MONTEREY, California – World Superbike’s 17th and 18th races of 2014 were more of a California nightmare, really, for a great number of riders.
Crashes ruined the World Superbike weekend at Laguna Seca for many, including accident-caused red flags that stopped the second race twice.
Victims included Irishman Jonathon Rea (crashed in Superpole and had to start on the fourth row), Welshman Chaz Davies (crashed hard out of the first race and was told not to ride in the second due to a suspected concussion), Marco Melandri (crashed out of the lead in the final segment of race two), Alex Lowes (very hard crash and accident call at the Corkscrew), the luckless Sylvain Barrier (nasty crash into the pit wall in race two), and Davide Giugliano who fell at the Corkscrew in the last segment of race two while pushing for a podium, his Panigale spinning onto the middle of the track – it was unbelievable that none of the following field collected it.
Giugliano did a great job of dragging his own bike off the track and out of danger’s way, then getting restarted, although he merely rode it back to the pits to retire.
When all the drama was over, Yorkshire’s Tom Sykes stretched his lead in the championship by only a point over Aprilia’s Sylvain Guintoli, but when all was said and done although a little unhappy with his first race error – running off briefly at the Corkscrew and letting the Aprilia wrecking crew of Melandri and Guintoli ahead – he overall seemed pleased with his third and first places, leaving him 44 points – nearly two full races – ahead of Guintoli in his quest to repeat his 2013 title.
“The aim was to win the race, so race one was a bit disappointing. We made some changes in between races and the bike felt better,” said Sykes. “In between the red flags we made some tweaks to the bike which worked well. I have got a fabulous bunch of guys working for me. I am a gentleman so I do feel bad taking the win from the guys like that [referring to the accidents and red flag situations], but I will still take the win. I have got a few days to enjoy myself now and I can’t wait to go into the summer break to get my hand and wrist sorted. Tonight a big California hamburger!”
The first race went to Aprilia’s Marco Melandri, followed by Guintoli and Sykes, while in the second race, after the two restarts, Sykes led Guintoli and an on-fire Rea over the line. Melandri got great starts all day including the final one, but in the last iteration of race two washed out the front end in Laguna Seca’s final T-11 – a classic mistake – and had to retire.
Guintoli, a strong second in the championship, shrugged after each race, basically saying he went as hard as he could, but couldn’t match his team-mate’s speed in race one or Sykes’ inspired pace in the final seven lap conclusion. With eight races left he still has a chance at the title, but it will take a series of disasters from Sykes’ Kawasaki team to make it possible.
Third in the championship and third in the second race, Rea was regretting his weekend. It was his first visit to Laguna Seca, which with its tight configuration and lack of long straights seems ideal for the Honda. He said enthusiastically that he loved the track, and apologized to the team for crashing in Superpole – “it was my stupid mistake” – putting him back on the fourth row of the starting grid.
The big loser in the title chase was probably Loris Baz, Sykes’ French team-mate. The 21-year-old never seemed comfortable on the weekend, and with a ninth and a sixth was nearly caught by the slower EVO Kawasaki of Spaniard David Salom in both races.
Sixth in the series, Chaz Davies’ weekend on his factory Ducati was a disaster, with an ugly crash in the first race. Although he eventually got up and wanted to start the second race, the doctors forbade it. His team-mate Davide Giugliano, just behind him in the title chase, was a strong fourth in race one but as noted above, crashed out in race two in the mad seven-lap final sprint.
Toni Elias of Spain, eighth in the series, loves Laguna and went well in practice and qualifying. Asked before the races if he was going to get a podium, he smiled and said, “It’s possible.” He got fantastic starts and rode hard; his final results of a pair of fifths not really reflective of what might have been. Especially in race two, he was certainly a podium contender; it would have been his first in World Superbike.
Hard-luck guy for the day – other than the unfortunate crashers – had to be Eugene Laverty on the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki. Ninth in the series, Laverty had the unsettling experience of seeing his bike torn to bits on the starting grid of race one, the crew frantically swapping out the entire injection system. They barely finished before the start, and to no-one’s great surprise, the unlucky Irishman retired with engine problems not too long into the race.
He was better off in the final, logging an eventual fourth after fighting back hard from a relatively poor start, something the Suzuki is famous for. The guy really deserves a better ride.
And 10th in the championship, with a pair of sevenths today, is England’s Leon Haslam. Despite seventh hardly being where Haslam wants to be, he’s found a big improvement in his Pata Honda in the last couple of races and feels much more comfortable and confident on the bike. While he’s not quite challenging his team-mate Jonny Rea yet, it’ll be interesting to see how things shake out in the last four events (eight races) of the season after the WSB’s long summer break.
WSB championship standings after 18 of 26 races (nine of 13 events)
1. Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 325 points
2. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Factory Aprilia Racing Team, 281
3. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 261
4. Loris Baz, France, Kawasaki Racing Team, 253
5. Marco Melandri, Italy, Factory Aprilia Racing Team, 217
6. Chaz Davies, U.K., Ducati Superbike Team, 159
7. Davide Giugliano, Italy, Ducati Superbike Team, 153
8. Toni Elias, Spain, Red Devils Roma Aprilia, 137
9. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Voltcom Crescent Suzuki, 134
10. Leon Haslam, U.K., Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 133
Next race September 7, Jerez, Spain.
Note: the World Supersport (600 cc) class did not run at this event.