The sun sets on Round 6 in Jerez - Bautista takes his 12th win of the season in Race 1, before crashing out to hand Michael van der Mark his first win of WSBK 2019. Follow all the action here at Infinity.
On the back of his outstanding double World SBK race win at Imola, Jonathon Rea was once again preparing to try and trim the championship lead of his current rival, Alvaro Bautista, at the Spanish rider’s home event.
It’s not been a dissimilar story for our own Leon Haslam who’s also working hard to find the form that saw him climb to the top of the BSB standings last year.
Since the last round at Imola in Italy myself and the team have been really busy trying to sort a few things out
Myself and Jonathon (Rea) have also just got back from Japan where we have been busy testing our Kawasaki ZX10 for the Suzuka 8-hour race in late July. Our Provec racing team will be running the bike for the factory this year and obviously we’ll be looking to improve on or showing of last year when we finished third, which regular endurance fans will know was definitely one of those hard-won podiums.
Before that, we had a lengthy test at Misano to try and sort out some of the issues we’ve been having with the bike
Leon has been struggling to find a balance between changing his riding style and the Kawasaki’s electronics package which doesn’t allow him to brake as he is used too, making it very hard to pass those around him and obviously costing him the chance of regular podiums and race wins.
“It was good to get two days on track just testing even if we were a little bit hampered with the weather. On both mornings the track was wet. I was still quick in the rain and there were a few things we could still evaluate in wet conditions. Yesterday the track was a bit patchy but today it was quite good. We made a bit of a change just before the end today then went out and crashed straight away. At one point I did a 14-lap run but was still only 1-2 tenths of a second off compared to the on best laps. I had not been to Misano for three years and I felt that the grip levels were down a bit and with that lack of grip I struggled to get the bike to stop. This afternoon it was dry and I did a 1’35 on a race run, so I am happy with that side of things.”
His teammate and reigning world champion Jonathan Rea also made some significant changes to his machine despite having to clamber out of his sick bed to ride.
“We got a lot done in the afternoon today. I was in my bed until lunchtime yesterday because I have had such bad flu, but his morning I felt a little better. So, the morning curveballs with the weather each day kind of helped me, in a way. We worked on a different balance of the bike and weight distribution, and also with some tyres from Pirelli. We had different front fork settings but the biggest thing we did was change my position on the bike. Late in the afternoon, I had a very positive feeling from that. This test was the perfect opportunity to do that kind of thing because these big items we cannot really test during race weekends. It was a very positive test and I feel good about it.” Said, Jonathon.
I was also at a charity golf event to raise funds for Action A-T research the week before with my mate Alex Lowes.
All this running around meant that Leon was quite glad to get back into the regular routine of his day job which this time was to be in Andalucía Spain at the beautiful Jerez circuit where the team tested in the winter so they came here with a pretty good base setting.
Jerez is the first race of the year where I have ridden in a test before going back for a race. I was fast at Jerez in winter testing, at a track where Johnny had been so dominant. There are some areas we have improved on since then too. I hope this weekend we can hit the ground running.”
There was a new team in the paddock at this race, the Dutch-based Ten Kate team made a welcome return to the world superbike paddock, only this time it was with a Yamaha rather than the once familiar Hondas that they used to run. Their rider Loris Baz was also a returnee to the paddock so there much interest in how they would get on. Things didn’t get off to a good start in practice when the Frenchman lost the front at a fast turn and the bike decided it was time to apply for a pilot’s licence as it rocketed skywards in an ultimately doomed attempt to escape gravity. Needless to say, the Yamaha finished a very poor second.
In qualifying proper, it was the Kawasaki of Jonathon Rea who claimed pole from the Ducati mounted championship leader Alvaro Bautista with the GRT Yamaha riding Marco Melandri joining them on the front row.
The Pata Yamaha of Alex Lowes headed the second row just ahead of Leon with fellow Brit’ Tom Sykes along next on his factory BMW.
Provec Kawasaki was easily the top team on the day. They were hoping for more of the same in the races.
Obviously the domestic crowds were there to see if local man Alvaro Bautista could open up his lead in the championship by another few points before the end of the weekend and despite a great start by Rea the cheers from the fans at turn five on the opening lap echoed throughout the sherry growing region as he easily took the Aruba Ducati to the front.
Rea naturally fought back but after the season we’ve seen so far, few thought that he would have an answer to his Scorpion helmeted rival who set a new lap record on his first flying lap.
If you thought the start to Jonathon’s race was disappointing the groans from the other side of the Provec garage were even more audible as at the end of the opening lap as Leon slipped from his second row start to eighth at the end of the first lap.
The main battle on the track in the initial stages was the one for third, and what made it even more interesting was that it was the two teammates in the Pata Yamaha team, Alex Lowes and Michael Van der Mark slugging it out.
By lap four the gap at the front was out to a couple of seconds while there was a similar gap back from the Kawasaki to the duelling Yamahas. Not too far behind Razgatlioglu led Melandri and Sykes who was fighting off the close attention of Leon who was also feeling the heat from another Spaniard, Jordi Torres in ninth
Just when we thought the race was settling down the gap from the Pata supported machines to the Green bike in second started to come down quite noticeably.
On the ninth lap, the gap stopped coming down as the Dutchman went through to claim the 20-point place on the track and his teammate followed shortly after as Rea lost ground when his front end cried enough at the second turn. The front end of Lowes’ machine performed a similar trick a few corners later giving Rea a brief opportunity to take back the podium place which he duly did for another half a lap before Lowes saw the opportunity to have another go at the infamous last corner.
Meanwhile, Leon was having a few problems and had now dropped to tenth as Torres and the fellow Brit’ Davies both went past him. This, unfortunately, became twelfth as Cortese and Rinaldi also found a way past. With the track temperature pushing 50C it was clear that some people were suffering grip issues.
Pre-race it was also thought that it would be at around this point (13 laps in) some people would suffer wear issues.
Rea fought back once again and was found a way past Lowes once again but the Yamaha man was determined not to be denied a podium and a lap later, he was back in the podium position after a solid move at turn one. Rea fought straight back at Pedrosa corner and with just five laps to go it was clear that this was going to be a close fought battle all the way to end. Ahead of these two by about six seconds Van der Mark was still in second while Bautista was having a lonely time another six seconds or so away from him in the lead.
Meanwhile, Leon had clawed his way back in the top ten, not quite the podium he was hoping for but a lot better than almost being out of the points. He finished in ninth at races end.
As the flag fell to tell us the race was over it was greeted by Bautista in fine style for the 12th time (out of a possible 14) this year. The Dutchman on blue Yamaha behind was delighted to take second and all eyes turned towards the last corner to see if would be another blue bike joining him on the podium or whether a green machine could claim the final spot.
In he ends, as so often happens at this Spanish circuit it was an incident at the final corner which determined the outcome as the two bikes collided. Lowes went down, and an apologetic rea took the flag. He continued apologising as he came in from the race as his on-bike camera showed him clearly upset with the outcome. He also stopped at the Yamaha pit and spoke to team boss Paul Denning.
He has later relegated a place which promoted the Yamaha of Marco Melandri to the podium and forced to start the next race from the back of the grid.
Alex Lowes tweeted later; "Oh and what’s for dinner tonight JR @jonathanrea T-Bone steak?"
Whatever other injuries he’d suffered, his sense of humour was clearly intact.
The field lined up on the grid the next day for the short Superpole race with a one place promotion for everyone with of course the notable exception of Rea who was a little aggrieved at the way the Stewards had handled the incident.
At the start, the inherited pole position paid dividends for the local hero who got the holeshot from Melandri with Leon tucked into third. Rea predictably started making up places very quickly and by the end of the second lap, he was up to ninth. He had to make progress quickly as only the top nine score points in the half distance event on a Sunday morning.
The shorter race distance meant softer tyres were the way to go and the rapid Spaniard at the front made the most of clear track in front of him to quickly set a new lap record early n the race. Behind him, the frantic action continued apace as everyone tried to make progress. Of course, this meant that they were all tripping each other up, so making Bautista’s job easier. Four laps in Alex Lowes exited stage right without help this time as his woeful weekend failed to get any better.
At the halfway point, Melandri held on to the second he had claimed on the first lap while Leon was forced at this time to concede his podium to the flying Dutchman Van der Mark. Clearly, most of the Yamaha’s were hooking well in Spain
A lap later Leon had to give best to his very determined teammate who was clearly a man on a mission as was Van der Mark who swept past Melandri shortly afterwards. Tom Sykes also went past Leon to claim fifth with a couple of laps to go. The top four ended as they had the day before (after relegation) and the grid was sorted for the main event in the afternoon with Leon’s placing given him a second row start for the third time this weekend.
The locals gathered in the hope that their man could make it a clean sweep at home and there no-one in the paddock who was prepared to bet against Alvaro making it 14/16 in the Spanish sun.
At the start, it was fast starting former world champion Marco Melandri who got the jump and led the red Ducati of the poleman into the first turn. At turn two, poor Alex Lowes’ weekend went from truly awful to just plain miserable as he became the first rider to tumble out of the race as he completed a truly unenviable hat trick. A few corners later Melandri made a small mistake and paid a hefty penalty for it as Bautista, Van der Mark and Rea all took the opportunity to slip by.
The Spaniard led the field over the line at the end of the first lap but it was a short-lived lead as he made a small, and rare mistake into the first corner and was forced to part company from his machine as it crunched into the arresting gravel.
Rea now led the race from the duo of Yamaha’s while in fourth his future endurance teammate Toprak Razgatlioglu rode shotgun in fourth ahead of Sykes and Davies with Leon behind them.
Four laps in the battle at the front became a two way between Rea and Van der Mark. They’d both seen the demise of Bautista and knew that it was time to start making the hay.
In fourth Razgatlioglu had Davies for close company, who for the first time all weekend was showing the sort of pace we expect from the Welshman. Melandri had dropped behind this battle at this stage but was clearly keen to taste the podium bubbly
A couple of laps later we saw his hopes of necking the fizz disappear along with the similar hopes of Davies as the two collided and gave their teams some fiberglass work.
A lap later Mr and Mrs Van der Mark started making space on the family mantelpiece for a big pot as their son moved his Pata machine to the front of the field.
Rea chased him hard but the Yamaha was uncatchable on the day and the for the first time this year the Hamamatsu factory had a race win worth celebrating.
The red flag came out to bring the race to an early end as an incident involving Kiyonari scattered gravel over the circuit. This brought to a halt a noticeable late race charge from Leon who had just moved to fifth behind Rinaldi. With Rea in second and Razgatlioglu in third it would probably have been the Suzuka line up for Kawasaki finishing together had the race gone the full distance.
“Every session we were struggling with the front traction and we ran a bit more angle and corner speed compared to some of the other Kawasaki riders and I think that has been hindering me, especially as the temperatures have risen. I have tried to adapt my style and played around a little bit with set-up. I felt in that final race of the weekend I had good pace and could have challenged for that third place but I get stuck behind Tom for too many laps. Then when I got past him I was pushing too hard, like I was before, making too many mistakes. I was just lining Rinaldi up when the red flags came out. Another fifth place, so obviously I am not too happy about the result, but we have managed a lot of problems here this weekend
After six rounds that means that despite his rare error Bautista now leads the championship with a cushion of 41 points, 2 fewer than he had at the start of the weekend.
In two weeks’, time the circus gathers on Italy’s Adriatic close for the next round at the Misano circuit. This is regarded as Ducati’s backyard so don’t expect to retire on the outcome of a ten quid bet at the bookies.
This article was written by Keith Roissetter, Infinity Watford Store Manager, and edited by Jonah Son, Digital Marketing Executive at Infinity Motorcycles.