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

WorldSBK: Sixth Race Win for Dominant Bautista

The second full length race for the second round of the 2019 Superbike World Championship from the Buriram International Circuit in Thailand was, like the previous five races of the season, completely dominated by ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista.

The Spaniard made the holeshot, and held the lead throughout the first lap, and soon after he had broken Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who settled in for a cold war with Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK). There was nothing anybody can do about Bautista, though, who strolled to his sixth consecutive victory, doubling his championship advantage compared to before the weekend.

Jonathan Rea, though, did what he needed to, in maintaining second place, not over-stretching either himself or the bike, and ultimately he is only one point more than a full-distance race win away from the World Championship lead. He has kept himself in the championship, and finally that was the maximum for the reigning champion and his Kawasaki team.

Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes finishing 2nd and 4rd in Race 2 at Thailand, 2019 WSBK. Image courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

The weekend was a big success for Alex Lowes, and he topped that off with perhaps his best ride of the weekend, as he stayed with Rea for three quarters of the race, before he fell back at the end. A third podium was about as much as the Yamaha rider could have hoped for, and he was by far the best Yamaha rider this weekend.

Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) took fourth place for the third time this weekend. He had hoped to be able to fight for the podium with his teammate, but despite starting six places better off than in the first two races – going from fourth – he was unable to match Lowes’ pace. Instead, the Dutchman fought once more with Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) who finished fifth and sixth respectively.

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

Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) once again took seventh place, ahead – once again – of fellow rookie Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) who was eighth. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) disappointed once again on his semi-factory ZX-10RR as he battled with Jordi Torres’ privateer Team Pedercini Racing Kawasaki for ninth place. Razgatlioglu came out on top in that duel, but it would not be the fight he had been hoping nor expecting to have.

Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) took eleventh place on the S1000RR, ahead of Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) in thirteenth and Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team).

There were four non-starters, as Eugene Laverty’s GoEleven team were unable to get his bike prepared after his brake failure yesterday; Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) entered the pits after the warm-up lap; and Thitipong Warokorn (Kawasaki Thailand Racing Team) and Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) were both declared unfit after their crash in the Superpole race earlier in the day.

In the race, there were two retirements, as Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) retired with a drivetrain issue, and Chaz Davies’ ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati Panigale V4R expired after fighting with the Yamaha riders and Haslam’s Kawasaki in the final race of the weekend.

WorldSBK: Bautista Wins Again in Red-Flagged Superpole Race

The Superpole for the 2019 Superbike World Championship race in Buriram was ended early, after six laps, due to a red flag for an incident between Thitipong Warokorn (Kawasaki Thailand Racing Team) and Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team).

However, the race started as normal, and like yesterday’s race, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) got a better launch than Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) but the power of the Panigale V4R allowed the Spaniard to draw back alongside the reigning World Champion. Nonetheless, Rea made the holeshot, only for Bautista to steam past him on the straight.

When they got to turn three, Bautista ran wide, and Rea cut underneath, only – again – for Bautista to power back by on the straight up to turn four. From there, surprisingly, Rea was unable to make an impression on Bautista, who stretched out a sizeable lead at the front and eventually won by two seconds, keeping his and the new Ducati’s 100% winning record in the championship.

After he was able to keep Bautista within range for over half the race yesterday, Rea would have been disappointed to have seen the #19 creep away after the second lap, but with the size of the straights in Buriram and the power advantage of the Ducati there is, really, only so much the four-times champion can do.

Alex Lowes – Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – 2019 WorldSBK. Image courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha) tagged onto the back of the two leaders from the start, and pulled away from his Yamaha stablemates and Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) behind. In the end it was a second podium, and a second third place, of the weekend and the season for the Englishman, and he will no doubt be out to make it three out of three rostrum appearances in Thailand in the final race of the weekend.

Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) was next over the line in fourth, after a battle with Leon Haslam (6th) which lasted the shortened race distance. Only two tenths behind Haslam was Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK), who had a messy first couple of laps, making a few mistakes, but was looking good for a strong fightback before the red flag, and he finished 0.3 seconds ahead of his GRT Yamaha teammate, Sandro Cortese who was seventh.

Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) finished eighth on the factory Ducati, ahead of Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) who made a good start but dropped back from there. Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) rounded out the top ten, but just missed out on the front three rows for the final race of the weekend.

Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) finished eleventh, ahead of Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura), Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing), Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) and Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) who scored the first point of his WorldSBK career, and was the final rider classified.

Eugene Laverty’s (Team GoEleven) race was over before it even started, as his GoEleven team couldn’t get his bike repaired after his brake failure yesterday. Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) retired at the end of the second lap, before Camier and Warokorn had their incident. Both were taken to hospital and both were declared unfit for the third and final race of the Thailand event.

Featured image courtesy of Ducati

WorldSBK: Bautista Defeats Rea for Fourth Straight Win

The second round of the 2019 Superbike World Championship saw Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) claim his first ever Superpole in qualifying, as the Spaniard looked to continue his 100% winning record in the championship after taking the first ever WorldSBK ‘triple’ in Phillip Island.

Despite an average launch, the world championship leader was able to use the power of his Ducati Panigale V4R to make the holeshot, but he ran wide, and after starting second on the grid, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) was able to cut underneath him and get a good enough exit from the first turn to allow him to lead through the kink of turn two and into turn three. The reigning World Champion ran wide in the turn three hairpin, but was able to square off the exit and beat Bautista to turn four at the end of the uphill drag, which was important for the Kawasaki rider, as he would now have the opportunity to pull away in the section of track in which he believed he was faster.

Álvaro Bautista ahead of Jonathan Rea. Round 2 of the 2019 WSBK Season. Image courtesy of Ducati

If anything, though, Bautista closed onto Rea’s rear wheel, and Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) was able to close onto the back of the leading duo through the twisty stuff towards the end of the lap as well.

Rea and Bautista soon engaged in a strong fight for the lead, Bautista of course having the advantage on sheer straight line speed, but Rea was doing everything, to try to counter-act the horsepower of the Panigale, focusing a lot – it seemed – on corner exit to launch down the straight. In parc ferme afterwards, Bautista commented that he felt he was losing out on corner exit, so whatever Rea was doing in this area was working well.

Not only was Rea impressive on corner exit, but he was demonic on the brakes. It became a notable feature of Rea’s riding last year, with the rev limits introduced for the Kawasaki limiting their speed and acceleration. Rea had to make the time on the brakes as a result, and he found himself in the same situation this season, and there was not a single braking zone at the Buriram circuit in which Rea did not appear on the limit.

In the early stages of this battle, Bautista passed Rea on the straight between turns one and three, and knowing he was missing out on braking compared to the reigning World Champion, the Spaniard pushed a little further on the brakes. He lost the rear, ran slightly wide, and Rea cut back on the inside. There was contact, and Bautista completely lost the front. It was a lucky escape for the Spaniard to stay on the bike, and to lose only one position to Alex Lowes was similarly fortuitous.

It took Bautista though, only one lap to re-pass Lowes, and then a few laps to recover the one second gap to Rea.

The Ducati rider was showing scintillating pace in that period of the race, in that one lap taking almost half a second out of his rival. When he caught Rea, and passed him, it was not without a fight that Rea let him go. The Northern Irishman pushed beyond the limit for several laps, locking and folding the front numerous times before his front tyre had finally had enough.

When Rea finally decided to conserve his second place and twenty World Championship points, Bautista was able to open up a large gap, and was still lapping in the low 1’33s as late as lap eighteen, slowing to ’33.7 on the final two laps. In comparison, Rea had dropped to 1’34s since lap sixteen (his final lap was a 1’36, but he slowed on the exit of the final corner).

Despite Jonathan Rea’s best efforts, Alvaro Bautista still came away from his fourth ever WorldSBK race with his fourth ever WorldSBK win, extending his championship advantage over Rea to eighteen points.

Whilst he was beaten again, there are positives to take for the reigning World Champion. Primarily, Rea was able to stay with Bautista for ten laps and more. The Superpole race on Sunday morning is ten laps, and so Rea has a real hope of taking victory in the sprint.

Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes at the Thiland WSBK round One Race 2019. Image courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

Alex Lowes was finally able to take his first podium of the season, probably one round late than he would have hoped, but to finish as top Yamaha for the second time this season will be a boost to him. Especially as the R1s of himself, his Pata Yamaha WorldSBK teammate Michael van der Mark and GRT Yamaha WorldSBK’s Marco Melandri were all so closely matched in race one at Buriram.

It was Van der Mark’s R1 which crossed the line closest to Lowes, in fourth place, just 0.468 seconds behind his teammate. Whilst Melandri lost time to his stablemate in a battle with Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK’s Leon Haslam, the Italian struggling with the same straight-line stability problems which dogged him last year on the Ducati. It was a sixth place for Melandri, a tenth behind Haslam in fifth, who in the end was three seconds from the Pata Yamaha riders.

Seven seconds back  Melandri was his GRT Yamaha WorldSBK teammate and reigning Supersport World Champion Sandro Cortese, the rookie having another strong ride to seventh place, after beating Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) to the line on the final lap. Rinaldi’s ride should not go un-noted, going from sixteenth on the grid it was perhaps his strongest race of the season aboard his “Showa-sprung” Panigale V4R (in comparison to the Ohlins suspension of his factory stablemates).

Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) came home in ninth place, struggling again with the lack of power of the S1000RR in the straights of the first two sectors.

Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) rounded out the top ten, after struggling for setup all weekend.

Eleventh place went to Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing), the Spaniard finishing two tenths ahead of fellow Kawasaki privateer rider Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racin VerdNatura) in twelfth. Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) was thirteenth, struggling – not unlike the BMW riders – with the lack of power in the CBR1000RR, but ahead nonetheless of BMW Motorrad WorldSBK’s Markus Reiterberger, and Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) on the Panigale V4R after crashing mid-race and remounting.

Sixteenth place went to Thitipong Warokorn (Kawasaki Thailand Racing Team), the Thai wildcard, and Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) who was the final finisher in seventeenth.

There were two retirements: Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven) and Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team). Laverty’s was by far the more alarming retirement, as he lost his brakes at 125mph into the final corner. Fortunately, the Irishman was okay after his fourth career brake failure.

Alvaro Bautista winner of race one with Jonathan Rea (2nd) Alex Lowes(3rd). Image courtesy of Ducati

Perhaps the most telling part about of the 2019 WorldSBK season is the gaps. Alvaro Bautista and Ducati have been very impressive so far, but arguably the step Jonathan Rea has made this year to try to challenge them has been even greater. Last year saw the top ten split by eleven seconds,  yet Rea this year,  had six seconds back to Alex Lowes; after destroying his front tyre and sitting up on the final corner which cost him two seconds. There will probably be people who are at the moment questioning the ability of Jonathan Rea – after four straight world titles with arguably the best bike for all four of those seasons, he is now finding himself incapable of getting anywhere near Bautista for a full race distance. However, to see a more accurate reflection of Jonathan Rea’s ability on a motorcycle, it is more relevant to look at the gap behind him, not the one in front of him.

WorldSBK: Who Can Challenge Bautista in Thailand?

For the fifth time in its history, The Buriram International Circuit in Thailand will play host to the second round of the Superbike World Championship.

The 2019 season began three weeks ago in Australia, with Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) taking all three race victories in dominant fashion. The Spaniard enjoyed a dream debut in WorldSBK, no doubt aided by the straight line performance of the new Ducati Panigale V4R, which should also be useful in Thailand, with the two long straights in the first sector. Whilst Bautista will undoubtedly arrive in Buriram the favourite for the victory in all three races, the Thai round could prove to be more of a challenge for the 2006 125cc World Champion.

Primarily, that challenge is likely to come from reigning World Champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who has won six out of the eight WorldSBK races held at the Thai track, including doubles in 2015 and 2017. Last year, the Northern Irishman faced struggles with on the brakes, as they overheated due to the heavy stops of the Buriram International Circuit combined with the extreme Thai heat. However, in response, the championship allowed larger brake ducts in Imola and Donington, which proved a successful remedy for the ZX-10RR’s problems. Still, though, it remains to be seen whether a similar situation will be encountered by Rea in this year’s Thai round of the Superbike World Championship – if he does it could leave Bautista free to take three more comfortable victories.

For the teammates of Rea and Bautista, Thailand is an interesting prospect.

Leon Haslam, (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) has not been to Buriram since 2015 when he rode the Aprilia RSV4 to two second places, meaning he can be fast at this track, but has less experience at the venue compared to his rivals. Haslam was strong in Phillip Island three weeks ago, and were it not for a crash in race one on Saturday, could have had three podiums.

Chaz Davis at Phillip Island 2019. Image courtesy of Ducati

On the side of Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati), however, the weekend is more of an opportunity for him to get closer to finding the feeling he wants from the Panigale V4R, having struggled with the new machinery since he first tried it last November. Davies appeared to make some progress in the second full-length race in Phillip Island, and will hope to continue along a similar path this weekend, on a circuit at which he often struggled with the V-twin Ducati, but was victorious at last season.

The other two Panigale V4R riders of Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven) and Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) are looking along similar lines to Davies, trying to find a better feeling from the bike. The task is made more difficult for these satellite riders, though, since they have different suspension manufacturers compared to the factory team, and so what they can learn from Davies and Bautista’s data and settings is limited.

The Pata Yamaha WorldSBK team would have been disappointed with their weekend in Phillip Island, having looked promising with both Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark throughout the weekend, and throughout the preseason – especially with Lowes – yet failed to make the podium in any of the three races in Australia. To add insult to injury, the new Yamaha team, GRT Yamaha WorldSBK, made the podium with Marco Melandri in the first race of the weekend. The battle for top Yamaha promises to be a great one in 2019, and the outcome of this weekend’s races will be interesting in respect to that fight.

It became clear during Phillip Island that strongest point of the new Ducati is its engine, whilst the new BMW S100RR had exactly the opposite issue. Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) rode superbly in the first race to take seventh place, but the power deficit of the BMW became more apparent in the two Sunday races, where Sykes made a bad start and could not find his way through the field, riders just powering away or past him on the straight. The situation will remain the same for this weekend, which will likely prove costly for both Sykes and his factory BMW teammate Markus Reiterberger in the first sector of the lap.

WorldSBK: Bautista Completes Dominant Debut Treble

Two wins from the first two races of the weekend made Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) the favourite for the third and final race of the opening weekend of the Superbike World Championship in Phillip Island.

Of course, winning the Superpole race earlier in the day gave Bautista pole position for the second full-length race of the weekend, and the power of the Ducati allowed him to make the holeshot. Having gotten through turn four in the lead, it was a clear run for the #19, and it wasn’t long until he had broken clear of the pack. They wouldn’t see him again until the cool-down lap.

Whilst Bautista was escaping at the front, Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) had passed his teammate, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) for second place, whilst Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) was attempting to join the battle.

Haslam led Rea and Melandri for around half the race before the reigning World Champion decided to make his move. Rea passed Haslam into turn one with ten laps to go, but was unable to break away. The battle that followed between the KRT teammates allowed Melandri to arrive on the back of the two ZX-10RRs, and it was not long before Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) had joined the scrap as well.

With time running down in the second full-length race of the day, van der Mark made his move on Melandri for fourth, and it was at this point that the two Yamaha riders started to drop back from the Kawasakis.

As the Kawasaki duo escaped from the Yamahas behind, Rea’s advantage over Haslam became more apparent – it simply looked as though he had more tyre left. Haslam had tried to chase Bautista in the first couple of laps, presumably trying to contain the Spaniard’s pace as Rea had tried in the Superpole race. This cost Haslam some grip towards the end of the race and it is this which cost Haslam the second place.

The second place was important for Jonathan Rea. With Bautista being so dominant it was important for the Northern Irishman to do a good job of damage limitation, and to lose only twelve points could be crucial for his championship.

Third place for Leon Haslam was his second of the day after making the same result in the ten-lap Superpole race earlier in the day, and made up for his crash whilst battling with Rea in race one which cost him a shot at the podium. Despite it not being a perfect weekend for the Englishman, Haslam comes away from his return to the World Championship after three years away with two podium finishes – a strong base for the #91 to build from.

Van Der Mark, Lowes and Melandri 2019 WorldSBK – R1 Phillip Island. Image courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

Michael van der Mark and Marco Melandri were joined by the end of the race by Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK). It was van der Mark who came out on top of the trio, something important for the Dutchman having been beaten by his stablemates in the two previous races of the weekend.

Lowes managed to make it a Pata Yamaha WorldSBK 4-5 by passing Melandri on the final lap and forcing the Italian to settle for sixth.

The battle between these three riders has the potential to be a very interesting fight this season, with all having an apparently similar level and speed and of course equal machinery.

Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) made progress overnight and finished race three in seventh place, 26.823 seconds behind his teammate. It is going to be a long season for Davies, but with the most confidence demanding track on the calendar out of the way, the Welshman will be hoping that it will only get better from here.

Only seven tenths back of Davies was Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK). The German’s performance should not be underestimated were it not for Bautista’s performance on the WorldSBK debut, there would undoubtedly be a lot of attention surrounding the German. Whilst he was twenty-seven seconds back of the winner, Cortese was only twelve seconds away from van der Mark – the top Yamaha – in fourth place, and this is something from which the rookie can take a lot of confidence.

Ninth place went to Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven), who presumably had the correct amount of pressure in his rear tyre for the final race of the weekend, after being 25% over-inflated in Saturday’s race. Laverty has seemed to make some good progress over the course of the weekend, and to come away with a top ten after a difficult preseason, only 2.3 seconds behind Chaz Davies’ full factory Panigale V4 R is at least something for the thirteen-times WorldSBK race winner and his GoEleven Ducati squad to build from.

Leon Camier finishing tenth at Phillip Island for the Moriwaki Althea Honda Team. Image courtesy of Hondaproracing.com

Leon Camier will also be happy with his first top ten of the season for the Moriwaki Althea Honda Team. The 2009 BSB champion knows there is still a lot to come from his package for 2019, so will be encouraged by this starting point, although Thailand may provide a more accurate reflection of the reality in a few weeks’ time.

Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) finished in eleventh place, ahead of the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK duo of Markus Reiterberger and Tom Sykes. Both Reiterberger and Sykes had a poor starting position after – particularly for Sykes – compromised Superpole races and coming through the pack when you are severely down on power is not an easy task, especially with the speed of the straight at Phillip Island. Nonetheless it was a surprise to see Reiterberger beating Sykes to the flag. Things aren’t about to get any kinder for the S1000RR riders, either, with the two long straights in Buriram for round two being followed by the downhill drag race in Aragon.

Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) and Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) rounded out the points finishers for the third race of the season in fourteenth and fifteenth, respectively.

Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Barni Racing Team) was the final classified rider, although a lap down after pitting due to a mechanical problem.

Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) retired in turn two of the first lap with a crash after having to change an under-inflated rear tyre on the starting grid. The wildcard Troy Herfoss (Penrite Honda Racing) was the next to retire, before Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) dropped out with a mechanical.

Featured Image courtesy of Ducati