Chaz Davies continued to dominate the Imola WorldSBK meeting by claiming victory in the opening race of the weekend. The Welsh rider had earlier taken the fifth Superpole of his career but the rate at which he was able to ease away from the field certainly laid a marker to his rivals for what to expect in tomorrow's race.
The Ducati star has won the last three races at the Italian venue from pole position but with the Race 2 grid reshuffle he'll have to battle through the pack from ninth position.
“I got a mega start and hit the first corner hard and went from there really,” said Davies after taking his 21st victory in the series. “I just set my pace, hit the first few laps and tried to stay consistent, to see where we were at. I think I still had a little more left in the tank as I stretched the gap on the closing laps, when things are working so good I have to say a huge thank you to the team.”
Those closing laps came sooner than expected with the race brought to a premature end by a fireball crash involving Eugene Laverty. At the time Davies had managed to open a commanding gap of over six seconds in just 12 laps.
“We made the setting so that I got more feeling from the front tire and this has brought our pace to the next level. But this track is good for me and the bike is working very well at the moment. In the tight chicanes, we have improved significantly since the Aragon test because our engine now has more punch. The combination of my strengths and those of the bike led to the result.”
That result never looked in doubt but the early stoppage meant we never saw just how dominant Davies could have been. While Davies' rivals were arguably let off the hook by not being exposed quite as much as they could have been the race will be remembered for Laverty having a lucky escape.
The Northern Irishman started strongly but was fading by the middle third of the race and fell back into the clutches of the Yamaha riders of Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes. Having been overtaken, and fallen adrift, by Xavi Fores and Leon Camier it was clear that Laverty was struggling with tire wear and once Van der Mark had moved into seventh position it seemed only a matter of time before his Yamaha teammate followed him through.
That came on lap 13 as the riders snaked their way down the hill at Rivazza. Lowes came down the inside on the entry to the corner and contact occurred with Laverty that would see the Aprilia rider's brake lines severed on the fast entry to the right hander.
With no brakes Laverty was forced to jump from his speeding bike to avoid crashing heavily into the barriers. There was no way to slow the bike and the Irishman took the only action available to him. It was a similar situation to the one he found himself in during Sepang MotoGP testing in 2016 when he ejected from his Ducati after a front brake failure. Afterwards he admitted, “I'm getting too much practice at this!”
Speaking after the incident Laverty said:
“I was optimistic at the start because the bike was feeling good, but I started losing pace after about lap seven and I was moving backwards,” said Laverty. “I tried hanging in, and just before the crash happened the bike started to feel good again. We didn’t have much rear grip today. It was good at the start and then went away.
“I’m OK after the crash and I thought it would hurt me more, but my gear did its job and I’m ready to get on the bike again tomorrow. It’s hard to know how tomorrow will go, obviously there are positives to take from today but we have to analyze where we’re struggling."
While Laverty came off worst from the incident Race Direction declared it a racing incident with neither rider at fault. For Lowes the main concern afterwards was that Laverty was OK following the crash but having gone on to be classified eighth the Englishman added another eight points to his seasonal haul.
“First of all, I'm that Eugene is okay because that'’s the most important thing,” said the Yamaha rider. “I passed him at the top of the hill, we had a bit of contact, and it looks like he lost his front brake. I am really happy that he is okay as it was a very unlucky incident. I actually felt quite good in the race but it has been a tough weekend so far. I was behind Michael [van der Mark] but was looking forward to the last few laps thinking that I could have put a good challenge on him.”
Lowes will get his chance tomorrow when he will line up from the second row behind his teammate but once again all eyes will be on Davies from the third row and how fast he can make progress.
Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2017 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.