Notes and quotes on the first WorldSBK race from our man on the ground at Donington Park:
On a day when Nicky Hayden wasn't far from anyone's minds the WorldSBK paddock paid tribute to The Kentucky Kid. With a minute's silence, tribute videos and the Stars and Stripes fluttering in the breeze as fans lined Donington Park the American flag it was the racing that truly honored Hayden.
Tom Sykes was able to take his ninth consecutive victory at Donington Park, a series record at a single circuit, but the Englishman had to work hard to claim it. Having taken his first pole position of the season Sykes was outmuscled by Chaz Davies and Jonathan Rea on the opening laps and forced to overcome a two second gap to his Kawasaki teammate Rea after a crash from Davies.
In the early stages of the race Sykes was having to fight his Kawasaki more than his rivals with the 2013 WorldSBK champion having to deal with the bike sliding underneath him. The track conditions were difficult with a high wind and lower track temperatures wreaking havoc. Sykes was able to make his tires last and get back to the front but his teammate Rea wasn't so lucky.
The Northern Irishman struggled with a vibration from around half distance but was able to manage the situation and retain the lead but Sykes was closing fast. The Englishman was able to consistently take three tenths of a second out of Rea's lead and after one unsuccessful overtaking move Sykes finally got to the front and opened an immediate lead.
Rea was in dire straits with his tires on their limit and on the run to the Old Hairpin in the closing laps his tire finally gave way.
Pirelli were unable to determine the cause of the issue but on Saturday night the Italian manufacturer withdrew the tire from the allocation for Sunday.
“Pirelli has decided to pull the rear V0602 development solution (option A) from the tire allocation available to riders in the WorldSBK category for the Donington Park round,” read a statement from Pirelli. “The decision was made following what happened in Race 1 to the rear tire of Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) who abruptly lost pressure in the twenty-first lap, causing the rider to crash.”
For Rea it was clear what the issue had cost him 25 points.
“All of a sudden I had a huge vibration start in the rear and then Tom passed me and I decided I had to just finish the race as I’d seen Chaz go down,” said Rea. “The vibrations got worse and worse and worse and then my tire just seemed to explode on the left side, that’s what I feel happened anyway. I don’t know what speed I was doing, but it was scary, it felt like there was a sniper in the crowd who shot my bike from underneath me. I’m really frustrated, we need to analyze exactly what’s happened before pointing fingers though.
“It’s a shame as I was sitting pretty and conserving both tire and energy for the end. I knew I could race for the win with six laps to go, so that gives me a lot of motivation tomorrow but with the new grid format I have to start from the fourth row which is frustrating. Hopefully I’ll wake up not too sore!”
With Rea licking his wounds on the service road and Davies fighting back through the field to finish eighth the door was open for the Ducati and Kawasaki podium lockout of 2017 to end at the 11th round. Leon Haslam was able to maintain Kawasaki honors in second position with the wildcard taking second at the flag. It was Puccetti's first Superbike podium and afterwards Haslam was understandably thrilled.
“I felt comfortable to fight for the podium but today we had a bit of a problem and with the track temperatures changing it was behaving very differently,” said Haslam. “Obviously Chaz and Jonny crashed but I was just working my way through, working my own race and I'm so happy for Kawasaki Puccetti Racing.”
With Haslam claiming 20 points it was the battle for third that gave us a drama filled last lap. Marco Melandri has been elevated to third by Rea's misfortune and with a two second lead over Alex Lowes on the penultimate lap it looked like another safe podium finish for the Italian. On the final lap, in front of his home crowd Lowes was able to pull the pin and cap off a superb run through the field with a podium.
“At the first corner Leon came up the inside and I had to go off track and dropped down the field,” said Lowes. “It's what you'd expect from Leon with a wildcard, there's no hard feelings because he's one of my best mates off track, but it made for a tough day! The bike was great, we had the pace for fourth but with Marco on the last lap, you've gotta go for it! When we were coming around Hollywood on the last lap the bike was sliding through the corner and I was thinking of Nicky and the videos that we've always seen of him.
“I wanted this podium but we know there’s a gap to Kawasaki and Ducati. All year I've tried to do the best race that I can and after the incident at turn one that's what I did. I tried to pass people where I could, which I think is quite good as in the past I think I’d have got annoyed and made mistakes. If you keep going and dig in, sometimes you get a bit of fortune, it’s not how I want to get a podium but I’ll take it!”
Lowes joined Sykes and Haslam on the podium and afterwards Sykes joined his rival in offering thoughts of Hayden.
“I had to work for that win but I need to pass my condolences to Nicky's family,” said Sykes. “I said it to my brother but it's a very strange weekend and strange not have my next door neighbor here with his great smile so it's been slightly strange all weekend. In a small way this is basically for him, and overall the weekend has been good and it's nice to continue our form."
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