Notes and quotes on the second WorldSBK race at Imola from our man on the ground:
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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.
Assen had been earmarked as a key round for Honda in their search for competitiveness in WorldSBK. It passed with more confirmation that the team's struggles will continue
Nine points were all that Nicky Hayden had to show for himself at the end of a trying weekend at the TT Circuit of Assen. The Honda rider was able to show some signs of improved competitiveness at times during the weekend but overall the same flaws of the Honda Fireblade have been exposed once again.
Reliability and inability to bring competitive upgrades to the table cost Hayden dearly at Assen. The week before the Dutch round the team tested a new engine specification in Portimao and the American came away disappointed with a lack of progress.
Race 2 at Assen didn't have the fireworks of Saturday but rather than the pressure cooker environment of a championship battle flaring up it was a slowly boiled intra-team scrap that was settled on Sunday.
In three years at Kawasaki Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes have had their differences and tension but overall their relationship has been mostly positive. There was the potential for fall-out in The Netherlands however when Sykes closed dramatically on Rea in the second half of the race.
The 2013 world champion has battled illness in recent weeks, a bacterial infection has forced him to into hospital and laid him up since Thailand, but in the thick of battle he sensed a weakened rival.
The tension that has been building between Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies finally spilled over at Assen. Three years of competing with one another for race wins and championships has strained their relationship, and on Saturday at Assen it reached breaking point.
On the final laps of Superpole, Davies was on a flying lap and came across Rea through turn seven. Being forced to sit up and avoid the touring Kawasaki, emotions got the better of Davies and at the end of the session he hit out at Rea in Parc Ferme.
“You stayed on three quarters of the track,” stated Davies after qualifying third. “I don’t know how tight a line you can pull out of that left but I’m three quarters of the track out there. You were in the way mid-way through the corner and then on the exit I had to pick it up because you were three quarters across the track, if I didn’t I’d have cleaned you out! Next time I’ll smash you from the inside and we’ll see what happens.”
While it has hardly been surprising to see Ducati and Kawasaki maintain their position as the dominant forces at play in WorldSBK the battle for best of the rest has been an interesting subplot for 2017.
Over the course of the opening three rounds of the campaign the form of Honda and Yamaha has been marked by their stark contrast in fortunes. Last year, Honda had been a podium and front row regular as the season moved into the European swing, and Yamaha looked to be clutching at straws in looking for any positives they could find on their return to the series.
This year has seen their roles reversed, with Yamaha consistently the best of the rest and in position to fight for a rostrum finish. Honda on the other hand have had a disastrous start to the campaign with an all-new Fireblade.
Along with a thrilling weekend of racing, several interesting items of news emerged in Argentina. Brad Binder and Remy Gardner were injured, and face surgery. Discussions were held in the Safety Commission on deciding who progresses to Q1 and Q2. And at a press conference, Dorna announced that the WorldSBK championship will be racing in Argentina in 2018, at a new circuit in the west of the country.
Binder breaks arm, Gardner damages ankle
First, to the injury news. Brad Binder had his best result on the KTM Moto2 bike so far, but his weekend was far from a success. The reigning Moto3 champion has been struggling all off season with a broken arm which was healing slowly, after a plate put in his arm to fix the broken bones in place had only partially succeeded in doing so. Speaking at the Jerez test in February, he described his arm as being "nowhere near where we'd hoped it would be." Progress has been slow since then.
Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies went toe to toe and bar to bar in both races at Aragon, and while they shared the spoils with a win apiece it was clear that Aragon could be a defining moment in the 2017 WorldSBK season.
Over the course of two 18 lap races there was nothing to separate both riders. Even so at the end of an eventful weekend of racing Rea had still extended his championship lead by a further 20 points over Davies. Saturday's Race 1 crash came at the conclusion of a thrilling back and forth between the two riders who have defined WorldSBK in recent years.
It's easy to criticize Davies after his costly error but having lost a full morning of running due to an engine problem he was on the back foot. The 30 year old cited an issue with weight transfer on used tires as the cause for his crash which likely came from not having enough track time over the opening two days. When asked if he had pushed over the limit in search of the win the Ducati rider made it clear that striving to win was the single thought on his mind after having been on the back foot in Australia and Thailand.
After the Grand Prix Commission abolished penalty points at their meeting at Qatar, it was inevitable that they would meet the same fate in World Superbikes. At the latest meeting of the Superbike Commission, the rule-making body for the WorldSBK series, the penalty point system was abolished in WorldSBK, just as it has been in MotoGP.
Our WorldSBK reporter gives his view of the first race at Aragon:
It's early in the 2017 WorldSBK season but already plenty of people are crowning Jonathan Rea as a three time champion. To anyone thinking that with 22 races remaining that the championship has been sewn up, it would be wise not to count any chickens just yet.
Rea has most certainly been the class of the field so far in Australia and Thailand but they are two tracks that the Kawasaki rider had been heavily favored to win at. Phillip Island is a wide open race to open the year but Rea has traditionally been a force at the Australian circuit. Likewise in three years of visiting Thailand he has won five races. There's a lot that can be taken from the opening three rounds of the year but it will take a couple of European rounds before a clear picture truly emerges.
Notes from the second WorldSBK race in Thailand:
Jonathan Rea claimed a dominant victory at the Chang International Circuit, the reigning world champion setting a searing pace en route to his third victory in a row. When he arrived in Parc Ferme after Race 1 the Northern Irishman's emotions were clear for all to see as he celebrated his 41st WorldSBK victory.
“I felt really good and quite calm, my guys gave me a really good bike again and that was my plan,” said Rea. “We had a really good pace but Chaz also had a very fast pace, as did Marco, so I had to ride away into T1 to make the holeshot, I wanted to get my head down in T1 and I did it. I managed to get a good gap and then built up a rhythm, I was just doing my job and it was enough to win, so I’m really happy. Last year there was a big fight between me, Tom and Chaz but the bike’s improved a lot since last year, so I’m really happy with that.
Can we just have every race at Phillip Island? That's certainly what a lot of fans will be thinking after a thrilling opening weekend of WorldSBK action. The tension that has simmered between Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies over the winter came to the fore over the weekend and once again it these two riders fighting it out for wins.
Jonathan Rea had a fight on his hands for both wins in Australia but the reigning WorldSBK champion did enough to continue his domination of Phillip Island. In claiming his fifth win in the last three years at the Australian circuit the Northern Irishman also became just the fourth rider in history to win 40 WorldSBK races.