CIRCUIT DE NEVERS MAGNY-COURS, Nevers, France, October 1 – To nobody’s great surprise, Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Rae took his Kawasaki to his third-straight World Superbike title at the French circuit (the seventh time the title’s been settled there, as a useless tidbit of information). It wasn’t the first time a rider’s taken three titles, but it is the first time it’s been done three times on the trot.
Rea did it in fine style, as well. In miserable cold and wet conditions, he simply embarrassed his competition by running away and hiding, finishing with an unbelievable 16-second lead over Ducati’s Marco Melandri and his Kawasaki team-mate Tom Sykes.
Full credit to Sykes for the ride – the guy was riding with breaks in two fingers and his radius wrist bone. Unbelievable that he could even ride, let alone get a podium.
Rea was quite emotional after the win, saying, “I have no words right now. I have sacrificed so much in my life, as have my parents and everyone involved in helping me get me to this level. To win the championship the first time, the second time and then go three times in a row – I cannot compute my feelings right now. My thanks to all the team, every single member of the team, and everyone from Kawasaki back in Japan. Most of all I want to thank my wife and kids who sacrifice so much.”
Leon Camier came so close to MV Agusta’s first podium but ran out of laps while running Sykes down. “Of course, I am really happy with this result but I am a little bit frustrated to not get the podium again,” he said afterwards. “The bike was working good today and what we have to do now is keep working on the setting to make the bike even faster. We know exactly what we need to get on the bike’s setting, we just have to understand how.”
Ducati’s main rider, Chaz Davies, was never anywhere, coming home a sad 10th place after an apparent electronics issue sabotaged his ride. “After three laps it had an issue and it became hard to control,” he said. “It started to lock the rear and spin a lot under acceleration. We’ll look into it, but all we could do was to try and make it to the checkered flag, so I’m a bit disappointed.”
Sunday’s race was considerably closer and more entertaining. The new world champion was out early, as Aprilia’s Eugene Laverty fell on the third lap and Rea hit his bike trying to avoid it. Fortunately he didn’t go down and went straight into the pits, but he’d hit Laverty’s bike hard enough to tear off his right footpeg and rear brake assembly, plus wreck his boot and injure his foot. Fortunately, later X-rays showed no breaks, but Rea had to relax and watch rather than ride.
Ducati’s Davies made up for his problems the day before with a great ride to grab the win, followed to the flag by Yamaha’s first double podium, Alex Lowes leading Michael van der Mark home. They were all delighted with their results, needless to say; while Davies was pleased and satisfied to be back on top of the podium, the Yamaha guys were over the moon with the company’s best result since coming back into the world superbike arena.
Fourth went to Xavi Fores of Spain on the satellite Barni Ducati, riding for his contract in 2018, which is under possible threat. You couldn’t do much better in this race than fourth, ahead of the second Ducati factory rider Marco Melandri.
Poor Leon Camier was in a strong third position for much of the race, but while looking forward to his well-earned first podium for the marque the bike suddenly quit at about two-thirds distance. I’ve said it before: Camier deserves a top ride and despite the terrific under-funded efforts from MV, this ride isn’t it. He’s apparently one of the top choices for the Ten Kate Honda team for 2018: the bike finally seeming to be coming good, with stand-ins Davide Giugliano and American Jake Gagne finishing well up in the points, so who knows?
Two races left, in Spain and Qatar, and while the title is settled, Tom Sykes and Chaz Davies are still locked in a battle for second overall. With four races to go, there’s lots of action to look forward to yet.
Finland’s Niki Tulli finally won his first WSS race, after a fantastic wild-card start in 2016 followed by a relatively lack-lustre 2017 in his first full season. Riding for the Kallio Racing team (run by KTM test rider and occasional Moto GP wildcard Mika Kallio), Tulli used his new Yamaha R6 to grab pole position and fight hard with Italian Federico Carasucolo for his victory.
Title contender Sheridan Morais led early on, but faded as the race went on and eventually finished eighth, still third in the title chase.
American P.J. Jacobsen collected an excellent third on his MV Agusta, ahead of series leader Lucas Mahias. Mahias had an ugly moment early in the race in a collision, but managed to stay up and claw his way back from as far back as 12th, all race the fastest rider on track despite an injured wrist.
The Frenchman now leads the championship with two races left, greatly aided by the absence of previous serious leader Kenan Sofuoglu, who suffered a broken pelvis in a nasty qualifying incident. While the Turkish ace hopes to be back in action for the next race in three weeks at Jerez in Spain, his injury makes that seem pretty unlikely.
With 50 points (two races) left, and Sofuoglu unlikely to be in contention any longer, Mahias looks like a good bet for the title, although Morais and Jules Cluzel of France are still in with a mathematical chance.
World Superbike standings after 22 of 26 races (11 of 13 events)
- Jonathan Rea, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 456 points (new world champion)
- Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 336
- Chaz Davies, U.K., Aruba.it Racing Ducati, 327
- Marco Melandri, Italy, Aruba.it Racing Ducati, 281
- Alex Lowes, U.K., Pata Yamaha, 200
- Michael van der Mark, Netherlands, Pata Yamaha, 189
- Xavi Fores, Spain, Barni Ducati, 169
- Leon Camier, U.K., MV Agusta, 146
- Jordi Torres, Spain, Althea BMW, 140
- Eugene Laverty, U.K., Milwaukee Aprilia, 127
Next event Jerez, Spain, October 22.