Notes from the second World Superbike race in France, from our man on the scene:
Notes on WorldSBK race 1 from our man on the ground at Portimao:
The first round after the summer break is always one that fans and paddock personnel get excited about. But the German round of the WorldSBK calendar hasn't captured the imagination, because of its remote setting and, for the riders, the bumpy track surface.
With Jonathan Rea easing his way towards the history books as the first rider to win the championship three years in a row, there was a feeling from some quarters that it was merely a matter of marking time rather than making a mark. That being so, once the weekend got underway it did throw up plenty of excitement in what appears to the final race at the Lausitzring.
Momentum for a technical shake-up in WorldSBK has increased but the manner to instigate that change is a big question
The Imola paddock was full of rumor and discussion about changes to the technical regulations for 2018. With Kawasaki and Ducati having shared all but four wins since the start of the 2015 season there have been calls to grant other manufacturers some avenues with which to improve performance. Discussions between the manufacturers took place once again in Italy to lay down a framework for the future.
No answers were forthcoming but with Yamaha and Honda having brought all-new Superbikes to the series in the last year and struggled to compete with the front runners it is clear that the winds of change may be in the air. For 2017 Aprilia increased their involvement with the Milwaukee Aprilia bikes built and prepared in Italy. The former title winning marque has thus far failed live up to preseason expectations.
The term GOAT - Greatest of all Time - is bandied around rather a lot these days. I have always found it a rather unsatisfying phrase, as the radical changes in every aspect of motorcycle racing make it impossible to compare the achievements of the riders who raced in very different eras. How do you compare riders who won on 15 kilometer tree-lined street circuits to riders who spent all their time racing on the ultrasafe short circuits, replete with run off and air fence? How do you compare victory on a 500cc single cylinder Norton or a four-cylinder MV Agusta or Gilera housed in a frame that was little more than some steel tubing connecting the wheels via rudimentary suspension, to the screaming two strokes of the late nineties, or the fire-breathing 990cc four strokes barely tamed by electronics, or the ultra-finicky and precise 800cc four strokes which required a deep understanding of extracting potential for electronic management? How do you compare the ability to manage the rock-hard rubber of grooved cross-ply tires to the pursuit of 64° lean angles on fat modern radials made of exotic blends of silicon and rubber?
It is impossible, yet there are some names whose achievements are so profound that they rise above the rest, regardless of circumstances, and set themselves apart in the annals of history. If they use of the phrase GOAT is questionable, there are some riders who are obviously among the most significant of all time. They made the biggest impact.
John Surtees, who died to day aged 83, was just such a rider. Others, with a greater grasp of racing history, can do his legacy much greater justice than I can - if you read just one obituary of Surtees, then make it this dual profile of the man on Motor Sport Magazine, by Mat Oxley and top F1 journalist Mark Hughes.
WorldSBK came back with a bang in the opening round of the 2017 season. With five different leaders and four manufacturers in the scrap for the podium the Phillip Island crowd was treated to a superb season opener that eventually saw Jonathan Rea come out on top.
The Northern Irishman edged the win from Chaz Davies after a race that saw the field race with one eye on tire conservation and the other on their rivals. Afterwards Rea compared the 22 lap affair to a cycling race where everyone tried to shadow their rivals rather than show their true pace. With that being the case it allowed the likes of Alex Lowes and Leon Camier to fight at the front and the Yamaha rider came within a whisker of the podium.
Lowes spent the winter working on his race consistency and ironing out mistakes and it showed from the outset. Settling into a comfortable top five position the former British Superbike champion started to make some moves on the front runners and spent some time in a deserved lead.
Come to Spain they said, the weather will be great they said...
There are typically only a handful of valuable winter testing venues. Jerez in the south of Spain is one of the most popular. Usually the winter sun provides almost perfect conditions for WorldSBK teams to undertake their off-season programs. The weather was not co-operating today and there was limited mileage for all of the runners.
The test did however offer the first glimpses of the Milwaukee Aprilia. Their partnership has been one of the biggest off-season talking points and while Lorenzo Savadori and Eugene Laverty were unable to complete a lot of miles they were at least able to start their tenure with the team. For Laverty it also marked a return to the WorldSBK paddock after two years in MotoGP. As a result the team were keen to get out on track and a 11.20am Savadori ventured out.
Which rider has exceeded pre-season expectations the most in the 2016 WorldSBK season?
For many inside the paddock and Leon Camier is the most popular and obvious response. Coming into the season there was little expected of the Italian manufacturer but eight top six finishes mean it is easy to see why Camier's performances are being hailed. The fortunes of MV Agusta in 2016 have surpassed expectations to such a degree that there is now the expectation rather than hope of podium finishes.
“I think a lot of our improvement this year comes down to personnel,” said Camier after the Jerez round of the championship. “Mainly it comes down to just having a little bit more structure in the team so they can get the changes done they needed to get done. The team is now more streamlined and Andrea Quadranti is the one boss. We brought in some extra staff and that has helped, but we knew last year what we needed to change with the bike and we've been able to make those changes this year.”
The decision on whether to be conservative or aggressive with your choices wasn't the key in Magny-Cours rather it was just about having belief in your convictions. With a drying track Chaz Davies was one of the few riders to start the race with intermediate tires and the gamble proved worth the risk for Davies as he romped to victory.
In the early stages with a wet track Davies was a sitting duck to riders with more grip from full wet weather tires. The Welshman even said afterwards that “I was so slow that I wouldn't have been surprised if someone had hit me!”
When the track started to dry the race came to Davies and rather than being a sitting duck he became a shark and picked off his rivals. It was an inspired race by Davies who rarely seemed to have push but instead kept calm and allowed the race to come to him.
Having made his decision on the grid - based on track conditions, the increasing temperature and the knowledge that the surface doesn't dry as fast as others - the Ducati rider raced accordingly. There were precious few heroics from Davies, but with a minimum pit stop time of 45 seconds, he knew that as long as he could stay upright he had a decided advantage. The tire compounds used in the slick and intermediate tires are quite similar and for Davies this gave him even more confidence in his decision.