. When the session was restarted, Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) hit this oil that hadn’t been cleaned up and went down. The German was fine but Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) also went down and was hurt. The Englishman had to go to hospital and missed the race, but it is possible that he can return for Sunday.

After Tom Sykes and Chaz Davies went out, it was only Cortese who retired, with a crash in Acqua Minerale five laps from the flag.

Featured image courtesy of Ducati

WorldSBK: A Done Deal for Ducati in Imola?

Three weeks on from a snow-swept Assen, the 2019 Superbike World Championship heads to Imola for round five of the series which has so far been completely dominated by ARUBA.IT – Ducati and Alvaro Bautista.

Bautista was supposed to struggle in Assen. And he did – on Friday. However, by Sunday he was twice making his way to the top step of the podium for the fourth weekend out of four in a display which has made it hard to believe the Spaniard will be stopped this year. Assen was supposed to play against Ducati, and work for their rivals, as the twisty Dutch track largely negated the power advantage of the Panigale V4R. The double of Bautista there really shows what a well-rounded package the Bolognese have designed. Now, in their backyard of Imola, their rivals will once more try to do what seems impossible and beat Bautista.

Alvaro Bautista and the Aruba.it team at Assen. Image courtesy of Ducati

Unlike the tracks that have gone before in WorldSBK this year, Bautista has never raced in Imola. That is not, however, to say that he has not ridden there. A test a couple of weeks ago will have allowed both Bautista to get to know the circuit, and for both the championship leader and his ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati teammate Chaz Davies a chance to a chance to bed the V4R into the glorious Italian track.

In the final years of the 1199 Panigale, Ducati were strong in Imola. Davies doubled up in 2016, and took a further win in 2017. However, it was Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) who took both wins last season, which added to his double-double of 2014-2015. A similar feat is hard to imagine for this year, but Rea’s hard braking style is suited well to Imola, with the chicanes at Tamburello, Villeneuve and at the top and bottom of the hill. Additionally, Ducati will not have very long to stretch the legs of the V4R in Imola, which has several straights, but all of them are quite short. If Rea can make the time on the brakes, then he could have a chance.

Michael van der Mark and Alex Lows Pata at Assen 2019 WSBK. Image courtesy of Yamaha Racing communications

Beyond Rea it is difficult to see anyone challenging Ducati in Imola. For example, whilst Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) was able to become the first rider other than Bautista to beat Rea this season last time out in the second Assen race, Imola has not thus far yielded a rostrum for the current model YZF-R1.

BMW’s new S1000RR also has no podiums in Imola, primarily because it has not raced there in WorldSBK. The new bike has been the opposite of the previous model: one which turns, but is nowhere in a straight line. Assen proved a positive weekend for BMW because the bike favoured the Dutch track’s twisty nature, and Imola could prove a similar story, with a sweet handling bike generally being the preference over outright power, as evidenced by Rea’s 2014 double on the old, slow CBR1000RR. That bike was slow, but it turned well. Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) and Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) have a similar situation this weekend, although as evidenced by Reiterberger in Assen, they still need to work on tyre management to be able to fight for a full race distance.

Featured image courtesy of Ducati

Moto2: Baldassarri Leads the Charge to Europe

As the Moto2 World Championship arrives in Jerez for the first European round of the 2019 season, it is Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) who leads the title race.

Baldassarri was last year’s dominant victor of the Spanish Grand Prix, taking pole, the fastest lap and the race win. It was a stunning weekend for Baldassarri in Andalusia in 2018, much like the first two rounds of this season, Qatar and Argentina, which he won. Going into Texas, Baldassarri was unbeaten, but a poor qualifying left him in the middle of the pack at the start of the race, and a mistake from Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was enough to bring the #7 into the back wheel of the Spaniard, which ended the championship leader’s race. Baldassarri was able to maintain his championship lead ahead of the first European round, and will be keen to re-assert himself as the main challenger for the title this year at a round he was so convincing at twelve months ago.

Jorge Martin at the 2019 Moto2 Cota grid. Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM

In Baldassarri’s absence from the front, the Texan victory was taken by Tom Luthi (Dynavolt Intact GP), who was dominant in his return to the top step – somewhere he hadn’t been since Brno 2017. Luthi was strong in Texas and will be hoping for more of the same here, to continue his strong start to the championship, which has him third in the championship, only five points from Baldassarri.

Between Luthi and Baldassarri, second in the championship belongs at the moment to the man who should have won in Texas: Marcel Schrotter (Dynavolt Intact GP). The German was by far the fastest all weekend, at times having half a second on the field. But, once again, Schrotter was unable to put this into the race, and he was not as strong as his teammate. Nonetheless, as the European season gets underway there are only three points separating Schrotter from the top of the standings.

Aside from Baldassarri perhaps the most disappointed rider from COTA was Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) after a mechanical problem ended his race in the early stages. It was unfortunate for the South African, who is still without a podium in 2019. Chatter is still the major problem facing KTM at the moment with their Moto2 frame, and solving that, and solving it soon, will be the key to Binder’s title hopes.

A strong winter tests in Jerez means that Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) is in contention for the top places ahead of this weekend. Like the Qatar preseason tests, Lowes was strong in Andalusia, and will hope to repeat the achievement he managed in 2016, when he dominated the Spanish Grand Prix for Fausto Gresini’s Moto2 outfit in what was one of the strongest and most impressive performances of Lowes’ grand prix career.

Brad Binder, 2019. Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM

Like Binder, though, Lowes is without a podium in 2019, and so is the third of the preseason championship favourites: Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46). Marini has spent the fly away races managing a shoulder which was still not fully recovered from surgery over the winter in Texas. Another three weeks will have helped heal the shoulder further for the #10, and he will be looking to do what he looked capable of in COTA before some gearbox issues, and take his first rostrum of the season.

One place ahead of Marini in the championship is Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) who has had a fairly average start to the season. A fall last year at turn two for Marquez ended his victory hopes, hopes that he fulfilled in 2017, a result that will be important to replicate for the Spaniard if he is to identify himself as a serious championship contender.

Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) took his first podium in Argentina, with a second place, but was unable to back that up in Texas. In part, this was down to a crash at turn ten in qualifying which left him towards the back of the grid at the race start. However, a perhaps bigger part of this poor result in America was down to Baldassarri’s crash with Martin, as Gardner had to go wide to avoid the bike of Baldassarri, costing him time which is unaffordable in the intermediate class of grand prix motorcycle racing. Gardner should be back this weekend, fighting for the victory – and at only twelve points deficit to Baldassarri the Australian is still well within championship contention.

WorldSBK: Bautista on Top Again, van der Mark Beats Rea for Second

The second race of the 2019 Superbike World Championship’s fourth round at Assen saw Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) take his eleventh win in as many races in the series, with Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) joining him on the podium.

The grid in race two was as race one, with Alvaro Bautista on pole. The Spaniard made the holeshot again, but by turn five he was back to second.
This was because Jonathan Rea had made an incredible start. From eighth on the grid, he was third by turn one, and soon past van der Mark as well. With championship leader Bautista directly in front of him, Rea wasted no time in getting past.

Knowing he needs to take a lot of points out of the Spaniard to make his championship hopes more realistic, Rea then slowed the pace to get more people involved. Despite the conditions being better than in the morning, the early race pace was nearly one second slower than in race one, and that kept the pack glued together.

Álvaro Bautista ahead of Jonathan Rea. Image courtesy of Ducati

Bautista was trying to attack Rea, but van der Mark was hounding him from behind. Eventually, the Spaniard was able to pass the reigning champion in turn eight. It was expected that Rea would fight straight back, but any attempt he might make was thwarted as Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) slid through on Rea in turn nine. This cost Rea his rhythm, and soon he was back behind van der Mark and almost Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) as well.

It took a lap for Rea to respond and fight back, and by the time he had recovered second position, Bautista was one second clear. Rea pushed hard to try and close the gap, pushing on the absolute limit as he traded the fastest lap of the race with Bautista for five or six tours.

However, Bautista was able to eek out the gap, and soon he was out of reach, a couple of seconds up the road.

Rea then sat back, ready to soak up another second place, but from almost two seconds back, the home rider closed on the reigning champion and passed him with three laps to go. Rea fought back, though, despite clearly missing grip on the right side of the tyre, and he tried to pass the Dutchman in turn ten on the final lap. There was some small contact but both riders stayed on.

They were far enough clear of Lowes behind to not lose any further positions, and after Bautista had claimed his eleventh straight win – matching Rea’s run of eleven straight wins at the end of 2018 – van der Mark and Rea crossed the line for the final time separated by just 0.018 seconds.

For van der Mark, this second place was important, as not only was it another podium at home, but also he became the first rider other than Bautista to beat Rea since Alex Lowes won race two at Brno last season when Rea crashed.
For Rea’s championship, the third place is quite negative, because he is now fifty-three points behind Bautista in the championship. However, there is no doubt the reigning champion enjoyed the battle at the end with van der Mark.

Alex Lowes was able to stick with his teammates pace for a portion of the race, but towards the end he dropped back and ended up in a quite lonely fourth, five seconds behind Rea, and three seconds ahead of Chaz Davies who came home in fifth after a much better ride for the Welshman in the second outing.

Markus Retierberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) took his second sixth place of the day, finishing just under two seconds behind Davies. However, the German had a big battle at the end of the race with his factory BMW teammate, Tom Sykes, who he beat over the line by 0.014 seconds.

Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) was in the fight with Alex Lowes and Chaz Davies for much of the race, but fell back dramatically towards the end, perhaps struggling with similar tyre issues to those of his teammate, and finished eighth, ahead of Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) who was top ‘independent’, half a second ahead of fellow ‘independent’ Kawasaki rider Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing).

Sandro Cortese. 2019 Assen WSBK. Image courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

Four seconds back of Torres was Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) in eleventh, ahead of Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team), Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven), Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) and Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) who completed the points.
Sixteenth once again went to Leandro Mercado’s replacement at Orelac Racing VerdNatura, Hector Barbera, and Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) was the final finisher in seventeenth.

This weekend was the one where Bautista would be tested, and the one where he was most likely to be beaten. He has come away with his 100% winning record in WorldSBK still intact, and relatively comfortably as well. Imola is next up, the home of Ducati, and the first circuit on the calendar which Bautista has not raced at in the past. If he gets out of Imola still unbeaten it will be difficult to see what the others can do about the top step this season.

Featured image courtesy of Ducati

WorldSBK: Bautista Takes Record Tenth Straight Win in Assen Race One

After snow on Saturday, the first race of the WorldSBK weekend in Assen, the fourth round of the 2019 series, was postponed to Sunday and the Superpole race cancelled.

Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) started from pole position after getting lucky with the timing of a red flag in Superpole on Saturday morning. It was not a great launch from the #19, but the drive and power of the Ducati got him to turn one first, ahead of Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) who got past Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK).

Reiterberger and van der Mark were initially able to go with Bautista. However, a mistake for van der Mark in the final chicane early in the race dropped him off the back of the leading pair. Reiterberger, though – much to everyone’s surprise – stuck with Bautista for several laps. It was not until Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) got by the German that his pace started to fall away.

Alvaro Bautista at Assen WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Dcuati

From this point, the race was on. There was just over one second between Bautista and Rea – who had started from row three after catching the bad side of the red flag which benefited Bautista in Superpole – and with fourteen laps remaining there was time for the World Champion to close down the championship leader.

However, Bautista pulled away. It was gradual, tenth by tenth, but the Spaniard slowly extended the gap out to over two seconds and, despite Rea’s harder rear tyre, the gap over the line was over three seconds.

No one had ever won the first ten races of a Superbike World Championship season, and considering the struggles Bautista looked to be facing on Friday, it was unexpected that that would change this year. However, in the end he made it look almost as effortless as most of his previous nine, and that emphasised his current dominance of the series.

Ten wins for Bautista is played by ten second places for Jonathan Rea. The four-times champion is now forty-four points behind Bautista in the championship, and seeing the gap extend at a track which he has been so successful on in the past, and which does not allow the Ducati to use its biggest advantage all that much, must be somewhat demoralising for the Northern Irishman. Arguably, Rea could have gone with Bautista had he started from the front row, alongside his rival. Unfortunately, we will not get to understand that in race two, as the grid positions are again decided from Superpole, so once more Rea will go from eighth while Bautista starts from pole.

Michael van der Mark and Alex Lows Pata at Assen 2019 WSBK. Image courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

Third place went to Michael van der Mark, who recovered from his moment early on, on the exit of the chicane to take his first podium of the year, in front of his home fans. The mistake definitely compromised van der Mark’s race, his pace suffered in the laps immediately afterwards. However, finally he made the best result possible, although he will hope to be able to challenge Rea in the second outing.

Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) spent the whole race fighting with Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), a fight which he eventually won, while Haslam came home in fifth.

After a brilliant start, Reiterberger finished sixth, his first top ten of 2019. His pace dropped off a lot once the rear tyre started to wear, and this meant he struggled to hold the line. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic ride from the German, and one that he will hope will set the tone for the races to come.

A poor start for Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) ruined his chances. He was out of the top ten by the end of the first sector, and his recovery brought him back to only seventh, after fighting with Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing), Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) and Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK). The Welshman was able to break away at the end of the race, but he would have hoped for better.

Of the battle behind, it was Torres who came out on top, taking the top ‘independent’ prize for the first time this season. It seems the Spaniard’s performance in Aragon one week ago was not a flash in the pan.

It was somewhat miraculous that Razgatlioglu was able to ride, after his big crash at the Ramshoek in Superpole, so a top ten will have pleased the Turk, despite being beaten to the line for eighth by Torres.

Tom Sykes dropped back at the end of the race, ending up a second and a half away from the eighth-place battle, but rounded out the top ten nonetheless.

Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) had a desperately lonely ride to eleventh, finishing ten seconds behind Sykes and six ahead of twelfth placed Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK).

Sandro Cortese GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK – 2019 WorldSBK – R3 Aragon. Image courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

Melandri spent much of the race fighting with his GRT Yamaha WorldSBK teammate, Sandro Cortese, although the German ended up thirteenth and six seconds back of the Italian.

Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven) suffered in the cold conditions of warm up, and the situation didn’t seem to improve in the first race of the day as he finished fourteenth, only two tenths ahead of Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) who completed the points finishers.

Leandro Mercado’s replacement at Orelac Racing VerdNatura, Hector Barbera, was the final finisher in sixteenth.

Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) and Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) were the only retirements.

Featured image courtesy of Ducati

WorldSBK: Can Bautista be Toppled in Assen?

One week on from the third of the 2019 season in Aragon, the Superbike World Championship heads to Holland, and the legendary TT Assen, for round four – part two of the only back-to-back races of this season.

For the fourth time in 2019, it is Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) who is the man to beat this weekend, having won all nine races – by a fair distance – so far this year. Since Aragon, the Panigale V4R has had 250 revs trimmed off its 16,000 rpm limit, which is unlikely to make much difference. However, what might allow Bautista’s rivals to challenge him this weekend is the layout of the Assen circuit, with no notably long straights meaning peak power is not necessarily so high on the essentials list for the Dutch track.

Alvaro Bautista, Winner of Race One, Jonathan Rea Second, and Chaz Davis Third. Image courtesy of Ducati

Instead, a blend of high-speed agility and stability are important in Assen, both of which are demanded by the third and fourth sectors which are both characterised by high-speed corners and direction changes. Fortunately for Bautista, it is clear he is not only fast in a straight line, but he is also fast in the corners, as was demonstrated by his ability to escape from his rivals in Aragon before they arrived at the long back straight at the end of the lap.

However, Jonathan Rea’s (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) record in Assen means it is expected that Bautista’s greatest challenge yet will come this weekend. Rea is the most victorious rider in Assen, with thirteen wins which stretch back to 2010. In fact, Rea has won at least one race at Assen in every year since 2010, with the exception of 2013, and until race two last year the Northern Irishman had been undefeated at Assen aboard the Kawasaki. To beat Bautista is nonetheless going to be a tough task this weekend for the four-times World Champion, but if it is to happen anywhere, it is going to be Assen.

Indeed, the race that was not won by Rea last year saw his then-teammate Tom Sykes take the victory, meaning the now-BMW Motorrad WorldSBK rider is the latest WSBK winner in Holland. Additonally, Sykes was extremely close to doubling in Assen in 2013, coming up short to Eugene Laverty – then on the factory Aprilia – in a run to the line in the second race, after dominating the first outing. Perhaps more importantly, though, Assen is arguably the circuit which would most suit this year’s under-powered, brand new BMW S1000RR. Sykes has stressed on many occasions how impressive the chassis on the German bike is, and it could be that the Dutch asphalt, with its chassis-centric layout, could lead Sykes and BMW to their first podium together.

The Dutch win that Eugene Laverty, now riding for Team GoEleven Ducati, wrestled from Sykes in 2013, is his only WorldSBK win at Assen. The #50 has only one other WSBK podium in Holland, coming in 2012. Laverty and his GoEleven team seemed to make a step forward in Aragon last weekend, and they will be hoping to continue that into this weekend, on a track which should not suit their motorcycle as well.

In the same sort of situation is Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati). The Welshman made a good step in Aragon, a track where he has always been successful. Despite a series of mistakes, proving his lack of comfortability with the Panigale V4R, Davies was able to stand on the podium in both of the full-length races last weekend. Davies has five podiums in Assen in the top class of production motorcycle racing, and even challenged Rea for the win in race two back in 2016, before his bike expired. Whilst Assen is not a track where Davies has been as strong in the past as Aragon, the #7 has a decent history in Holland, and will be hoping to back up the progress he made last weekend, this.

Alex Lowes – Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – R3 Aragon. Image courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

Yamaha did not so much make progress in Aragon as confirm the progress of previous rounds, as Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) was able to match the pace of Rea – the benchmark for Yamaha – for almost the entirety of both full-length races. Clearly, though, the YZF-R1 needs to improve in tyre consumption, as Lowes fell back towards the end of both full-distance outings last week. Assen has always been a strong circuit for Lowes. He was strong there back in 2013 in his title-winning BSB year, despite some controversies, and also scored his maiden WorldSBK podium at the Dutch track back in 2014.

However, it is Lowes’ Pata Yamaha WorldSBK teammate, Michael van der Mark, who will be the main attraction this weekend in Assen. Like Lowes, van der Mark scored his first WorldSBK podium in Assen, in 2015, when he finished third in both races, and has added three further podiums since then – one coming in 2016, and two others last year. Van der Mark will no doubt be out to win this weekend, although – as for everyone else – with the form of Bautista, it is hard to see another victor.

Featured Image courtesy of Ducati

WorldSBK: Bautista Dominates Again for Ninth Win

The final race of the weekend for the Superbike World Championship followed in the same vein as its two predecessors: a dominant winner, with a brilliant fight behind for second place.

Surprisingly, Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) was able to make the holeshot in race three of the weekend, despite Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) starting alongside him on the front row of the grid. Both of them got good launches, but some wheelie for Rea meant it was Bautista who got to turn one first, and as per the standard of the season, by the end of the first lap the Spaniard was out of reach.

Alvaro Bautista wins Race 2 at Aragon Round 3 of the 2019 WSBK championship. Image courtesy of Ducati

Behind, a battle formed Rea, Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) and Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati). Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) was also there in the beginning, although in the end he dropped back, and his place was taken in the train by Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK).

The four of Rea, Lowes, Davies and Haslam eventually worked themselves a gap to those behind, initially led by an impressive Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) and then by Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven) who was unable to close the gap down, which was a surprise after his strong performance on Saturday. Maybe the #50 benefited from the broken winglet.

Chaz Davis with another podium at Aragon 2019 WSBK. Image courtesy of Ducati

Between them, the quartet fighting for the final two spots on the rostrum had a fantastic fight. Throughout, though, there was a fair assumption to be made that it was Rea who had the advantage. Davies is still not comfortable with the new V4R, evidenced by his plethora of errors in every race this weekend, despite his good performances and results, and this was mentioned by Rea in parc ferme. In addition, Alex Lowes had been struggling for tyre consumption all weekend and a group battle with three other riders is not conducive to gentle riding that conserves the tyres. Finally, Leon Haslam was still suffering with his wounded ankle.

In that sense, it should be no surprise that it was Rea who came away with his ninth second place from nine races in 2019. However, considering the Northern Irishman had a less-than-perfect weekend, and struggled somewhat for setup, a third runners-up spot out of three is a good return for the four-times World Champion.

Third place in the end went to Chaz Davies, who might have had a better chance at second place had he not run wide in turn one on the final lap, allowing Rea through. That mistake was one of many throughout the weekend which prove there is still a lot of work for the Welshman to do with the new Ducati before he is comfortable with it. So, in that way, to end the weekend with two podiums and three top fours is a good positive for #7.

That left Leon Haslam just off the podium in fourth. Not only the result, but also his competitiveness throughout the race was something of a salvation for his weekend which was blighted by injury, a poor qualifying and a bad start in race one.

Alex Lowes came home in fifth place, again running out of tyre in the closing stages. However, the Englishman proved this weekend that Thailand was not a fluke, and that the Yamaha genuinely has the potential to compete with Rea and Kawasaki on a regular basis this season, which is a good sign for the Iwata marque.

Eugene Laverty came home in sixth place for the top ‘independent’ spot, one second ahead of the massively impressive Jordi Torres in seventh. Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) paid for the poor grid position he received for the final race of the weekend courtesy of being caught up in Michael Ruben Rinaldi’s (BARNI Racing Team) crash at turn one in the Superpole race, and finished eighth, ahead of the aforementioned Rinaldi and Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) who completed the top ten.

Marco Melandri at Aragon 2019 WSBK race 2. Image courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) ended his torrid weekend with an eleventh, ahead of Tom Sykes who plummeted down the order after a good opening to the race. Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) finished in thirteenth, ahead of Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) and Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) who was the final points scorer and final finisher in fifteenth.

Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) was the first retirement eleven laps from the flag, and was joined on the side-lines only by Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) three laps later.

Featured image courtesy of Ducati

WorldSBK: Bautista Dominant Again for Eighth Win

The Superpole race in Aragon for the third round of the 2019 Superbike World Championship saw Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) take his eighth win of the season, but the battle behind for second was, as in race one on Saturday, hard-fought.

Bautista, once again, made the holeshot, this time leading from Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) and Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) who jumped Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) in the first corners of the race.

Chaz Davis at Aragon, WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Ducati

Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) also made good starts, although Rea was quite lucky to make it out of turn one after he was clipped by Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) which took the Italian down, and caught Michael van der Mark’s Pata Yamaha as well.

After a lap, Bautista was gone, but soon after the battle for second was heating up. Lowes soon passed Cortese for second, and the German was soon shuffled further back by Rea and Davies, and then Sykes and Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven) came through as well.

Lowes, Rea and Davies soon established themselves as the three riders who would be fighting for the final two spots on the front row for the final race of the weekend.

Rea managed to pass Lowes with a few laps to go, but was unable to break away from the Yamaha rider, and Lowes came back past a few laps later.

Alex Lowes at Aragon WSBK 2019. Image Courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

With two laps to go, Rea almost ran into the back of Lowes’ Yamaha in turn one, and had to run wide. In fact, it was quite impressive from Rea to be able to keep the bike on the track, and not lose a position to Davies who was not so far behind. The reigning champion then closed in on Lowes by three tenths in the third sector, and made his pass on the main straight.

Although Lowes was able to stick with Rea throughout the last lap. He was unable to get the run out of turn fifteen, that he needed to be able to position himself to pass Rea in the final corner, and had to settle for third.

Another second was important for Rea, too, in respect to his championship. Of course, he is going to have to beat Bautista on track at some point if he is to win his fifth consecutive championship, but to keep the damage to a minimum is, for the moment, all he can do.

Chaz Davies came home in fourth, ahead of Tom Sykes who took his second top five of the weekend, in front of Eugene Laverty in sixth and the injured Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) in seventh.

Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) was eighth, only 1.7 seconds behind his Kawasaki stablemate, Haslam, and the same distance ahead of Cortese in ninth, whilst Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) was tenth and missed out on the front three rows for the second full-length race.

Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha) was caught up in the Rinaldi incident at turn one and finished eleventh, ahead of Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team), Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team), Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) and Michael van der Mark who got back on his YZF-R1 after he went down in turn one.

Aside from Rinaldi, the luckless Markus Reiterberger was the only retirement, a mechanical problem putting him out of the race at half distance.

WorldSBK: Dominant Bautista avoids battle behind to score seventh straight win

Race one of the third round of the 2019 Superbike World Championship saw a continuation of some of the trends we have seen throughout the season so far, with Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) taking the win, but behind him was a battle, the likes of which we haven’t seen in WorldSBK for a long time.

Bautista made the holeshot, and he didn’t look back. Despite being challenged by Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) in the middle of the first lap, the Spaniard was able to hold the S1000RR off until he was able to use the Panigale V4R’s superior power to squeeze out an advantage. Once he had space behind him, no one stood a chance of breaking Bautista’s 100% winning record at the start of his World Superbike career, as the 2006 125cc World Champion stormed to his seventh victory on the spin.

Alvaro Bautista, leading 2019 WSBK Race One at Aragon. Image courtesy of Ducati

Behind, though, there was soon a large battle emerging, with the likes of Sykes and fellow front row starter Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) being joined in the podium fight by the two Pata Yamaha WorldSBK riders, Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark, as well as Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who was recovering from his worst ever grid position with the factory Kawasaki squad, Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) and Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven).

The battle was fierce from lights to flag, with several riders, notably Lowes, Rea and Davies, taking stints at the front of the group, but no one was able to break away.

Alvaro Bautista, Winner of 2019 WSBK Aragon Race One, Jonathan Rea Second, and Chaz Davis Third. Image courtesy of Ducati

However, it took only a few laps for Tom Sykes, who had challenged for the lead on the opening tour, to get shuffled to the back of the group, and become detached off the back, such was his straight line speed deficit on the brand new BMW. Sandro Cortese suffered a similar fate. Whilst both riders were able to stay pretty much in touch with the group, they could not do anything about making progress once they had been expelled from it.

There was one moment where it seemed Rea would be able to break the pack. The Northern Irishman passed Chaz Davies in turn four and sent the Welshman a little wide. A gap grew slightly from there, but when Alex Lowes passed Davies on the next lap in turn seven he was able to close down Rea and pass him on the entry to the reverse corkscrew, which sent Rea slightly deep and allowed Davies, van der Mark and Laverty behind to all close back in.
From there, the group became an eight-wheeler, as van der Mark dropped off the back. He eventually dropped behind Sykes too, so it seems the Dutchman ran out of rear tyre.

That left Rea with Davies, Lowes and Laverty in the fight for the podium. The speed of the Panigale V4Rs of Davies and Laverty put them at a theoretical advantage if it came down to a last lap scrap, which seemed very likely.

When it came down to it, Lowes had dropped off the back of the two Ducatis in front, who were also slightly detached from Rea in second. It looked like it would be essentially Davies versus Laverty for the final podium position, and in the fight to become the first rider other than Bautista to get on the WorldSBK podium with the Panigale V4R.

In the end, the battle was ended prematurely. Laverty ran into turn fourteen slightly too fast, clipped Davies, shed what looked to be a knee slider and hit the deck. It was an unfortunate end to what had been a fantastic race from Laverty, who had been competitive all weekend.

The crash gifted Davies third. He was too far away from Rea to do anything about the reigning World Champion who continued his 100% second place record for 2019, and kept up the perfect damage limitation job his season has morphed into so far this year.

There was not too much to be excited about for Rea. Whilst he no doubt enjoyed the battle. But dropping another five points to Bautista at a track where he might have hoped to be more competitive and perhaps able to challenge the Spaniard,  will have been something of a disappointment. However, it was a brilliant comeback from a difficult qualifying for the Northern Irishman, who will have to do it all again tomorrow in the ten-lap Superpole race.

Chaz Davis on his way to Third place in 2019 WSBK Race One at Aragon. Image courtesy of Matteo Cavadini/Ducati

The podium was an important one for Davies, as it showed he has made some good progress with the V4R. Of course, having the horsepower advantage the new Ducati gives him was helpful in achieving this result, but at the same time it is not correct to say that Rea was able to steam away from Davies in the corners. The Welshman has a way to go with the Ducati before he can say he has extracted the maximum from the bike, but clearly he is working in a good direction towards that.

Fourth place in the end went to Alex Lowes, who had a solid race but for a couple of mistakes, for example running off track at turn sixteen mid-race. The Englishman will be hoping for a stronger podium challenge at the end of the race tomorrow, but considering his speed in the first part of the race, the Superpole race could present a good opportunity for the 2013 BSB champion.

Tom Sykes came home in P5, once again in need of some more horses from his BMW. It was clear, though, that the new S1000RR is a sweet-handling machine.

After dropping back at the end, Michael van der Mark finished sixth, just under one second clear of GRT Yamaha’s Sandro Cortese.

Sandro Cortese at Aragon WSBK 2019 Race one. Image courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) recovered from a back-row start to finish eighth, and second Kawasaki ahead of Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team (WorldSBK) who is having a dreadful weekend to this point and will be hoping for a turnaround tomorrow. The reigning BSB champion started from row four, like his teammate Rea, but went backwards and was all but last at the end of the first lap, which ruined his race.

Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) rounded out the top ten on his privately-run Kawasaki.

Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) was eleventh, ahead of Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) who arrived in Aragon hoping to solve his straight-line head-shaking problem, but seems to have encountered more significant issues on the YZF-R1. Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) took thirteenth, ahead of Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) and Eugene Laverty who got back on after his last lap crash to take the final point.

Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) was the first retirement, and his race was over on the grid, on lap one, as he collided with Jonathan Rea off the line. Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) and Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) both also retired on lap one.

Featured Image courtesy of Ducati

WorldSBK: Aragon Awaits for European Return

Two weeks on from another dominant performance by Alvaro Bautista and his ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati the Superbike World Championship heads to Aragon for the first European round of the 2019 season.

Six wins from six races mean Alvaro Bautista is clear at the top of the championship by twenty-six points over reigning champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK). The Spaniard has no doubt benefited from the power of the new Panigale V4R in the first two rounds of his WorldSBK career, and that advantage in straight line performance is likely to be a distinct advantage at MotorLand this weekend, with its long back straight and high-speed pit straight. It should not be underestimated, though, the way in which Bautista has found speed in the corners with the new Ducati. The V4R in the hands of Bautista is not simply pulling away on the straights and then losing a handful of time in the twisty sections, but Bautista is able to make similar times to Rea and the #1 Kawasaki in tighter sections, and this could be crucial at Aragon.

The most recent addition to Spain’s armada of world championship-level circuits is famed for its long straight at the end of the lap, but the series of corners which come before that are undoubtedly more important to lap time. Braking stability – both in a straight line and on angle – as well as mid-corner speed, acceleration and agility in direction changes are all important at MotorLand.  It provides one of the most demanding layouts in short-circuit motorcycling.

Chas Davis at WSBK Aragon in 2018. Image courtesy of Ducati

The rider who has met those demands most regularly over the past few years has been Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati). He took his first win in Aragon back in 2013 race one on the BMW, and backed it up in the second race by securing the double. The Welshman also secured the double in 2016, as well as taking the race two wins in 2015, 2017 and 2018. It has not been a perfect start to life with the Panigale V4R, but a positive step for Sunday’s second full-length race in Thailand three weeks ago was clear before a mechanical problem ended his chances. At a track he gets on with so well, this weekend could be the one he needs to discover some more feeling with the new bike, and some confidence to go with it.

A confident, V4R-mounted Chaz Davies could be the last thing Jonathan Rea needs. The Northern Irishman has yet to defeat the new Ducati in the hands of championship leader Bautista, but has made the perfect damage limitation job so far in 2019: where Bautista has scored six wins, Rea has scored six second places. Quite simply, considering the obvious gap in machinery at the first two rounds, Rea could not have done more to this point in the season. However, if Davies finds pace this weekend and the Panigale is as fast in Aragon as it has been at Phillip Island and Buriram, three more seconds for Rea could become three thirds. However, to become a four-times World Champion, you cannot go into a weekend thinking that second place is the best option. Rea will only have a mind for the victory in MotorLand, although perhaps it will come down to more than the determination of the rider.

Aside from Bautista, perhaps the standout rider in WorldSBK in Thailand was Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK), taking three third places behind Bautista and Rea. Back in 2016, Aragon was the site of the latest-model R1’s first front row. Despite that, the bike has never achieved a podium in MotorLand, and neither has Lowes, two things the Brit will be aiming to change this weekend after such a positive second round in Thailand.

This weekend could go one of two ways for BMW. Their bikes suffers a lot in the straights but is fantastic in the corners. The way their weekend goes depends one whether they can make up for what they lose in the drag from turn fifteen to sixteen in the corners, or whether that near-kilometre-long run will see them overwhelmed by their more powerful competitors. As well as their sweet-handling chassis, Tom Sykes’ (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) record at the Spanish track is on the German manufacturer’s side. The Briton has scored seven podium finishes at Aragon, including two wins back in 2014.

Featured Image courtesy of Ducati