The Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli near the north-eastern Italian city of Rimini – the track renamed for the much-mourned local Moto GP hero after he was killed in a racing accident at Sepang in 2011 – hosted the mid-term World Superbike races (the seventh of 13 on the calendar), July 22. Team Kawasaki definitely had their mojo back, Tom Sykes and Loris Baz finishing first and second for Team Green in both races, Sykes once again taking a solid lead in the standings for his title defence.
Italian honour was upheld somewhat by Aprilia’s Marco Melandri taking the third podium spot in both races, and even more so when young French ace Jules Cluzel took his Italian MV Agusta F3 to his second Supersport win of the season to consolidate his second place in the standings behind Dutch rider Michael van der Mark.
While all three races were considerably more spread out than usual, there was still plenty of tactics, drama, and top-level competition to watch. Out front, 2013 champion Sykes simply shook off his injured right hand – damaged when he was taken out by his team-mate two weeks ago in Sepang – and rode off into the distance. Untouchable, the Yorkshireman simply motored away from the rest of the field in both races, taking victory by five-second margins both times. “I’m still disappointed at losing points [in Sepang] but that’s me. I’m very competitive and sometimes very bitter. I’m always trying to succeed so it was a big shame. It’s still a disappointment but this weekend is helping put some gremlins to bed.
“I felt good so I pushed it to the limit. I had to work hard, there were some corners where I had to compensate with the braking and delay how I got on the throttle [because of the hand injury] … We got a good clean start, stayed out of trouble, and the ZX-10R did everything that I wanted it to do.”
His team-mate Baz denied he was under orders to keep clear of Sykes. “If I could have won … I would have. We are only the middle of the championship and I still have a chance to win. It wasn’t any strategy from the team; we were just doing our best. Of course it’s better for the team if I’m between him and the Aprilia – it’s the same way if I win it’s better he’s [Sykes] in front of the others.”
Relatively unopposed in the first race, Baz was riding like a much more experienced racer – he’s only 21 – in the second race as he held off the Aprilia of a determined and charging Marco Melandri, who passed Baz three times in the last three laps but was immediately relegated back by the French youngster. “I tried my best to brake really hard everywhere and close the door. On the last lap I was closing the line. He tried a few moves and it was close but it was a nice race. I think people enjoy it on the TV, it was a good show!”
Melandri was a bit glum at his two thirds, saying, “I’m happy because I did my best but I expect to be closer to Tom. Unfortunately this track is not so easy to pass – too much stop-and-go, always first gear, second or third – and the only place where you have to ride smooth I was losing a little bit on Loris.”
About the battle with Baz, he was quite complimentary – “he was riding very good, he never made a mistake and he was always very focused and quiet.”
Meanwhile, his team-mate Sylvain Guintoli, second in the championship, had a bad weekend, collecting a fifth and a fourth. He said, “In race one we made the wrong tyre choice, whereas in race two with the right options and a few changes to the bike geometry we were able to significantly reduce the gap behind the leaders.
“While I was with Marco and Baz I made a few mistakes too many which kept me from battling for the podium in the end. It’s a shame there is no race three! All joking aside, we need to keep working to be more consistent in the race.”
The Ducati team had high hopes for the weekend, but it ended in, if not quite disaster, close to it. In the first race Welshman Chaz Davies got a poorish start, but by the last few laps was making Melandri work hard to keep his podium. In the second, Davies was higher up the order early on, but ended up crashing out.
His team-mate Davide Giugliano made the same wrong tire choice as Guintoli in race one and after a good start dropped back to eighth, while in the second go-around, while running close to Sykes, he received a ride-through penalty for jumping the start. It was a matter of inches, but very clear on the replay. The furious Italian dropped to the end of the running order, but hacksawed his way back through the field to a creditable ninth.
Pata Honda and Crescent Suzuki weren’t all that happy with their weekends either, although Suzuki’s Eugene Laverty had the worst luck without even crashing, aggravating a foot broken a month ago while testing Suzuki’s Moto GP bike. “In race one, a few laps in at turn five while I was pushing on the footrest I felt something snap inside my foot. There was a lot of pain and I struggled to ride for the next five laps but I didn’t want to pull in so I just adjusted my foot and for the last five or six laps I was able to ride again and start pushing.”
The gritty Irishman got a pain-killing injection between races, and said, “It’s unfortunate because I thought the foot was coming OK; it’s OK to walk, but to ride the bike the break is exactly at the point I need to push on the footrest and I think I’ve done more damage now than originally.”
His team-mate Alex Lowes crashed out of the first race, and finished eighth behind Laverty in the second race.
An unhappy Jonathon Rea (seventh and fifth) said, “It’s been frustrating for the whole [Pata Honda] team because I know we haven’t been able to get the best out of the CBR this weekend. I know that on the right day and in the right environment, the bike is capable of much, much more. The whole team feels like we’re under-achieving right now so we need to do our homework and fix things as quickly as possible.”
His team-mate Leon Haslam also struggled with bike issues, his machine quitting completely then restarting in race one, while he crashed in race two, “[we] had another issue that led to the crash. We need to assess what that problem was and go from there.”
Jules Cluzel gave the Italian crowd something to cheer about by taking his MV Agusta F3 to a hometown victory in the 600 cc Supersport race. Fast all weekend, Cluzel grabbed the lead at the start and was never headed, although series leader Michael van der Mark had a few sniffs with his Pata Honda in the last quarter of the race.
Very heartening for North American fans was the performance of P.J. Jacobsen. The 19-year-old from New York state is in his second season in Europe, and had his best ride in the series by far this weekend, running with the lead group, grabbing third before half-distance, and comfortably holding on until the flag.
Jacobsen is seventh in the series, ahead of a crowd of more experienced racers who have grown up on the tracks in the series. He’s being mentored by talented former Moto GP racer Andrew Pitt, who swears the kid has the ability to go right to the top – today’s performance certainly didn’t contradict his coach’s opinion.
World championship standings after 14 of 26 races (7 of 13 events)
1. Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 251 points
2. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Factory Aprilia Racing Team, 212
3. Loris Baz, France, Kawasaki Racing Team, 210
4. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 199
5. Marco Melandri, Italy, Factory Aprilia Racing Team, 179
6. Chaz Davies, U.K., Ducati Superbike Team, 143
7. Davide Giugliano, Italy, Ducati Superbike Team, 111
8. Toni Elias, Spain, Red Devils Roma Aprilia, 109
9. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Voltcom Crescent Suzuki, 106
10. Leon Haslam, U.K., Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 99
Next race July 6, Portimao, Portugal
I finally had the chance to see these races. Sykes is scarily good, even when injured with a wrist that he described as 60%. Baz, despite his hiccough in Sepang, is riding a mature season and is certainly not disappointing Team Green. And as for Melandri, I’m happy to be seeing him finally coming to terms with the Aprilia. Since Sepang, he has made significant strides in understanding how to make the bike work for him, and the result has been outperforming Guinters in 4 out of the last 4 races.
I’m a Melandri fan, having followed his career since the 125s.