The World Superbike racing calendar started its European leg after a seven week absence from the calendar. The weekend would demonstrate that even factory-supported bikes are complicated enough to fail when pushed to their limits. What we as members of the public never see when riding our similar motorcycles to work is how fickle and fragile they are at the very limit of performance.
Jonathan Rea fell victim to a faulty brake adjuster, while three motorbikes were pulled off the grid at the start of races. Eugene Laverty suffered from an electronic issue while Sam Lowes had a gearbox pack in. There were numerous other surprising failures during all three races, including Tom Sykes and Davide Giugliano.
The attrition at Aragon played into the hands of Aprilia's Sylvain Guintoli, who ended the weekend at the top of the World Championship table. At no point in qualifying did it look like Guintoli would remain at the top, especially with Tom Sykes and his teammate Eugene Laverty doing so well. On a track he hates, the Frenchman was able to get two second places, outscoring everyone bar Chaz Davies. Guintoli also used the press attention to announce his forthcoming fourth child.
Chaz Davies is second in the championship after getting a double win, showing remarkable consistency in both races, once he got to the lead. Even though he got the lead due to the two men qualifying in front of him making errors or suffering from mechanical issues, looking at his form, it was entirely possible that he could have won one or both races even if Tom Sykes and Eugene Laverty had not suffered. Davies was World Supersport champion in 2011 and took a race win last year on an under-specced Aprilia. With a factory BMW, he has already outshone the brilliant and experienced Marco Melandri on the same bike. To look on Chaz Davies as a title contender is now no longer the realm of the hopeful or insane.
Eugene Laverty left the first race with an electronics issue and the second with a crash. After qualifying so well, and showing great form during the free practice sessions, he was expecting to remain at the top of the championship, even without wins. Tom Sykes also expected to do better and was bitterly disappointed even with his third place in race two.
Leon Camier burst his knee qualifying and left the racing duties to his rookie teammate Jules Cluzel. The Frenchman managing a sixth and seventh place while Camier rests up to recover in time for Assen would probably be a relief to their team. His bike's inability to get into neutral at the start of race two may have caused the restart, but of all the mechanical issues this weekend, it was nowhere near the worst.
Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam were at the mercy of their Hondas, bikes that are just past their sell by dates. Testing revealed Rea was capable of running at a decent pace, in spite of losing down the back straight. The improvements promised by Aragon showed up in Rea's 4th place in race one, but the brake lever failure in race two punished him in different ways. Haslam's brace of ninth places were ascribed to brake issues, but they showed that this bike was not suited to challenge at the front on this track.
A bike even less suited to this track was the Ducati 1199R Panigale. A brilliant motorcycle that looks gorgeous, but just didn't have the legs for Aragon. It's hard to say what track would suite the bike, but if it does badly at Assen, Ducati will have a real quandary on their hands. Carlos Checa and Ayrton Badovini may well still be suffering from their respective accidents at Philip Island, but even if that were the case, the bike wouldn't look as off-axis around corners as it did today. Carlos Checa did claim that he was stung by a bee in race one, which sounds unpredictable enough to be true this weekend.
Michel Fabrizio was very much under the radar all weekend, but he still managed to remain in a respectable position in the championship, while Davide Giugliano, who on an identical bike ran out of fuel in race one and bagged fourth in race two, left much further back.
In World Supersport, similar woes struck front runners Kenan Sofuoglu and Sam Lowes, leaving the title lead open to Fabien Foret and Michael Van Der Mark. While Lowes and Sofuoglu are still favourites for the title, both Van Der Mark and Foret have to be taken seriously, surprising given one's youth and the other's advancing years.
That's motorbike racing; unpredictable and exciting. The next race is in Assen, a traditional old Dutch track that suits riders who enjoy riding. Hopefully, the teams will have more reliable bikes by then.