Magny-Cours, France – Red flags in both of the World Superbike races at the circuit near Nevers, in central France, didn’t even hint at slowing down Tom Sykes and his factory Kawasaki October 6. The Yorkshire rider grabbed yet another Superpole, took the holeshot in both races, then motored away to an uncontested double victory.
He’ll take a 37-point lead into the final race at Jerez, Spain in two weeks, meaning to take the title he only needs a couple of ninth-place finishes, or a third in the first race, no matter what his competitors – Aprilia team-mates Eugene Laverty and Sylvain Guintoli – accomplish.
The red flags really had no bearing on anything. In Race 1, Mark Atchison high-sided and oiled the track, so the race was stopped three laps early. Sykes had a controlled 2+ second lead at the time ahead of Guintoli and Laverty.
In the second race, the rain that had threatened all day finally moved in on the last lap, causing both Aprilia factory riders to crash in the same corner. The heavy shower and the double crash prompted Race Direction to stop the race with another red flag, so results dropped back a lap and Laverty and Guintoli scored second and third-place points, reversing their first-race order.
While the lead of the races was never in doubt – Sykes simply rode away from the field after the start in both go-arounds, even faster in Race 2 – high entertainment was provided in Race 2 by the factory Aprilia duo, who swapped positions eight times in the last three laps, each pass clean and tidy. Laverty said, “Toward the end Sylvain and I engaged in battle. I usually don’t like [racing with my team-mate] because I have a lot of respect for him and because we are still both within reach of the title, but every point is important at this stage of the season.”
Oh his dominating performance, Sykes said, ““It is great to score a double win here … we made two small changes in the bike to race two. We are always chasing perfection. That is what we spend our lives doing. When you are on the edge all the time you have got very small changes that make a big outcome. The bike was very nice to ride and the races went very well.”
There were a number of crashes and mechanical failures that stretched out the rather limited field (only 19 starters), but the only change to the series standings dropped Marco Melandri and his Gold Bet factory BMW out of the running for the title. The Italian, tipped to be taking Laverty’s seat at Aprilia in 2014, could only manage a fifth and a seventh. He blamed set-up issues, plus he ran off after missing a gear in race two. “At least I can say that I had more fun in race two than in race one! I was fast and overtook many riders to recover from the position which I slipped down to.”
A very impressive ride was put in by Vincent Philippe, drafted into the Fixi Crescent Suzuki team at the last moment to replace the injured Leon Camier. The multi-time World Endurance champ took a strong sixth in Race 2, and was in line for a similar result in Race 1 before being torpedoed by a crashing Toni Elias.
English rider Sam Lowes wrapped up the 2013 WSS title with a second-place finish to closest rival Kenan Sofuoglu. Not exactly being a conservative rider, Lowes and his Turkish rival jammed hard right to the end, with Sofuoglu’s Kawasaki crossing the line a mere 0.299 sec ahead. On the cool-off lap, the two stopped on track and embraced one another.
Lowes will be leaving the Russian Yakhnich team in 2014, having signed a two-year deal to go to Moto 2 with an unnamed team. The original plan was for him to move to World Superbike with the team on a Yamaha R1, but Yakhnich is looking hard at spear-heading MV’s move to WSB and Lowes figured it would be a no-hoper of an entry. Oddly, Lowes says he plans to continue his association with Yakhnich in a promotional and advertising capacity.
World Championship Point Standings (after 26 of 28 races):
1. Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 411 points
2. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Factory Aprilia Racing, 374
3. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Factory Aprilia Racing, 373
4. Marco Melandri, Italy, BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBKTeam, 339
5. Chaz Davies, U.K., BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBKTeam, 270
6. Davide Giugliano, Italy, Althea Racing Aprilia, 195
7. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 186
8. Loris Baz, France, Kawasaki Racing Team, 180
9. Jonathan Rea, U.K., Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 176
10. Jules Cluzel, France, Fixi Crescent Suzuki, 162
Next and final event, Jerez, Spain, October 20.