2014 Sepang World Superbike Saturday Roundup: Humidity But No Rain Yet
It rains almost every day in Sepang, and yet it has been dry for the last two days. Rain is predicted for Sunday, but that doesn't mean it's a certainty. Heat and humidity, however, are. New riders need to be reminded to take their helmets off when they get back to their pit boxes, and plenty of fluids need to be ingested.
The Hermann Tilke designed Formula 1 circuit suits motorbikes more than other car tracks, but the bumps, caused by braking cars pushing the tarmac into corners like a carpet against a wall, can still catch riders out, especially at the end of the faster stretches where you have to tip your bike in over corrugated road.
It looms like Aprilia were not just suffering from hubris, throwing down the gauntlet as they did, but both Tom Sykes and Davide Giugliano were able to out qualify all but Sylvain Guintoli. Giugliano doesn't think he will have the pace to maintain his position in the race as he's giving up 8kmh down the straights, and they're big. Sykes is unlikely to be able to dominate the races tomorrow, but the Kawasaki is second only to the Aprilia in outright flat speed, so a good result is likely. Guintoli, who has dominated almost every session, is the favourite for tomorrow, but as he's thirty seven points behind Sykes in the championship, in fourth place. The men in second and third are Jonathan Rea and Loris Baz. Rea is unlikely to be able to ride past his bike's shortcomings and will be trying not to lose too many points instead of challenging for the win, while Baz is on the exact same bike as Sykes and will need it to rain to stand a chance of taking points off his team leader.
On the second row, Marco Melandri is behind Toni Elias, continuing his terrible year. When Melandri was trying to ride the unrideable MotoGP Ducati, he was sent to a psychiatrist by the team rather than have them admit their bike might have been rideable by only one man. Guintoli is no Casey Stoner, and being outqualified by Elias on a cheaper version of your bike cannot be good for morale. Still, he's on the second row and the track suits his bike. It's time for the compartmentalisation that riders do to race without the weight of their problems slowing them down.
If the Honda is lacking in the grunt required to fight at the sharp end, the Suzuki is by its side. This weekend is damage limitation for both teams, as neither expects to realistically fight for the win. The Evo bikes are further back, 20kmh off the Aprilia and Kawasaki's speeds and the EBRs are over 10kmh further back.
In World Supersport, things are less clear. While it looks like Jules Cluzel and Kev Coghlan are shoo-ins for the podium, anyone in the top ten, including local man Zaqhwan Zaidi, could be on their with either of them.
Rain could spoil everyone's predictions, and that might be good.