Donington Park is renowned for giving fans exciting races. 48,500 of them turned up over the weekend to brave the cold wind and watch the most exciting racing Superbike races of the year. Crashes, surprises, upsets and spills were the order of the day while history was made and old enmities revisited.
The weekend started on Thursday with a white water rafting experience at Holme Pierrepont watersports centre. Leon Haslam, Chaz Davies, Eugene Laverty and Sam Lowes all messed about in a dinghy while facing the artificial rapids. Every one of the racers fell in at some point and Sam Lowes may have ingested the local water and contracted food poisoning that ravaged his insides and threatened to ruin his weekend.
Luckily, as can be seen in the World Supersport results, this was not the case, and he took his first victory and cemented his second place in the championship, five points behind the fast Turk Kenan Sofuoglu and eight points ahead of the equally fast Frenchman Jules Cluzel. Fabien Foret drops to fourth place ahead of the Australian Broc Parkes after a terrible weekend where qualifying and racing were difficult for the Frenchman.
James Toseland was inducted into the World Superbike hall of fame along with his manager Roger Burnett, first man to get pole position in World Superbikes, 25 years ago at Donington Park.
Race one opened with Leon Haslam taking his unique sweeping line through the pit exit towards turn one to overtake Tom Sykes on the outside for the lead. This wide entrance was tried by Marco Melandri following his BMW team mate and later in the race, once he understood how Leon was using it, he used that knowledge to pass Leon on the inside on his way to taking BMW's first World Superbikes race victory. With both BMW riders jubilant in Parc Fermé about their 1-2 finish, a second BMW podium was expected by everyone. However, Jonathan Rea, in his determination to win his second race of the year, took a hard line through Goddards, the hairpin that leads onto the start/finish straight. Three riders went into the corner at the same time and it was Rea on the inside that clipped Leon Haslam who in turn skittled Marco Melandri and both BMW riders lowsided to the grass. While blame will most probably be thrown at either Rea or Haslam, what happened was a racing incident.
In both races today, the Esses, the Melbourne Loop and Goddards were all the scenes of plenty of firm passes and a slight bump in the track on the approach to Goddards put extra weight onto the front as the rear wheel was thrown up under braking more than usual. While all the riders had learned the intricacies of Donington, the amount of hard passes and revenge block-passes must have made things more tricky than usual.
In particular, Max Biaggi performed an oyster-shucking pass on Marco Melandri that seemed to be by far the hardest pass of the weekend, although some of Rea's passes could compete, and it didn't take long for Melandri to return the favour, pushing Biaggi wider than usual, followed by a humorous little apologetic wave. No quarter was given and none expected in either race, so an exciting finish involving spreading carbon fibre across the exit to the last corner was no surprise to anyone.
This wouldn't be the only crashes in race two, with only fifteen riders finishing the race, one of whom was Leon Haslam who eased his stricken BMW across the line over a minute after the crash, ending with a point and last place. Other crashers were the Ducatis of Carlos Checa, Davide Giugliano and Jakub Smrz who all got tangled up in a turn one crash on the opening lap. Eugene Laverty, the likely cause of the incident, was able to not get collected by the three Ducatis, but he fell victim to Craner Curves and a very fast crash similar to his qualifying spill of last year.
Loris Baz, replacement for injured Joan Lascorz, was able to place a respectable 8th place in race two, even though he didn't finish the first race. He scored more points on the day than the other replacement riders with Peter Hickman finishing one place behind Baz in race two and Gary Mason finishing neither race.
Donington Park reminds us why we love the World Superbike championship. Close racing that was decided on the last lap in both races and a Supersport race that almost matched them in excitement. With the wet weekends we've had in mainland Europe, it fell to England, notorious for its rain, to give us a dry weekend of racing and Donington Park delivered.