The world superbike championship was back in Britain at the weekend when it returned to the site of the first ever race WSBK race at Donington Park where it all began in 1988.
Back then it was Davide Tardozzi on a Bimota who won the first ever race, but on a brand that has become synonymous with the series it was Ducati mounted Marco Lucchinelli who took the second win.
The big change from then to now though is that in 1988 the only BMW’s and Kawasaki’s to be seen were in the bike parks. In 2019 they’re not only on the track but after qualifying, they were on top filling the first four slots on the grid.
Tom Sykes managed to put his BMW on pole position in the very tricky wet/dry conditions for the first time ever at a World Superbike Championship race. This was the first time for the marque since 2010 when Troy Corser scored the top spot at Misano for their only other pole position in the series. The schnapps was flowing late into the night down Munich way on Saturday.
Reigning champion Jonathon Rea qualified second for the Prosecco Doc sponsored round with his team-mate Leon Haslam alongside. This was the first time since Australia that the local man had enjoyed a clear view and obviously, domestic fans were keen to see how the reigning BSB champ would get on.
“The track felt quite different because I don’t think I have ever been here when it was hot! I know this track so I know where I need to be and where I am struggling with the set-up. We made a positive step from this morning’s session in that area, so we are closing the gap. Getting the bike to stop and then squirt out of that last section was my main priority and we bridged the gap to the front to about a tenth. We made a good step from the morning to the afternoon.”
The other great talking point though was the performance of the man in fourth, the hugely impressive Peter Hickman.
Using his experience to shine in the ever-changing conditions, Hickman, who was a last-minute stand-in for the unwell Markus Reiterberger shook up the order on the factory BMW with a sensational qualifying effort. This was very much a last-minute deal, being announced just the day before practice got underway for the round.
Unfortunately, Reiterberger is suffering from a severe flu infection and high fever and spent Wednesday night in hospital under observation. We at Infinity wish him a speedy recovery. (As we went to press the word was that Marcus will be fit and well for the USA round next week).
Another one to be seen tipping up the apple cart was the man in fifth. Loris Baz put in a great run to land fifth best and the fastest Yamaha
While alongside him championship leader Alvaro Bautista placed his Ducati sixth.
One interested spectator watching from the sidelines was Scott Redding who was initially touted as picking up a wildcard ride at this round on his BSB Ducati. It was a much hoped for appearance as Scott does well at the Derbyshire circuit, indeed he became the youngest winner of a 125 GP race here in 2008 as a 15-year-old. He also did the daily double in the recent BSB round here, but much to his, and many spectators disappointment no deal could be reached. It’s a great shame as rarely do local riders get the chance to shine on the world stage. It also takes away a lot of local interest in the event which hurts the box office. It’s something the organisers need to look at.
Nonetheless, a reasonable crowd turned out on the soggy Saturday to watch the action and they saw Jonathon Rea take the holeshot from Tom Sykes.
On lap twelve Jordi Torres and Sandro Cortese opened up the crash notebook by exiting stage left at turns six and seven. A lap later they were joined at a similar spot by current points leader Alvaro Bautista
The Spaniard, who has led the championship standings since the opening race of the season on the Aruba.it Ducati lost the rear rounding turn six on the 13th lap and was flung over the bars in a classic high-side.
This was his third crash-related DNF in as many rounds and the man who looked totally unbeatable when the season started is suddenly looking vulnerable.
He said later that he was happy not to be hurt despite hitting head in the shunt. Clearly, his Scorpion helmet is able to pass the ultimate test.
Out front, looking far from vulnerable the green machine of Rea continued on its winning way, eventually opening up a lead of just over 11 seconds to pick up another 25 points, and more importantly the series lead from his Ducati mounted (occasionally) rival for the first time all year.
A delighted Sykes had good reason to beam through the gloom as he picked up another podium for his German paymasters while Leon Haslam had good reason to crack open a bottle of the sponsor's product as he put his Kawasaki on to the podium in third
“It wasn’t the start that determined my race although I did get held up a little bit in the first two laps with Tom. As soon as I started to push like I had been doing in practice and qualifying in the rain, I did not have the same feeling. To be honest I felt like I struggled at times today. I got a little bit caught up with Baz and that let Tom get away. The lap times I could do when I got a clear lap were not so bad, but I felt like I was pushing the limit too much to get that kind of lap time. So I backed it down and got third. From quite early on in the race I was trying to just manage it and bring it home on the podium.”
One man who wasn’t beaming was Marco Melandri who said that his GRT Yamaha was 'impossible' to ride during the race. The Italian started on the third row but quickly slid down to the back of the field, lapping around four seconds off of the front running the pace. He suffered the ignominy of being lapped by the Kawasaki man near the races end and the two points he collected for his efforts were little reward for what had been a very difficult race.
The honour of top Yamaha, as in qualifying, went to Loris Baz from Alex Lowes. Peter Hickman continued to impress in his first race at this level with a seventh placed finish just ahead of the man who was in serious doubt for the weekend after his massive get off at the last round, Michael Van der Mark.
The save of the day award must go to Alessandro Delbianco who went spearing off of the track side saddle as he recovered from a near highside. He continued through the sodden grass at high speed, managed to get astride his machine once again without losing momentum and re-joined having only lost a couple of seconds on the lap. He finished the race ninth.
And so to Sunday and the ten lap Superpole race to determine the grid for the second race later in the day, and of course the chance to pick up some extra points.
This time it was Tom Sykes who shot down the Craner curves ahead of the team green duo while their future Suzuka teammate Toprak Razgatlioglu moved in to fourth
At the end of the second lap Toprak had found his way past Leon in to third whilst behind them Peter Hickman was clearly struggling as he dropped out of the top ten as he first one, then five riders found their way past.
Sykes and Rea were reminding the fans why they like superbike racing so much as the swapped places and paint in their battle for supremacy which allowed those behind to stay in touch, most notably second in the championship man Alvaro Bautista.
Halfway in the race Rea hit the front and started pushing as hard as he knew to clear out in the lead but unfortunately his Kawasaki started protesting at the pressure being applied to it and was running wide in the corners which allowed Sykes, the other Kawasaki’s and Bautista to stay in touch.
As the riders came over the line at the end of the seventh lap the red flags were flying which, as the race had completed 2/3rds distance the result was called.
Unfortunately, Hickman had blown up heading down in to the Malborne loop and was quickly joined in the gravel by Mercado and Cortese who came cartwheeling through destroying their bikes. Del Bianco and Kiyonari joined the party shortly afterwards and suddenly there was a lot of clearing up to be done which meant the race had to stopped urgently.
The workload of the BMW crew doubled shortly after as Tom Sykes, coming around on the slow down lap, was distracted by the marshals and track cars at the loop and found his teammates oil which sent him and his machine tumbling in to the kitty litter. The quick reflexes of one marshal got him out of harm’s way as the rapidly approaching fallen machine forced the man in orange to do an impromptu Hussain Bolt impression as he scarpered out of the BMW’s way.
As Sykes walked the short distance back to the Paddock and left his broken machine behind he was excluded from the results due to a technicality which rubbed more salt in to the team’s wounds. This promoted Toprak up to second and Leon up to third. Another Kawasaki top three.
After the race Leon had this to say about it;
It was a difficult race. I felt like I really good pace on 75% of the lap but in the last three braking areas I couldn’t stop, kind of the same issues we’ve been having all year. The general handling and grip I’m happy with though.
The win for Rea (who in the post-race interview backed up Sykes’ claim that there were no oil flags to be seen) put him in pole position for the last race of the weekend and of course allowed him to extend his new found championship lead.
His fellow ZX10 mounted Suzuka teammates lined up alongside him on the front row while the red Aruba.IT Ducati with the its yellow helmeted rider headed the second row with the Yamaha riders Lowes and Baz joining him. Sykes would have to start from tenth just add a little more insult to injury for him and the German team.
The lights went out and as he had done the day before the man from Northern Island led the field away pursued by Toprak and a very fast starting Bautista who very nearly passed the Turkish Kawasaki rider in to Redgate for the first time of asking. Leon found a way past Alvaro at the old hairpin and set off after his fellow ZX10 owners
Chas Davies was showing his best form of the weekend and was up to fifth at the end of the first lap ahead of a quartet of Yamahas being steered by Lowes, Baz, Van der Mark and Melandri.
In to the hairpin in the Melbourne loop near the end of the third lap the privately run Kawasaki of Razgatlioglu decided that after showing much promise of late it was time for him to lead a world championship race as he neatly outbraked Rea.
This left us with a four-way battle for the podium between the leading Kawasaki’s and the primary Ducati while Davies and Baz trailed behind.
On lap six a mistake at the hairpin, where he was usually so strong, by Toprak let Rea back in to the lead. Leon fond his way past in to second almost a lap later but a determined Turk showed his strength once again at the hairpin. On the same lap Davies dropped a couple of places back to seventh which dropped him in to the clutches of Sykes who passed him a couple of laps later.
Toprak was back in to the lead a lap later after another strong move in to the hairpin. It was clear that despite being fellow Kawasaki riders there are certainly no team orders going on. The man who was playing the team game seemed to be Leon who was doing a great job of keeping the Aruba Ducati behind him.
A mistake by the leader half way in to the race allowed Rea to slip by and take a lead that he wasn’t to lose.
Frustratingly for the BMW team Sykes was comfortably the fastest man on the track at this point.
With just over ten to go Leon was forced to relinquish his podium place to Alvaro Bautista who chose the favourite overtaking spot of the Melbourne hairpin to lay claim to third.
All this mid race arguing was allowing the Yamaha duo of Lowes and Baz to start slowly closing despite having their own squabble over who should head the way forward.
Three quarters of the way in to the race the Kawasaki of Haslam was clearly struggling as his good friend and training buddy Alex Lowes was looking to take what was now fourth place. For several laps this was he closest battle on the track. The expected one between Toprak and Alvaro never really materialised as the Spaniard started to lose time to his rival. Clearly the Ducati’s were lacking late race pace as Davies was struggling to stay in the top ten.
With two to go the Yamaha was past the Kawasaki and we wondered if Alex would have the pace to ride on to the podium. He gave it his all and closed the gap to four tenths of a second by the races end but was unable to do race winner Rea a favour by demoting the Spaniard.
Leon hung on for a relatively disappointing fifth but did well on the weekend to consolidate his fifth place in the championship
Honestly, I had a really good feeling on 80% of the track but I was just struggling on that last part with the stop/start areas. I am happy with the pace because I was losing so much in the last two turns but and making it back in the rest of the track – and that was against the fastest guys. I did feel that if we could have sorted those last two corners out we would have been in that battle for those top two spots today. We have had a run of podiums and a fifth-place finish recently so we are there or thereabouts. We closed the points gap on third and we will keep on pushing on.
Razgatlioglu did what he could throughout the closing laps to close the gap enough to stop Rea from doing the treble here at Donington but just couldn’t find that little bit extra, possibly due to an alternative tyre choice. Nonetheless, he’s certainly making is mark, especially on the works Kawasaki riders
SO now the circus packs up its tents and heads for California in just a weeks’ time with Rea now in the lead by 24 points from Bautista. Who would have thought that would have been the situation a couple of races ago?
Stay tuned for the next exciting instalment as we find out who can master the corkscrew.
This article was written by Keith Roissetter, Infinity Watford Store Manager, and edited by Jonah Son, Digital Marketing Executive at Infinity Motorcycles.