The WorldSBK paddock and the racing community came together at Donington Park to pay tribute to Nicky Hayden but after two great races in the Superbike class, a Supersport race that saw great battles and a Supersport 300 race that saw a three rider scrap for the win, it was the racing that paid the biggest tribute to The Kentucky Kid.
The weekend started and ended on an emotional note but it was Kawasaki that took the spoils with a dominant weekend that saw the Japanese marque claim Superbike, Superstock and Supersport honors. With victories for Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea the manufacturer also clocked up their 100th victory in WorldSBK.
In parc ferme after the race the release of emotion was clear to see with both riders enjoying the moment with the team. The celebratory mood started with Rea giving his son, Jake, a lift into the closed area on the tank of his ZX10-RR and from that point onwards it was clear how much the win meant for the world champion.
Tire shuffle plus grid shuffle equals?
Following his tire failure during the opening race of the weekend Pirelli withdrew the softest tire from the allocation for Race 2. It was to affect some riders more than others but overall the same riders were able to get to the front. Rea had earmarked Donington as one of the most important races of the year to be able to land a crucial psychological blow on his teammate.
Going into the second race Sykes had won nine times in a row at his home race, but starting from ninth left him with too much to do to hit the front. Rea, who started one place further back, made another trademark start and was into the front group from the very start. Leading the race at the beginning of the second lap he never looked back.
“It was an incredible first lap," said Rea afterwards. "There was nothing I could do about the crash on Saturday but it also meant that I had to start from the fourth row for Race 2. It was clear to me that I needed a great start otherwise my race would be over. In my mind I went through all the scenarios, which I would make after a good or bad start. My boys worked hard all night to build a new bike, the bike from Race 1 was too badly damaged after the crash, and Pere Riba made some changes. In the second race the bike was incredible. It was as good as ever before this year. From the start I knew that if I could make a good start it would be my day.
Ton Up Jonny
“There was a little bit of pressure for the 100th Kawasaki win and I was thinking about it today. From half race distance I said to myself that it has to be me today. We managed the race perfectly and I even managed a nice little stand-up wheelie at the end!”
From that point onwards Rea was able to open and manage the gap to his pursuers. Sykes was able to get into second place after a handful of laps but the Englishman was already four seconds adrift at that point. Being able to set more consistent times than Rea meant that the number 66 was able to close the gap to one second at one point but he had to settle for 20 points although starting from ninth clearly left a bitter taste in his mouth.
“The race got off to a very, very bad start,” said Sykes. “I am disappointed to lose my record because of how it happened, if it was a completely straight fight then it makes it easier to accept but all things considered I was beaten fairly. Our race pace was very strong and I know I closed Jonathan quite strongly but there is ultimately only so much that I could offer. I was closing the lead but with three laps to go I asked too much in some corners. Ultimately it is a shame because when I started the race I was on the inside of the grid and some people were trying to win the race on the first corner and completely made a mess.”
Over the line
Sykes wasn't the only rider trying to close a gap. Chaz Davies endured one of the most difficult rounds in memory for the Ducati rider. A crash during Race 1 saw Davies say, “it's a fine line between hero and idiot and today I was on the wrong side of it!” During Sunday's race he had to take avoiding action when Tati Mercado and Leon Haslam clashed at the last corner. Dropping to 15th Davies had his hands full getting back to the podium.
“That was about salvaging some points,” said Davies after an eventful race. “It was a bit of a mess of a race after a bad start and getting caught up in every accident going! I was happy this weekend even though in the races the ball didn’t bounce our way. This was the first time I actually felt that we might actually be able to do something about the green bikes around here. We are actually really, really close and for that I am happy, that is the biggest thing to take away from here. I just kept my head down and kept charging.”
Davies made his move for third on the penultimate lap, robbing Yamaha's Michael van der Mark of a podium spot, but for the Dutch rider there were plenty of positives.
“I was already at the limit when Chaz passed me,” admitted Van der Mark. “I pushed to my maximum but did not want to make a mistake. Ultimately I'm happy with my pace and my feeling from the bike fit. It's a very positive day though because even though it would have been nice to get a podium the most important thing was that I was able to set consistent times all the way through the race.”
While Van der Mark missed out on the podium his teammate Alex Lowes was able to finally break his three year podium duck. The Englishman has been consistently the “best of the rest” behind the Kawasaki and Ducati riders this year and finds himself fifth in the standings. A podium has been on the cards for some time but it took the race of his life to finally get back to standing on the rostrum.
Coming through the field after being run off track at the first corner Lowes showed grit and determination to make progress. Sunday's race was more difficult for him and afterwards he conceded that while progress has been made there are still plenty of areas to improve.
“I think that in this race one thing stood out,” said Lowes after finishing fifth in Race 2. “I've started on the front row a few times for Race 2 and it's a big advantage for us right now. Our bike doesn't work as well as the Kawasaki and Ducati getting off the line and getting to the front quickly from the midfield. They are able to consistently get three positions off the grid and make moves on the opening laps. I wasn't able to do that from the third row and if you compare my race to Mickey [van der Mark's] our pace was similar but I could never make the step I needed to get back to him.”
Like many riders Lowes was forced to change his tire choice from Race 1 and use the harder rear tire. Afterwards he said that the change had an effect on his race but wasn't the deciding factor in the outcome.
In his second year on the Yamaha the former British Superbike champion has been able to make plenty of headway and has added consistency to the speed that has always been apparent. While a podium has been coming for some time the release for the team at having achieved it after a strong start to the campaign was clear.
Silly season starts?
With his first podium of the year Lowes said at Donington that his goal is to continue to see progress from the Yamaha. To that end this week's Misano test will be important to show whether the rostrum finish can be repeated.
The 26 year old is also keen to see his future confirmed. With a contract set to expire at the end of the season there is some uncertainty with the likes of Tom Sykes having been linked to Yamaha in recent weeks. Team boss, Paul Denning, commented that the team had not held discussions with the Kawasaki rider.
Having claimed his first win of the season it is thought that Sykes is keen to see out the second year of his contract and with Ducati likely to retain their lineup the question now turns to who will ride the Yamaha in 2018. Van der Mark is already under contract and while there are some alternative options for Yamaha, given Lowes performances this year it would be a surprise to see the team look elsewhere.
In what could be an indicator of their WorldSBK intentions for next year it was announced over the weekend that Van der Mark and Lowes will be he will be teamed with Katsuyuki Nakasuga at the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hours.
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