WorldSBK: Back to Italy for Round Seven

Two weeks on from an action-packed sixth round of the Superbike World Championship, the series moves to Misano this weekend for the eighth round of 2019.

Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) shocked everyone by crashing his Ducati Panigale V4R in a race for the first time in race two back in Jerez, letting Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) off the proverbial hook in a weekend in which it looked certain that Bautista would greatly extend his championship advantage.

Alvaro Bautista at Jerez WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Ducati

Instead, Rea clawed back two points over the course of the Jerez weekend. The gap between the two title rivals stands at forty-one points in Bautista’s favour. On paper, it still seems unlikely that Rea will be able to overcome his deficit, but Misano could prove a positive round for the reigning World Champion. The Adriatic circuit was the scene of Rea’s first ever WorldSBK win back in 2009. In total, Rea has six WorldSBK wins in Misano, as well as four other podium finishes, which compares to Bautista’s solitary Grand Prix victory back in 2008 in the 250cc race, a third place in the 2009 250 race and a third place in the 2012 MotoGP race. In fact, in that 2012 premier class outing, Rea was also present on the second Repsol Honda. The Northern Irishman was replacing the injured Casey Stoner, and finished eighth. So, strictly speaking, for the first time this season we go to a track where Bautista and Rea have faced each other, albeit in particular circumstances which are unrepresentative of those this weekend and were in no way fair to Rea.

This weekend presents a good opportunity for Yamaha. Their bike has traditionally gone well in Misano – who can forget Michael van der Mark’s tyre letting go on his way to victory for Pata Yamaha WorldSBK back in 2017? Additionally, van der Mark was on the rostrum last season in the second race, ahead of Marco Melandri – then on Ducati, now riding GRT Yamaha WorldSBK’s YZF-R1. Furthermore, Melandri won at Misano in 2017, adding to his double rostrums in 2014, and his third place in the first race in 2011, also on a Yamaha.

Moreover, the Ten Kate Racing – Yamaha team have already been to Misano with the R1, albeit mostly in wet conditions. This should give them a chance of a good result this weekend, and an improvement over their first outing of the year last time out in Jerez where Loris Baz went 12-9 in the two full-length races, but was unable to start the Superpole race of bike problems.

Jerez proved a strong round for Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) who took his second podium of the season – and second in two rounds – with third place in race two. The Turkish rider will need more of the same this weekend to edge closer to securing a factory Kawasaki seat for next year, as Moto2’s Xavi Vierge is rumoured to be a possible teammate for Jonathan Rea in 2020.

Michele Pirro is also in action this weekend, the Ducati stalwart riding the BARNI Panigale V4R this weekend. The Italian has featured inside the top ten in several MotoGP races at Misano in the past for the Italian factory. In 2012, Pirro was tenth in Misano on the Gresini FTR Honda CRT machine, and the year after was tenth once more for Pramac. In 2016, as a wildcard, Pirro finished seventh after qualifying on the second row of the grid, whilst in 2017 he finished fifth in the wet. Pirro’s latest MotoGP appearance was at the Italian GP in Mugello earlier this month where he finished seventh, thirteen seconds off the win. Similarly, his latest WorldSBK appearance at Misano came in 2015, when he was eighth in both races. Additionally, Pirro won both races at the CIV round at Misano earlier this year, so could present a problem for some of the championship regulars.

WorldSBK: Van der Mark Takes First 2019 Win, Bautista Crashes

The second race in the sixth round of the 2019 Superbike World Championship was a lively one to begin with, with strong fighting in the opening laps, before the pack stretched out and Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) proved a dominant winner for the first time in 2019.

It was Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) who made the holeshot but, as in the Saturday race, Bautista was through at turn five. It was expected at this point that, as per usual, Bautista would disappear. However, the Spaniard went on to make his first mistake in a race of the year, crashing out early on at turn one. He got the bike back to the pits and, eventually, back out into the race, but was unable to score points.

Alvaro Bautista crashing out of Race Two of WSBK Jerez 2019. Image courtesy of Ducati

This presented a golden opportunity for Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) to take some points out of the championship lead of Bautista, which was forty-three points before the weekend. Ordinarily, the absence of Bautista would see Rea win, but Michael van der Mark had other ideas. After struggling to pass Rea for a number of laps the Dutchman managed to secure a lead. Rea hung on for several laps, but with six to go van der Mark started to pull away from the reigning champion.

The race was then cut short by a red flag for a crash for Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team). The crash brought gravel onto the track, which was deemed to unsafe by race direction. Since there were only two laps to go, the result was declared, and van der Mark declared the winner. Although he was unable to be strong in Superpole on Saturday, van der Mark’s race pace was strong all weekend, second only to Bautista. The mistake from Bautista gave van der Mark the opportunity, which he took with a dominant performance.

The second place of Rea was an important one with the non-scoring ride of Bautista. Unusually, Rea was unable to fight for the victory in Bautista’s absence, but van der Mark was simply too fast. Anyway, the reigning champion ended the weekend two points closer to Bautista than where he began it, which seemed unlikely on Saturday.

Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) took his third career WorldSBK podium. He was with Rea and van der Mark when Bautista went down, but was unable to live with their pace when van der Mark started to push on. Nonetheless, it was a strong result for the Turk, and shows his rostrum in Imola was not a fluke.

It was a strong ride for Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing) who scored his best result in WorldSBK in fourth, ahead of Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) who complered the top five. Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) was sixth ahead of Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK), Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing), Loris Baz (Ten Kate Racing – Yamaha) who took the first top ten since his return to WSBK, and Tommy Bridewell (Team Goeleven) who completed the top ten.

Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) was eleventh, ahead of Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK), Yuki Takahashi (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) who scored his first WSBK points, and Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) who was the final finisher in fourteenth, two laps down thanks to a crash on lap one at turn two.

Chaz Davis at Jerez WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Ducati

Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) and Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) came to blows on lap five, when the Italian tried to use the superior mid-corner performance of the R1 to pass Davies in turn five. However, he didn’t get the move done, made contact with the Ducati rider and took them both down. Davies was out on the spot, whilst Melandri get his bike back to the pits, although he didn’t get back out. Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) saw his race end on lap seven, whilst Bautista was only able to complete nine laps despite getting back out on track after his crash. Ryuichi Kiyonari was okay after his turn eleven crash which caused the race-ending red flag.

Featured Image courtesy Yamaha Racing

WorldSBK: More Bautista Dominance, Rea From Last to Fourth in Jerez Superpole Race

The Superpole race from the sixth round of the 2019 Superbike World Championship saw Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) starting from pole position as retrospective penalties for Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) after the first race of the weekend saw him start from last in the sprint race.

That meant there was a great race in prospect, with Rea fighting through from the back, whilst the riders starting from the front would be fighting hard for the crucial top nine positions for the race two grid.

Rea was quick to come through the pack, and was in the top ten from nineteenth after the first two laps, while Bautista had cleared off out the front after converting his pole position to a holeshot. At the same time, Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) made a good start, launching ahead of Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) off the line, and making good his case for a second top-three of the weekend, pulling away from the rest of the pack as they fought behind.

Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes at Jerez WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Yamaha Racing

One of those fights was between the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK riders of Lowes and Michael van der Mark, with the two exchanging positions on several occasions in the opening lap. Van der Mark was eventually able to establish himself in fourth place ahead of Lowes after the pair overcame Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK), and not long after the battle came to a close courtesy of a crash for the 2013 BSB champion.

Lowes’ crash promoted Rea to sixth place, which he soon turned to fifth by passing Sykes, and then fourth by overtaking his teammate, Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), just five corners later.

At the same time, van der Mark was closing on Melandri ahead in an all-Yamaha battle for second. Rea was no faster than either of the Yamaha riders ahead of him, so was in need of a battle between the Dutchman and the Italian.

Unfortunately for the reigning World Champion that battle never arose between Melandri and van der Mark, as the #33 was not able to retaliate when van der Mark made his move.

Once again, though, no one could touch Bautista out front, who won by 2.743 seconds over the ten laps. With Rea finishing in fourth, it was a six-point increase to Bautista’s championship advantage, which now stands at sixty-one points.

It was another strong performance from van der Mark to finish second, his second top two of the weekend. There were some strong moves from the Dutchman in the early laps, but once he smoothed himself out it was almost inevitable that he would end up second.

This is in spite of another strong ride by Marco Melandri, who continues his turnaround from the last few races where he has been seen to struggle a lot. Finishing ahead of Jonathan Rea on merit is testament to that.

Álvaro Bautista winner of Super pole at Jerez WSBK 2019, Michael van der Mark second and Marco Melandri Third Image courtesy of Ducati

For Rea himself, fourth place is perhaps as much as he could have hoped for, considering the strength of the Yamaha in Jerez this weekend, an it was another exceptional comeback from a lowly grid position for the four-times champion.

Tom Sykes’ gamble on the SCX tyre was enough to hold off Leon Haslam to round out the top five, whilst Haslam took sixth place ahead of Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing); Jordi Torres who is continuing his exceptional weekend for Team Pedercini Racing; Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) and Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) who completed the top ten despite making a step forward in morning warm up, in which he was fourth fastest.

Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing) took eleventh place, ahead of Tommy Bridewell (Team Goeleven) who made steps, like Davies, in warm up. It was Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) in thirteenth, ahead of Yuki Takahashi (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) and Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) who completed the top fifteen. Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) was sixteenth ahead of Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) who was the last of the seventeen finishers.

Loris Baz (Ten Kata Racing – Yamaha) started from pit lane, and was out by the end of lap one, whilst Lowes crashed on lap four of the Superpole race, leaving his team some work to do before the second full length race of the weekend.

Featured Image courtesy of Ducati

WorldSBK: Bautista Back on Top as Rea, Lowes Collide

Race one for the sixth round of the 2019 Superbike World Championship took place in Jerez, as the series reverted to type after the double of Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) in Imola, as Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) returned to the top step in his home round.

Jonathan Rea made the holeshot from pole position, his first pole in Jerez, but it took Bautista all of five corners to pass the reigning champion. After this, despite the best efforts of Rea, the Spaniard could not be caught.

Alvaro Bautista and Jonathan Rea during Race One at Jerez WSBK 2019. Image Courtesy of Ducati

Soon, Rea had the attentions of the two Pata Yamaha WorldSBK riders, Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes, to deal with. Van der Mark did not take long to move through on the Kawasaki rider. Trying to go with the Dutchman, Rea lost the front at turn two which allowed Lowes through.

Rea was back at turn six after Lowes had a big slide in T5, and this let van der Mark escape. However, there was no separating Lowes and Rea, who swapped positions multiple times in the final ten laps, and the battle went down to the final corner. Lowes defended the line well, but Rea cut back to the inside, clipping Lowes’ left hand and taking away the bar. Lowes lost the front and his left glove, and looked to be in pain with his left hand. Rea was apologetic when he returned to the pit but, understandably, the Yamaha team was uninterested in the reigning champion’s consolation. The incident was investigated after the race but no punishment was handed the way of the Northern Irishman.

Either way, no one could get near Bautista who, once again, destroyed the field with his Panigale V4R. After missing the top step in both races in Imola, it was the perfect way for the #19 to bounce back in his home round.

The ride of van der Mark, from seventh on the grid, was fantastic. He scythed through the pack in the early laps, dealt with his teammate early on, then dragged Lowes up to Rea. Once he was past the World Champion, van der Mark proved superior to all but Bautista out front.

Third place for Rea was fortunate, as he didn’t have the tyre for it. Either way, out of a difficult race where he had a poor feeling with the front, Rea comes away with yet another podium, one which equals the record of Colin Edwards for consecutive podiums, as he took his twenty-fifth in a row. Perhaps, though, this is not one that Rea will want to remember, and he certainly was not celebrating it on the podium.

Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) has been back on form this weekend after missing confidence in his Yamaha R1 since his podium in Australia. Fourth place, and nineteen seconds off the win is perhaps not precisely where Melandri wants to be, but it represents a step forward from where he has been since the first round, and it gave him the top ‘independent’ award.

Alvaro Bautista, Michael van der Mark and Jonathan Rea on the 2019 Race One WSBK Jerez Podium winners. Image courtesy of Ducati

Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) completed the top five, having come out second best of a race-long battle with Melandri.

Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) took sixth, ahead of a struggling Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing Ducati). Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) was eighth, ahead of Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing) who completed the top ten.

Eleventh went to Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) ahead of the returnees, Loris Baz (Ten Kate Racing – Yamaha) and Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura). Eugene Laverty’s replacement at Team Goeleven, Tommy Bridewell, was fourteenth, whilst Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) was the top Honda in fifteenth, taking the final point.

After his incident in the final corner, Lowes got back on his YZF-R1 to finish sixteenth, ahead of his 2013 teammate at Samsung Honda in BSB, Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) who was seventeenth and last on his first ever race in Jerez.

WorldSBK debutant, and replacement for Leon Camier at the Moriwaki Althea Honda Team, Yuki Takahashi, was the first retirement, crashing out unharmed at turn one. Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) was the only other retirement, as he came back into the pits on lap fifteen.

Featured image courtesy of Ducati

WorldSBK: Baz, Ten Kate and Jerez Return for Round 6

This weekend, the Superbike World Championship heads to Spain for the second time in 2019, and to the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto for round six of the year.

There is a new arrival this weekend, as Loris Baz and Ten Kate Racing make their return to the championship after missing rounds one to five. It is perhaps ironic that Baz and Ten Kate should find themselves linking up for the remainder of the 2019 season, since Baz left Althea at the end of 2018, and Honda left Ten Kate which led to the Moriwaki Honda squad that is run by the Althea team. Baz and Ten Kate are returning this weekend with Yamaha, which is a difficult one to consider from the Ten Kate perspective, considering their long history with Honda, with whom they won ten world titles – nine in WorldSSP and one in WorldSBK. For Baz, though, the blue of Yamaha is not an unfamiliar one, having ridden a Yamaha in Britain, as well as in STK1000 in 2009. Additionally, Baz rode the ‘open’ Forward Yamaha in 2015-16, achieving a best result of fourth, in the mixed conditions of Misano back in 2015. However, for both Ten Kate and Baz this weekend will be their first competitive venture in WorldSBK with the YZF-R1, a bike which has finished on the podium with Pata Yamaha WorldSBK riders Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes, as well as GRT Yamaha WorldSBK’s Marco Melandri, so it will be interesting to see how the new setup compares with the more established Yamaha runners.

The competitiveness of WorldSBK has been questioned over recent years with the domination of Jonathan Rea and the Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK, and now with the ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati squad and Alvaro Bautista. Bautista was beaten for the first time three weeks ago in Ducati’s backyard at Imola, where Rea took victory in both of the two race which were able to be run, but nonetheless arrives in Jerez with a forty-three-point lead over the reigning World Champion.

Bautista’s history in Jerez is a good one, winning the Spanish 125cc Grand Prix there in 2006 on his way to the world title, adding podiums in the 250cc class in 2007 and 2009, in both years being beaten by the riders who would go on to win the respective championship, Jorge Lorenzo in 2007 and Hiroshi Aoyama in 2009. Ducati’s history in Jerez is also a good one. In fact, Ducati ae the most successful manufacturer at the Andalusian track, and between 2013 – when it returned to the calendar – and 2017, Ducati amassed seven podium finishes, including four wins. The signs for Bautista are good.

Arguably, they are better for Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati). Each of the four wins Ducati has taken in Jerez were claimed by Davies, including a dominant double in 2016. Additionally, Davies seemed to be back on form in Imola and, but for a bike problem in race one, could have beaten his teammate in race one as well as the Superpole race, which he finished in second place. Lying sixth in the championship, 178 points behind Bautista at the top, it is perhaps fair to say that the Welshman is out of championship contention, but if his form can carry over from Imola to Jerez, he could certainly be a spoiler in the Rea-Bautista championship tussle.

Chaz Davis. Image courtesy of Ducati

Jerez shares some similarities with Imola, the previous track on the calendar. Although it misses the stop-start chicanes of the Italian track, Jerez has a good flow, and is a track which follows the natural contours of the land. More importantly for Jonathan Rea and the factory Kawasaki team, though, is that one characteristic shared between Imola and Jerez is a lack of significance of top speed. Top speed has been Kawasaki’s overwhelming weak point compared to Ducati this season thanks to the new Panigale V4R, so the short straights of Jerez should be a benefit for Rea and the ZX-10RR. However, Rea’s strong point is had braking, something which he was able to maximise in Imola thanks to the chicanes. The critical point this weekend will be whether Rea can overcome the Ducati’s power advantage in the three hard braking zones at turns one, six and thirteen. His ability, or lack thereof, to do that this weekend could prove crucial in the 2019 WorldSBK title race.

Once again, Eugene Laverty is missing this weekend thanks to the injuries he sustained in Imola, so will once again be replaced by Tommy Bridewell at Team GoEleven. Bridewell will be hoping for a full compliment of track time before the race this time round, after heading into Superpole three weeks ago with only two laps under his belt.

Finally, after missing the last two rounds through injury, Leandro Mercado is back this weekend for the Orelac Racing VerdNatura squad.

WorldSBK: Rea Fends off Davies for Imola Superpole Win

Despite Alvaro Bautista’s (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) dominance throughout the first four rounds of the season, it was Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) who went into Sunday’s Superpole race in Imola for the fifth round of the 2019 Superbike World Championship as the favourite for the race win thanks to his demolition of the field in Saturday’s first race.

Although storms were forecast for Sunday, and eventually led to the cancellation of the second full-length outing for the WorldSBK riders, the Superpole race took place in the dry, albeit under a veil of cloud.

With the grid being the same as for race one, it was Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) who started from pole, and as in race one it was the Welshman who took the holeshot and led into the Variante Tamburello for the first time. Unlike race one, however, Rea was unable to pass Davies into the Variante Villeneuve.

However, when Davies missed the apex of the second part of the Variante Villeneuve, Rea sensed an opportunity in Tosa, so threw his Kawasaki inside Davies’ Ducati, but ran wide and the #7 was able to keep the lead as they made their way towards Piratella.

Rea was able to get to the front before the end of the first lap, though, when Davies ran wide at the final chicane. In fact, Davies was fortunate to keep his Panigale V4R on the track, and even more fortunate to only drop to third, behind both Rea and his teammate Bautista. Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) was also close behind, but unable to take advantage of the 2011 Supersport World Champion’s mistake.

Not that Rea was in need of an opportunity to have a lap to himself at the front, but he now had it, and with Bautista between himself and Davies, there was a good chance for the Northern Irishman to extend his advantage at the front.

Bautista did not lose too much time on the second lap, though, although Rea still extended his advantage by just over a tenth. But the early signs were good for Bautista, it looked as though he could perhaps go with the reigning World Champion.

However, by the end of lap four, Rea’s advantage had grown to over one second, and with six laps to go it seemed that Rea had his first ever Superpole race win in the bag.

Davis and Bautista at Imola WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Ducati

As the race approached half distance, and as Rea’s advantage was slowly creeping out, the battle behind the four times World Champion was intensifying between the two factory Ducatis of Bautista and Davies. A mistake from Bautista in the first Rivazza allowed Davies to cut down the Spaniard’s inside and whilst the #19 tried to cut back on the exit of the second Rivazza, Davies had him covered off.

With four laps to go, Davies now had a clear run at Jonathan Rea out front. Bautista was now haemorrhaging time to his teammate, perhaps experiencing difficulties with his SCX rear tyre.

At the same time as Bautista was dropping back, Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) was suffering with rear grip, too. Like Bautista, he had chosen the SCX rear tyre, and been strong at the start whilst fighting with the two Pata Yamaha WorldSBK bikes of Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark, as well as Leon Haslam in the battle for fourth. After mid-distance, though, with van der Mark having cleared off up the street, Razgatlioglu was now fighting with Lowes and Haslam for fifth, with no edge grip nor drive grip. Clearly, although there was a new SCX rear tyre for the Imola weekend, it was still not what the riders needed for the ten laps of the Superpole race.

Meanwhile, back at the front, Davies and Rea were trading lap records as the Welshman tried to close the gap to the front, and Rea did his best to keep him at bay.

With nine tenths between the two as they went onto the penultimate lap, it looked like Rea had the race win locked up, and this was confirmed as they went onto the final lap with 1.8 seconds covering the top two combatants.

In the end it was a second race win of the weekend and a second of the season for Rea, who took more points out of Bautista, cutting the championship lead of the Spaniard to forty-three points. In all it was as close to a perfect race as Rea could get. He was perhaps fortunate that Davies made the mistake at the end of lap one, because without a doubt the Welshman had the pace to go with Rea, but ultimately the four-times champion did enough, and he will be hoping that the strong performance at Imola will be the start of his fight back in the title race against Bautista.

Whilst the mistake of Davies was a blessing for Rea, it was the source of disappointment for Davies himself, who undoubtedly lost his best shot at a win this season as he ran wide in the Variante Bassa at the end of lap one. Nonetheless, the #7 showed good speed throughout the weekend and, like Rea, will hope that this is a sign of things to come for the next races.

For the first time this season, Bautista was beaten by his teammate. However, his worst finish of the season came perhaps in the best possible race, because the points in a Superpole race are much less than those of the full-length races. Furthermore, it is possible to argue that Bautista could have been closer to the front two with a different tyre choice, because he was clearly suffering with the rear grip in the second half of the race. The Spaniard was lucky, overall, in Imola, mostly for the fact that a wet race was avoided, but also for the fact that his teammate retired in race one. It was certainly about as good a damage limitation job as the #19 could have hoped for.

Michael van der Mark at Imola WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Yamaha Racing

Fourth place went to Michael van der Mark. The Dutchman would have been happy to have the race he did in the Superpole race, because in the second half he was completely alone on the track. Far behind him were Alex Lowes and Leon Haslam, who were fifth and sixth, respectively. Especially for Lowes, this result was impressive, considering his delicate physical condition in the weekend.

Razgatlioglu’s tyre choice limited the Turk to seventh place, which he just held on to from Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) by 0.280 seconds. It was a dramatic race for Sykes. He had to start from pit lane, which meant that his chances were restricted before the race began, but the Englishman had a brilliant start to the race, and was strong fighting through the pack to finish eighth, although after having a strong chance of a podium on Saturday the #66 would have been disappointed to come away from Imola with just two points.

Just a couple of tenths behind Sykes was Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) who returned to the top ten after missing out in the first race, whilst Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) rounded out the top ten for the second time in the weekend.

Twelfth place on Saturday for Tommy Bridewell – replacing Eugene Laverty at Team GoEleven – was impressive, and equally so was the joint-BSB-points-leader’s eleventh place in the Superpole race; with the #46 beating wildcard Lorenzo Zanetti (Motocorsa Racing); series regular and reigning Supersport World Champion Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK); Leandro Mercado’s replacement at Orelac Racing VerdNatura Hector Barbera; and BARNI Racing’s Michael Ruben Rinaldi who completed the points.

Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) had a dreadful Superpole race, and finished seventeenth, behind Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team), whilst Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) was the final finisher in eighteenth.

There were no retirements from the race, but as in race one, Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) was absent from the grid after his crash in Superpole.

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