At long last, the FIM and Dorna have released a calendar for the World Superbike and World Supersport classes for 2014. The calendar features fourteen World Superbike events, but it is still very much a provisional list, with three of the fourteen still subject to contract, and the final race still marked as to be confirmed, with neither the location nor the country known.
The season kicks off as always in Australia, the World Superbike and World Supersport classes headed to the Phillip Island circuit for the opener on 23rd of February. There follows another WSBK tradition: the interminable wait for round 2. In 2014, there are seven weeks between the first and second rounds, with the second event taking place at the Motorland Aragon circuit just outside of Alcañiz. The WSBK circus then takes off for a tour through Europe, heading to Assen, Imola and Donington Park, before heading overseas again to Sepang, and a Malaysian round. Two rounds in Europ follow, at Misano and Portimao, before the World Superbike class heads to Laguna Seca, taking the slot vacated by the MotoGP class.
Racing first came to the undulating Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in 2008, opening for business with the last World Superbike race of the year, just before the global economy collapsed. Since then, its appearance on the calendar has danced around the calendar, sometimes early in the year, other times late, and it was very nearly removed from the calendar last year through financial concerns, but luckily for fans of racing, even though so few of them actually turn up at the circuit, racing continues there.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after Sunday's races at Portimao:
As the riders, apart from Leon Haslam who decided to sit the race out, lined up on the grid, Tom Sykes was missing. He had crashed on the sighting lap, but he got his Kawasaki towed back to the pits with ten minutes for his team to rebuild the front cowl. If his bike were put back in the garage, that would be his race over, so his team brought their tools and mechanics out to the pit lane to frantically try to get his bike ready. As it was, he had to start from the pit lane, hoping that the small grid would allow him to score a couple of points.
World Supersport is known for giving us close racing, with plenty of brave and ambitious riders, all with a burning desire to win. This race was without a doubt a perfect example of the class at its best.
Qualifying at Portimão was all about dodging the rain. As the clouds loomed pendulously overhead, riders had to time their runs in Superpole well, in case the rain fell. As it was, after the first session, Superpole two was rapidly abandoned and, along with Superpole three, it was replaced with a single wet 20 minute session. It didn't rain.
World Supersport qualifying was done with a backdrop of threatening weather.
Sam Lowes was able to fend off both the rain and Kenan Sofuoglu. The white flags came out twice during the session, yet Lowes was still able to get within a fifth of a second of Sofuoglu's outright best lap from 2010 and lead Sofuoglu and Sheridan Morais by over half a second. The front row is made up of three manufacturers, with Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda all represented.
The top riders that qualified into the Superpole sessions knew that they didn't need to set records in the first session as they wanted what all Superpole One contenders wanted; a ticket to Superpole Two. The unpredictable weather would catch the organisers out, playing for safety trumping the planned schedule. Qualifying tyres were once again coloured with a pink band instead of the usual yellow.
As riders settled into the chase for perfect race settings, it was Tom Sykes that posted the fastest time ahead of Eugene Laverty and Loris Baz. Baz was impressively turning out around as many 1'43 laps as both Laverty and Sykes and could prove to be a fly in the ointment of the usual front runners.
Sheridan Morais and Jack Kennedy headed off Sam Lowes and Kenan Sofuoglu in a session whose top four was contained within two tenths of a second. Michael Van Der Mark and Fabien Foret both showed signs of recovery filling out the provisional second row.
Repeating his result from Friday, Jonathan Rea, in the last few minutes of the qualifying session, grabbed provisional pole. The Aprilias of Eugene Laverty and Sylvain Guintoli, also on the provisional front row, were the only ones recording multiple 1'43 laps, however.
In response to the announcement that new rules will be coming into play in 2014, with the aim of making Superbike racing more affordable and with more competitive machines on the grid, Jonathan Rea put his beleaguered Honda Fireblade in provisional pole position, ahead of the two men that won here last year.
Rea has never won at Portimão, but he's been on the podium every year since 2009 and he was even in fourth place in 2008 when he switched over from World Supersport for the last race of the year and his first ever weekend on the Ten Kate Superbike. It's safe to say he goes well here. Unfortunately, so do Eugene Laverty and Tom Sykes. Sykes won race one here in 2012, from, as will come as a shock to precisely nobody, pole position, but DNFed in a second race won by Laverty, as part of his late-year discovery of form and electronics.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams, as well as the series organizer, after the first day of practice in Portimao: