PORTIMAO, Portugal – Weather played a key role in the World Superbike and Supersport races at the Autodromo Internacianal Algarve in southern Portugal July 6.
Rain started spitting during the first Superbike race, came in heavily during the Supersport race (causing it to end early), and the second Superbike race was run in a downpour that slowly eased off.
Hottest rider on the day had to be Pata Honda’s Jonathon Rea, the Irishman leading in the first race, although eventually pushed back to fifth albeit fighting all the way – the Honda’s horsepower disadvantage just too much in the dry conditions with Portimao’s long straights – but in the wet second race the Irishman was unbelievable, leading from start to finish at a pace no other rider could match. His consistency and speed led to excited words of praise from colour commentator Steve Martin, himself a former WSB racer and multi-time world endurance racing champion – not an easy guy to impress.
Defending champion Tom Sykes and his Kawasaki did what they had to do. In race one Sykes moved into the lead by the third lap and then did one of his patented disappearing acts, metronomically pulling away from the field for an eventual 2.5 second win over Aprilia’s Sylvain Guintoli, who also happens to be second in the championship chase. “Ginters” was followed home by Sykes’ Kawasaki team-mate (but definitely not friend!) Loris Baz, with Guintoli’s team-mate Marco Melandri taking fourth ahead of Honda’s Rea.
In race two Sykes started strong, but in the streaming wet conditions slowly dropped back, favouring safety over maximum points to protect his championship lead. He eventually finished eighth and was smiling in spite of the relatively poor result. “In the wet conditions of race two we had some issues but I cannot be disappointed,” he said, “because we have shown great potential. Sometimes we are dealt these strange races and there was too much for me to lose today. Some other riders made mistakes and so I extended my championship lead compared to when we arrived here.”
Guintoli, second in the series, had a good run to grab second in race one – “it was a good race except for Tom being so far ahead!” he said – but had a little more action in the soaking wet race two, when making a dive to pass his team-mate Marco Melandri (both of them very close to catching Rea at the time) – he lost the front end over a bump and took out both himself and Melandri. Guintoli managed to get going again and made a frantic charge to finish seventh, passing Sykes on the last lap to maintain his second place in the series, albeit now 43 points behind (25 points for a win).
Loris Baz, third in the series, had a relatively quiet weekend; a cautious sixth in race two following a hard-fought third in the first contest.
In the first race, the rest of the top 10 was made up by Alex Lowes (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki), Davide Giugliano (factory Ducati), Eugene Laverty (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki, and still riding with a broken foot), David Salom on the first of the EVO bikes (factory Kawasaki), and Sylvain Barrier on another EVO bike, the BMW Motorrad Italia BMW.
An 11th in race two gave Barrier an impressive record in only his second race back after two serious injuries – first fracturing his pelvis in a pre-season testing accident, then having a serious auto crash back home in France that left him in a coma. After the second race, when he won the EVO division, he was close to tears as he said, “After being in a coma three, four months ago, this result is fantastic for me.”
The first race results were scrambled when Leon Haslam – having apparently found new life with a new engine and electronics set-up on his Pata Honda – collided with Chaz Davies on his factory Ducati while the two were chasing a podium. Strictly a racing incident, the two were upset at the occurrence, but not overly angry at each other.
In race two, Ducati fans were ecstatic at the company’s best results this year, Davide Guigliano grabbing second, while Chaz Davies took third after a wild contest for the final podium spot ahead of Alex Lowes (Crescent Suzuki), Leon Haslam, and Baz. Behind them, Guintoli, Sykes, Laverty on the second Suzuki, Sykes, Laverty, and Toni Elias on the Red Devils Roma Aprilia, rounded out the top 10 in what were truly appalling racing conditions.
Series leader Michael Van Der Mark once again stamped his authority on the WSBK main support class with his fourth win of the season, grabbing a rain-shortened victory over a surprising Jack Kennedy, the Irish rider on the CIA Insurance Honda having his best result of the year after a poor start to the season, and his first podium in the series. Kennedy led several times during the contest and made Van Der Mark work for his win.
Second in the series, MV Agusta’s Jules Cluzel, ran off twice under braking and finally retired with a technical issue a couple of laps before the race was flagged early to to increasingly-heavy rain.
Three-time champion Kenan Sofluoglu brought his Kawasaki home third; the Turkish rider obviously unhappy with the bike after the race, but no doubt relieved to be back on the podium after several mechanical problems and rider errors in recent races.
American teenager P.J. Jacobsen had another good ride, his fifth not quite matching his last-race podium but still confirming the faith his mentor – Andrew Pitt, former Moto GP rider with Kawasaki – has placed in the youngster.
World Superbike standings after 16 of 26 races (eight of 13 events)
1. Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 284 points
2. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Factory Aprilia Racing Team, 241
3. Loris Baz, France, Kawasaki Racing Team, 236
4. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 235
5. Marco Melandri, Italy, Factory Aprilia Racing Team, 192
6. Chaz Davies, U.K., Ducati Superbike Team, 159
7. Davide Giugliano, Italy, Ducati Superbike Team, 140
8. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Voltcom Crescent Suzuki, 121
9. TIE, Toni Elias, Spain, Red Devils Roma Aprilia / Leon Haslam, U.K., Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 115
World Supersport standings after 16 of 24 races (eight 0f 12 events)
1. Michael Van Der Mark, Netherlands, Pata Honda World Supersport Team, 160 points
2. Jules Cluzel, France, MV Agusta Reparto Corse 107
3. Florian Marino, France, Kawasaki Intermoto Ponyexpres, 93
4. Kenan Sofuoglu, Turkey, Mahi Racing Team India Kawasaki, 83
5. Ricardo Zanetti, Italy, Pata Honda World Supersport Team, 80
Next round, July 13, Laguna Seca, Monterey, California.