2013 Imola World Superbike Saturday Roundup: Ducatis Unblock Their Sinuses
With both World Supersport and World Superbike qualifying sessions red flagged, it took a little longer to determine the final grid positions for tomorrow’s races, but this didn’t stop lap records being broken and scenes being set.
In World Supersport, Kenan Sofuoglu and Riccardo Russo both tried to keep Sam Lowes from getting his fifth successive pole position and sixth of the year, but with the pace he carried, pole position was inevitable and only three other riders could record times within 1.3 seconds of his new record-setting lap. Lowes is joined on the front row by his rival Kenan Sofuoglu and his teammate Vladimir Leonov.
Tom Sykes, whose pole position was initially thwarted by his exuberant teammate Loris Baz, was advised by his crew chief, Marcel Duinker, to use a fresh race tyre instead of his spent quailfier, which, having seen the lap he put in, will lead anyone to advise him to do that every weekend. Sykes’s sixth consecutive pole position netted him a total of seventeen career pole positions, putting him equal forth in the list of qualifiers with the aptly named Doug Polen, a quality qualifier who demonstrated that nominative determinism exists even in racing.
Loris Baz merely lost a bit of skin from his thumb in the massive flag-summoning crash, which is a reminder of how fickle fate can be as Baz’s seat on the Kawasaki was due to Joan Lascorz’s near-fatal crash at the same race track last year. Safety hasn’t changed since last year, but Kawasaki’s luck has.
Another rider whose luck is heading in the right direction, although it would be fairer to attribute it to the hard work and determination of his team instead, is Jonathan Rea. With a third place qualifying at Portimão, he bested that with a second place this weekend. His team has made great progress with the Honda Fireblade, and they are making the sorts of noises one would hear from a team that has the electronics sorted for race distance, allowiong Rea to apply his talent to the racing. Leon Haslam, while he managed to punt Carlos Checa out of Superpole 2, could only improve his place to eleventh through the misfortune of Michel Fabrizio, a rider who has been going well all weekend.
With Michel Fabrizio failing to qualify for the last Superpole session, and Ayrton Badovini not able to capitalise on the great strides in performance made earlier in the weekend, due to losing his last qualifying tyre to the red flag, it fell to Davide Giugliano to put an Italian on the front row, and yet again he was faster than the factory Aprilias of Sylvain Guintoli and Eugene Laverty.
Another good qualifying session from Leon Camier meant he will start the race in sixth position, ahead of Marco Melandri, which means his Suzuki is in front of all the BMWs and all the Ducatis, especially the BMW of Noriyuki Haga. The fan-favourite Haga was almost a second slower than his not particularly quick teammate, prompting a few older fans to look mournfully into their pints and look back at more productive times in Haga’s history.
It’s always worrisome to see a rider of the talent Haga has so far off the pace that he risks becoming a back marker. Maybe this weekend will force him to consider a well-earned retirement.
On a more positive note, due to its poor performance so far, Ducati’s 1199R Panigale is running without the full inlet restrictor it’s been saddled with all season, allowing it to breathe more easily and affording it a little more power. While the engine hasn’t really been optimised for the bigger throats, more power will inevitably come with time. This freeing of ponies has been evident in Ayrton Badovini’s performance, even if it’s still not present in that of Carlos Checa.
A resurgent Ducati in Italy would play well to the home crowds, but the locals would be better off betting on an Aprilia if they can’t cheer on Tom Sykes or Jonathan Rea.