Race report: World Superbike Laguna Seca

Photo: World Superbike

MAZDA RACEWAY LAGUNA SECA, Monterey, California, July 8-9 – Once again the racing for wins was strictly a battle between the factory Ducati and Kawasaki teams, with each claiming one victory at the demanding Laguna Seca track. It must be said, sadly, the wins both came after generally rather lacklustre races for the 64,000 weekend spectators.

That number may sound small compared to Moto GP attendance, but it’s the fourth-largest crowd on the World Superbike circuit, and is up by 50% since 2013 – not bad at all.

Saturday’s victory went to Ducati’s Chaz Davies in his first race back after his horrendous crash at Misano in Italy only three weeks ago. Jonathon Rea hit Davies hard in the back after Davies fell, leaving Ducati’s lead rider with several cracked vertebrae and a badly rashed-up left hand. To say the Welshman was delighted with his victory would be severe understatement. “After laying on the couch and playing with the dog for three weeks, this win is unbelievable!” he gushed.

Sunday’s win went to series leader Jonathon Rea, who has taken a massive 59 point lead – more than two full race wins – into the six-week summer break. While Rea and Davies had a good duel on Saturday, the Ducati eventually pulling out a bit of a lead only the in last few laps, Rea simply gathered up his skirts and left the rest for dead on Sunday, he and team-mate Tom Sykes making dynamite starts from the third row (thanks to this year’s experimental grid reversal system for Race 2), with Rea then promptly pulling away.

The Irishman attributed his “fantastic” bike to a gamble on a major set-up change that morning – although needless to say he declined to explain what it was!

Sykes tried to give chase but was suffering traction problems that hindered his corner entry and wasn’t able to close with Rea, and in fact he had to work hard to maintain his second place after Davies, recovering from a not-so-great start and having to fight his way through several other riders, nearly caught him up in the last few laps. Davies also ran into tire issues in the last couple of laps, so his charge halted after he got within a second of the Yorkshire rider.

With those three factory riders grabbing the podium slots on both days, fourth twice went to the second Ducati of Marco Melandri, who had pretty lonely rides both days. Spaniard Xavi Forés grabbed two fifths on the Barni Ducati, and was fast enough to hold up Davies for some time on Sunday.

It was an up and down weekend – literally – for several teams and riders. Aprilia was much happier on Sunday; Saturday lead rider Eugene Laverty crashed out and Leandro Mercado and Lorenzo Savadori could only manage ninth and 10th. On Sunday the three finished sixth, seventh, and eighth, the company’s best race showing this year. The Aprilia definitely shows flashes of speed but its performance is still inconsistent, and it seems particularly difficult on worn tires.

Things went the other way for BMW and MV Agusta. After a great sixth on Saturday, Leon Camier’s Sunday race came to a halt with an unspecified mechanical problem, while Jordi Torres, seventh on Saturday, crashed out Sunday.

For Yamaha, Sunday was definitely an improvement, as Alex Lowes led team-mate Michael van der Mark into ninth and 10th after a good intra-team scrap, not far ahead of the slowly-improving Honda of Stefan Bradl. Speaking of Honda, it’s worth noting that American superbike racer Jake Gagne, filling in on a one-off deal to take Nicky Hayden’s place on the Dutch ten Kate Honda team, acquitted himself very well, finishing within a second of Bradl in both races and collecting World Superbike points in both.

Both Davies and Rea dedicated their wins to the memory of Nicky Hayden, killed recently in a traffic accident in Italy. It was a particularly nice touch, as much of the Hayden family was there, not only because of the various memorial tributes to Hayden but also because the youngest of the Hayden brothers, Roger Lee, was racing in the MotoAmerica superbike races that weekend. In the event he did himself proud, taking second just behind his Suzuki team-mate, former WSBK and Moto GP racer Toni Elias.

There were no World Supersport or 300 races this weekend, as the MotoAmerica classes filled in the support ranks for this event.

World Superbike standings after 16 of 26 races (seven of 13 events)

1. Jonathan Rea, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 341 points
2. Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 282
3. Chaz Davies, U.K., Aruba.it Racing Ducati, 226
4. Marco Melandri, Italy, Aruba.it Racing Ducati, 189
5. Alex Lowes, U.K., Pata Yamaha, 148
6. Xavi Fores, Spain, Barni Ducati, 132
7. Michael van der Mark, Netherlands, Pata Yamaha, 129
8. Leon Camier, U.K., MV Agusta, 99
9. Jordi Torres, Spain, Althea BMW, 94
10. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Milwaukee Aprilia, 89

Next event Lausitzring, Germany, August 19-20.

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