The first World Superbike races ever held at Malaysia’s Sepang track provided plenty of action for the crowd, starting with the Kawasaki factory team being taken out on the second corner of the first lap of racing.
Loris Baz ran into the back of his team leader and defending champion Tom Sykes, putting himself down and skittling Sykes into the hapless Alex Lowes, both of whom also crashed, suffering minor injuries in the process. Both were able to run the second race.
The incident also scuttled the chances of Pata Honda’s Jonathon Rea and Ducati’s Davide Giugliano, who had to take evading action and lost considerable time. Rea in particular had a superb comeback ride; pushed back to 21st in the melee, he climbed back up to sixth by the end of the race.
While Baz said he was caught out by Sykes slowing to avoid fast-starting Toni Elias, there wasn’t much doubt who the other racers were blaming for the incident. Giugliano said, “It’s a pity about Race 1 as it’s not the first time Baz has done something like this,” while Sykes was equally scathing about his team-mate, saying only “Unfortunately Loris proved a lot of people right at my expense,” referring to earlier comments by other riders about Baz’s often-aggressive tactics.
It’s Sykes’ first DNF since the Moscow round last year, but recovering for third in the second race meant he kept the series lead in his title defense.
Meanwhile, out front it was an Aprilia battle, with Marco Melandri taking a double, his first wins on the RSV4, while Sylvain Guintoli continued his title chase with two seconds. The second race was particularly thrilling, as on the last lap the two exchanged places several times, Guintoli later saying “In Race 1 I thought I had implemented my strategy well, but unfortunately toward the end Marco just had a really good pace and forced me into a few mistakes. I think I did better in Race 2, trying to pull the pin straight away, but toward the end Marco quite simply had just a little more. I tried to fight back and I think we gave anybody watching the race plenty of entertainment in that last lap!”
In both races Melandri got relatively poor starts and had to work hard to get to the front and chase down his team-mate, the bike apparently finally working to his satisfaction for the first time.
Third in Race 1 went to Crescent Suzuki’s Eugene Laverty, the Irishman ecstatic over his best result since his season-opening victory in Australia. He was only able to manage seventh in the second race, which he attributed to the shortened race time due to a red flag. “Race 2, with the shorter distance, didn’t suit my Suzuki because we were better on old tires but it’s been a positive weekend in all and it’s nice to finally be back in the top three for the first time since Phillip Island.”
The rest of the top 10 were Chaz Davies (Ducati), Toni Elias (Aprilia), Rea, Leon Haslam (Honda), Giugliano, and the EVO bikes of David Salom (Kawasaki) and Leon Camier (BMW).
The second race comprised an intense 10-lap sprint, after the red flag for the MV of Claudio Corsi, which caught fire and spread considerable oil. After the restart of the shortened (10 lap) race, Melandri nearly took himself and his team-mate out on the second lap, as he misjudged his braking and narrowly missed Guintoli and Toni Elias. He recovered nicely, however, and set off after his team-mate who by this time was nearly two seconds ahead.
The two were in their own world, leaving Sykes’ Kawasaki nearly three seconds behind at the flag. The Aprilia riders exchanged places several times on the last lap, with Melandri finally barely topping his team-mate.
After Sykes in third, riding with an injury to his right hand from the first-race crash, came Toni Elias on the Red Devils Roma Aprilia – his best result of the season – and Loris Baz on the second factory Kawasaki. Jonathon Rea (Honda), Eugene Laverty (Suzuki), Chaz Davies (Ducati), Alex Lowes (Suzuki), and Davide Giugliano (Ducati), rounded out the top 10.
Sykes still tops the standings as they near the half-way point of the season, but only by 13 points, or half a race win.
The Supersport race was full of the regular slam-bang action, although it stretched out a bit more than usual after half distance. Dutch youngster Michael van der Mark continued his recent run of success for the Pata Honda team with a well-judged victory, eking out the win by only 0.018 seconds over Jules Cluzel and his MV Agusta, who was on pole and had been fastest all weekend.
The two were well ahead of the rest of the field, with multiple former champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) completing the podium four seconds back, just edging veteran Roberto Rolfo (Kawasaki) who in turn was some five seconds ahead of van der Mark’s team-mate Lorenzo Zanetti. Top contenders Fabian Foret and Kev Coghlan both crashed out.
The results leave van der Mark in a strong leading position in the series ahead of Cluzel, followed by Marino, and a tie for fourth between Zanetti and Coghlan.
World Superbike standings after 12 of 26 races (six of 13 events)
1. Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing, 201
2. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Factory Aprilia Racing, 188
3. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Pata Honda, 179
4. Loris Baz, France, Kawasaki Racing, 170
5. Marco Melandri, Italy, Factory Aprilia Racing,147
6. Chaz Davies, U.K., Ducati Superbike Team, 130
7. Davide Giugliano, Italy, Ducati Superbike Team, 96
8. Eugene Laverty, U.K.., Voltcom Crescent Suzuki, 90
9. TIE, Toni Elias, Spain, Red Devils Roma Aprilia / Leon Haslam, U.K., Pata Honda, 89
Next race, June 22, Misano, Italy.