2016 Misano World Superbike Saturday Notes: Tense Races, and Taking Risks to Win

There are races that are thrilling, and there are races that are tense. Saturday's World Superbike race at Misano was the latter. After the two Kawasakis escaped from the pack – a pack where Misano's notorious Turn 1 chicane had wreaked havoc on the grid, as usual – Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea were never separated by more than a few tenths. You could feel that an attack was inevitable, that the status quo could not stand. Something was coming, and that made the race feel excruciatingly tense.

Adding to the tension was the pace dropping at the front. That gave third-place man Michael van der Mark a chance to start catching the leaders again, slashing his deficit by half a second a lap. Behind Van der Mark, Chaz Davies was on a charge, after being pushed wide in the first corner melee and crossing the line in 20th at the end of the first lap. The Aruba.it Ducati rider was reeling in riders hand over fist, passing others at will, and quickly cutting his deficit.

Davies could smell a podium, and at some point, perhaps even a win. As he closed on Van der Mark, the Dutchman felt he had to respond, which in turn put more pressure on the Kawasakis. The last few laps felt like the race was about to explode, that anything could happen.

The fact that it didn't is what made the race tense rather than thrilling. Tom Sykes could never find the right point to make a pass on his teammate, though Rea was feeling the pressure. "At the end I felt like we had a knife to our throat," Rea said, despite the fact he had a small gap over Sykes.

As for Sykes, he never felt he could find the right point to attack Jonathan Rea. "When I tried in the last two laps I wasn’t able to put my nose in a good position," the Yorkshireman said. "We had the potential to win the race but we weren’t able to get the right track position on the last lap. I’m disappointed with myself. We had a chance to maybe pass earlier but then it would have been a different race. Lots to consider for tomorrow and we have to try and improve."

Sykes' failure to make a pass on Rea makes the championship difficult. Instead of cutting Rea's lead to 51 points, Sykes allowed his teammate to extend the gap to 61 points. With eleven races left this season, Sykes no longer has the championship in his own hands. All Rea has to do is finish second to Sykes for the rest of the season and the title is his: he would hand 55 points to Sykes, and still have 6 left in hand.

That seems like a misjudgment on the part of Sykes. One WorldSBK paddock insider pointed out that for Sykes, the time to follow Rea home and cut his losses is in the first few races of the season. Now, with scoring opportunities dwindling, was the time to make bold moves. Sykes has nothing to lose from a last-gasp lunge up the inside of Rea. If he makes it, he wins, and takes back precious points from his teammate. If he doesn't make it, the worst case scenario is that he takes both himself and Rea out. Given the undisguised hatred the two riders have for one another, and the fact that Sykes is due to announce a new contract with Kawasaki in the next few days, he has nothing to lose, and everything to gain by being audacious to the point of recklessness.

That kind of move would also change the narrative of the championship. It is important to establish the impression in the minds of your main rivals that you are willing to take risks to win, and that you are not afraid of them. A small dose of intimidation goes a long way, so Misano Race 1 feels like a lost chance for Sykes.

That is perhaps a little unfair to the Yorkshireman. Sykes rode brilliantly all race, managed his tires, and stuck close to his teammate. After Friday, Rea's race pace looked unbeatable, yet Sykes showed clearly that he too could run that pace, and maybe better. It was merely that Sykes failed to capitalize on what looked like a good opportunity.

Yet Rea deserves credit too. The Ulsterman had considered letting Sykes past, to get a good look at how fast he was. In the end, he decided against it. "Misano being so difficult to pass, I decided just to relax," Rea said after the race. "I made some laps in the middle of the race in high 1m 36s. I was expecting him to come through but when he didn’t I tried to go again."

Though Michael van der Mark had chased the two Kawasakis, even closing the gap, he had been unable to get close enough to do much about them. Taking a podium was reward enough, though, after some early lap scares with the front tire. The Ten Kate Honda rider had seen his teammate Nicky Hayden and Ducati's Davide Giugliano go down in front of him, and had felt the front end closing all the way round the track. He concentrated on running steady lap times, nibbling away at the lead of the Kawasakis, but when Chaz Davies started closing, he had been forced to pick up his pace.

It was enough to hang on to the podium, and give Van der Mark a sense of relief. After several tough weekends struggling, while teammate Hayden went from strength to strength, the Dutchman had to seize the initiative again. He did just that on Saturday.

Chaz Davies was the revelation in race 1, after having a decidedly mediocre start on Friday. The Aruba.it Ducati rider found the consistency of pace he had been missing, and that gave him the best pace on the grid. It was only unfortunate for him that he needed to use it to battle his way forward, rather than try to win the race from the front.

The basic problem for Davies was a poor Superpole. The Welshman qualified down in ninth, after a gamble on a softer front tire hadn't worked out. That left him within reach of the chaos caused by Xavi Fores, as the Spaniard ran in hot and knocked Lorenzo Savadori off, and pushed Davies and Leon Camier wide. Both Davies and Camier made up for their misfortunes, the Ducati and MV Agusta making strong charges to regain a lot of ground.

Davies was phlegmatic after the race. "That’s the risk when you qualify in ninth," he told us. "Those things happen and it’s more of a reflection on a bad qualifying. We shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place." But he was extremely encouraged by his pace. "It was really good. At one point I was about eleven seconds behind the Kawasakis and I closed that up to around five seconds. I got five seconds over the race and that gives me a lot of confidence."

The great thing about the current World Superbike schedule is that they all have a chance to try again on Sunday. Davies' strong showing may sway some in favor of the Ducati rider, but it is hard to look past Jonathan Rea doing the double. If Tom Sykes still has aspirations for the title – and it is clear that he does – then he will have to push Rea harder and attack earlier on Sunday.

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Sykes has said that Rea's tactics were "quite dangerous" and that the large, unexpected changes of speed/lap-time caused him to run wide and almost crash into the back of Rea in some corners. Maybe he has a point?

Until lap 9, Rea's running with Lorenzo type consistencey at between 1'35.6 secs and 1'35.7 secs.

On lap 10, he suddenly records a 1'36.4 secs lap before putting together a string of very low 1'36.0 sec laps until lap 16.

On lap 16, he dramatically slows again to 1'36.7 secs and remains at this pace until lap 19 when he slows yet again to 1'36.9 secs before speeding back-up considerably with a 1'36.5 on the next lap, and then it's back to high 1'36.8 secs for the final two laps.

When you're racing closely behind someone, it must be very unsettling to find them unexpectedly varying their lap times by 0.7 secs or more - especially when they're renowned for their consistency. If Rea wanted Sykes to pass, why didn't he wave him through safely instead of springing surprise changes of speed?



I think Tom is overanalysing as he usually is, and you're just following in his wake.

Rea did ride defensively, but that's understandable.
Tom has the point-and-squirt riding style which works pretty well for passing, any rider who thinks Tom had more pace would ride defensively.

Maybe Tom is just frustrated he couldn't find an opening when he clearly had a better pace...

Understand, I have nothing but respect for both your journalistic skills and integrity.

But you've strained the bounds of reason and credulity by offering legitimacy to the idea of Sykes aggressively going up the inside, even if it means taking out his teammate, risking injury to either or both. And defending same with the argument that they don't like each other and hey! Sykes is signing a new contract so what the hell?

This is the behavior for which Iannone has been excoriated for immaturity and fired from Ducati, despite being younger than his teammate and displaying better potential for results. 

Hoping against hope that that was the thinking of the paddock insider you cited and that you just did a poor job of conveying it.

David appears to have got sucked-into the hype around Rea who clearly rode in an alarmingly erratic fashion in Race 1.

He notes that Sykes is yet to sign a contract with Kawasaki, but appears to advocate a risky passing move on a team-mate intent on playing silly, dangerous games.

Fortunately, Sykes had more sense than to rise to the bait that Rea so obviously laid, and remained trapped behind.

Sykes is an intelligent, mature professional. He's understandably reluctant to risk his contract, or his career.

When a following rider encounters that dramatic a change in laptime, they normally respond by passing.


Just wondering why the intense dislike? And if Kawasaki are doing the right thing in continuing to have them in the same team, knowing this

Without knowing, in schoolboy terms Tom seems like a "nice guy" and Jonathan a bit like a bully/jock. Tom put the time in, even with the original team (Paul Bird?) who didn't seem that good, and then brought Kawasaki their first WSB title since Scott Russell. Jonathan was the latecomer who then, possibly, took the glory off Tom a little? Or has there been some sort of clash (on or off track) that I've missed?

I'm feeling Tom is a little intimidated by Jonathan, as your narrative would seem to suggest. Jonathan made some comments about the bike being built for Tom, which seems a bit like sour grapes as it is obviously working pretty well for both of them.

I know they say nice guys don't win - but Bayliss did ok. Maybe Tom needs to nurture the good guy off the track, but be as hard as nails on it?

Personally, I'm supporting Tom... and Chaz (doesn't he look a little Foggyesque?). Oh, and Leon Camier... :)



But perhaps not so simple to do on a tight circuit that has few passing places and on an identical bike?

If you want to allow a rider to pass you safely, then perhaps the safest place to do it is on the straight?  

So it's Rea's fault now that, even after slowing down, Sykes couldn't pass him?  What's that saying?  "Go as slow as you need to, to win the race".

No, it's just about safety. It's about not slowing dramatically during mid-corner, and it's about not trying to 'spook' a fellow competitor by giving them a 'brake-test' on the way in. It's about being safe and responsible.

Rea gave away a huge 0.7 secs per lap on two occasions - but he didn't give it away on acceleration, or on the straights where it was safe to do so. Where did he do it? Go figure.  

I agree with 'Speeddog' overtaking is part of the sport, Chaz Davis more than made up for a poor qualifying position & start by overtaking almost everyone in front of him to finish in fourth position. How often do we see Tom Sykes following, unless he is leading the race, then blaming everything/one else on his result, Chaz is by far the most committed, exciting racer on the grid.


The WSBK field seems to be suffereing from a distinct lack of depth at the moment. Rea is dominant, Sykes is fast and so is Davies but beyond that the challengers thin out quickly

Was relieved and amazed to see Reiterberger get up and walk (hobble) away, that was as big a highside as I've seen for a while.  Hope he is ok, that crash looked like an orthopedic surgeon's new Porsche and could have been truly horrid.

No Sunday roundup Krop?

Re lack of depth, I agree.  At present Suzuki and Honda are out of the picture "(in spite of Hayden and VDM's great efforts), and Yamaha seem to have given their elsewhere-seemingly-competitive bike to the wrong team.  I'm surprised to see the Milwaukee bm's so outpaced by the others, if it were just electronics you'd think they would have a handle on it by now, or got someone in who can.  Davies seems to be generally riding well but has had some misfortune this year, while Guiliano is harder to pick than a broken nose.  Even though Sykes thoroughly deserves his spot at Kawi, it would have been interesting (but like Lorenzo probably not to his benefit) to see him on a Duc next year.  Hopefully next year sees a new Honda and perhaps Suzuki (but won't have much factory backing given their MGP push), and Yamaha getting their act together.