The Thai WSBK round was an explosive one – quite literally if you are Leon Camier and Lorenzo Savadori. But what else did we learn in the Far East, apart from the fans are crazy and the weather is hot and humid?
One thing we learnt is that Jonathan Rea is in fine form (as if that was ever doubted). The Ulsterman took his 2nd consecutive double and became the first rider since Neil Hodgson in 2003 to win the first four races of the season. The Kawasaki rider is the man to beat, although he goes to a circuit which he hasn’t won at since 2015, with Aragon next up. On the other side of the Kawasaki garage, Tom Sykes took a double podium, with 3rd in race one and 2nd in race two. The former champion is already 38 points back from his teammate and at this early stage in the championship, that is a worrying sign. But then again, it is only early.
The Ducati team had a mixed weekend at Buriram. Firstly, Chaz Davies took a remarkable 2nd in the first race, after picking his way through the field early doors. The former World Supersport champion was in 2nd place in race two before crashing at turn 3 in race two. A red flag did help him recover from the back of the grid to achieve 6th in come the chequered flag. Chaz is 2nd in the championship but 30 points back – but don’t worry – he is actually 10 points nearer to Rea after 4 races than he was last year and he scored 10 points more than Rea in the 2nd half of the championship. I’ll leave it down to you to derive from that what you will. All is not lost yet. As for teammate Melandri, he came away with a great 4th and 3rd after his first visit to the Chang International Circuit. The Italian was mugged on the final corner by Tom Sykes in both races on the final lap. One thing is for sure though, Marco is competitive and if anyone is going to upset the Kawasaki dinner party and turn it red, Melandri could be the rider to do just that.
On the whole, the Yamaha’s performance from Australia definitely looks like it was carried into Thailand. Michael van der Mark found form, finishing in the top 5 in race 1, whilst Alex Lowes picked up his third 4th of the season in race two. Paul Denning’s Crescent Racing squad have figured out how to get the speed out of the Yamaha, adding an interesting dynamic to the season. If the Yamaha can keep the pace with Ducati and Kawasaki, could we see more upsets amongst the front men? There’s no doubting Lowes’ ability, and van der Mark will only get stronger and stronger as the season unfolds.
One thing we did learn is that Honda, despite being nowhere near where they’d like to be, are making progress. Nicky Hayden’s 9th place in race one was a solid performance, putting him on the 2nd row for race two, propelling the Statesider to 7th. Moto2 champion from 2011, Stefan Bradl, endured a trickier brace of races, although it was his first time at the track. The German took a hard earned 10th in the first race, before crashing at the final corner in race two. His results are a drastic improvement on his pair of 15th place finishes at Phillip Island and the next circuit is Aragon, one that he knows well. Testing at the circuit may also give Honda an advantage over some riders. The wins and podiums will come, it will just take a lot of perseverance and effort – but they will come.
On the contrary, Milwaukee Aprilia had a woeful time of things in Thailand. Like BT Sport commentator Keith Huewen said last season, “Laverty will find it more difficult than some are saying”. Never has a better prediction been made. The Irishman retired on the final lap of the first race before crashing late on in the 2nd outing. Teammate Lorenzo Savadori plummeted in race one to 13th and was the reason behind the red flag in race two, after his Aprilia burst into a cloud of smoke on approach to the final turn, throwing the former European Superstock 1000 rider off the bike, landing awkwardly on his neck. Shaun Muir’s team have a lot of work to do in the three weeks between now and Aragon. However, I’m an optimist and believe that by Misano in June, the team will be a regular podium threat. Whether or not this transfers into actual podiums or wins will depend on a variety of things, luck being one of them.
The BMW team were again consistent. Jordi Torres bringing his Althea BMW home in both races, 7th and 5th respectively. Teammate Markus Reiterberger also finished both races, breaking into the top 10 in the 2nd. The team went well at the track last season, so it was to be expected that they perform well. However, you can’t help but feel that the team have reached their maximum and will stay a mid-table outfit, possibly with the odd podium. That’s not so much a criticism of the team, but more a fault on BMW’s behalf. A manufacturer with a relative amount of success should be giving the Althea team some more factory support. Then again, what do I know? Times are hard back in Europe, with uncertainty being a leading factor. At least they have two solid riders.
A few shout outs now. Great ride from Ricardo Russo on the Guandalini Yamaha, taking his first points of the season with a 12th in race two. Roman Ramos’ point scoring run continues, now stretching 26 consecutive races that he has started (he missed Imola and Sepang through injury last year). He took his first top 10 of the year in race two, with 9th. Jamie Whitham also gets a mention, after his “how do you damage a tyre” comment spontaneously came over the air during Eurosport’s qualifying coverage in the typical, Yorkshire accent which he fashions oh so well.
In conclusion, the Thai WSBK round proved many things. Rea is fast as usual. Chaz is serious about ‘win it or bin it’. Honda are growing steadily. Aprilia are stuck in a rut. Yamaha are improving lap on lap. But most of all, the WSBK crowd is back. And whilst some people may say that the level of competition isn’t there, I’d counter that. The level of competition is there, it’s just harder than ever before to be able to compete for a podium because the guys at the front have such serious pace.
And off to Spain we trek…
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko
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