Photo: World Superbike
Monterey, California – The World Superbike circus started its 10-week summer vacation with a weekend at the hilly, tight, and twisty Laguna Seca race track, a spectacular course in the mountains between Monterey on the Pacific and Salinas on California’s central plain. By its very nature the track tends to encourage tight racing, and it certainly lived up to that reputation this weekend.
Kawasakis grabbed the wins in both races, series leader Jonathan Rea on Saturday and his teammate Tom Sykes Sunday. But with Rea suffering an almost-unheard of mechanical failure in race two (only his second in two years with the team), Sykes managed to claw back considerable points. While Rea still has a good lead, with four events (eight races) left after the long summer break, a repeat championship for the Ulsterman is no longer almost a sure thing, as Sykes is only 46 points back with 200 left to gather for wins.
The chase is strictly between the Kawasaki duo; Ducati teammates third-place Chaz Davies and fourth-place Davide Giugliano both crashed out of Saturday’s race without injury, although they recovered spectacularly on Sunday, battling Sykes and each other to the flag in a breath-taking display of talent and aggression. While they’re not literally out of contention yet, both Rea and Sykes would have to score zero points for the rest of the season for either Ducati rider to have a shout – a most unlikely scenario.
While Kawasaki and Ducati both had mixed weekends, it was a good one for the Ten Kate Honda squad. The team is very much looking forward to a new CBR1000RR for 2017 and riders Nicky Hayden and Michael van der Mark are doing wonders with the relatively aged bike they have to work with. Hayden was delighted to grab a podium on Saturday in his “home” race (albeit Kentucky’s a fair hike from California) followed by a fifth on Sunday, while van der Mark collected a fourth and seventh, both excellent results – he had to fight back from a bad start on Saturday, and Sunday had to take the restart (after crashing just before a red flag) from 19th!
The first-year back Yamaha team looked good on pace but missed out on results. Team leader Alex Lowes was well up in the top 10 but began struggling at about half-distance in both races (Sunday not aided by hurting from a massive practice crash in the warm-up), while Niccolo Canepa, still filling in for the injured 2014 champ Sylvain Guintoli) did very well to collect an eighth and a 10th.
With the long summer break (partly due to the cancellation of the Monza event originally set for late this month) there are many rumours swirling about riders and teams for 2017. Ducati and Honda have still to sign Giugliano and van der Mark; Giugliano’s inconsistency is a big problem, and van der Mark is possibly looking at a better ride than his aging Honda (or having to develop a new one next year) – he’s been rumoured to be talking to Aprilia, likely to return as a full factory effort.
Another new rider – well, returning – may be Eugene Laverty. The Irishman, a former WSB star, has been frustrated with older bikes both from Honda and now Ducati in Moto GP and has been talking to several WSB teams, Aprilia definitely one of them.
And MV Agusta, despite money problems, is still talking about adding another rider to shotgun Leon Camier, as is the Barni Ducati team, currently doing well with Xavi Forres as its sole pilot. There may be no racing for a couple of months, but there’s bound to be lots of news.
World Superbike Standings after 18 of 26 races (nine of 13 events)
- Jonathon Rea, U.K., Kawasaki Racing, 368 points
- Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing, 322
- Chaz Davies, U.K., Aruba.it Racing Ducati, 260
- TIE, Davide Giugliano, Italy, Aruba.it Ducati / Michael Van Der Mark, Netherlands, Ten Kate Honda Racing, 185
- Nicky Hayden, U.S., Ten Kate Honda Racing, 173
- Jordi Torres, Spain, Althea BMW, 155
- TIE, Leon Camier, U.K., MV Agusta / Lorenzo Savadori, Italy, IODA Racing Aprilia, 110
- Xavier Fores, Spain, Barni Ducati, 97