Merely fifteen riders have recorded qualifying times for the very first Istanbul round of World Superbike, three of them for the first time in their career. Three riders couldn’t race this weekend, due to injuries sustained at the Nurburgring and a green track this morning sidelined a further three, with only one likely to return tomorrow.
Jonathan Rea, Loris Baz and Max Neukirchner could not start the weekend after crashes in Germany, but Leon Camier was able to get cleared fit to ride. Unfortunately, a dusty and slippery track contributed to a high-side crash that sent Camier to Clinica Mobile. He was subsequently sent to a local hospital where they found he had seven fractures in his right foot, ending his race weekend and starting a rehabilitation process. Carlos Checa and Ayrton Badovini both crashed in separate incidents, with Checa breaking his left scaphoid and Badovini suffering from a hematoma and stretched ligaments in his left ankle. Checa will not be racing this weekend, but doctors are confident Badovini will be cleared to qualify tomorrow.
With such a reduced grid, if Badovini does indeed get cleared, sixteen riders will be competing for fifteen Superpole slots, with the most likely to miss out being either of the two Turkish wildcards, Yunus Ercelik on a BMW and Tolga Uprak on a Kawasaki. The third rider making his World Superbike debut is Toni Elias, who will certainly qualify tomorrow, unless both wildcards find a hitherto unseen form.
This morning’s opening session was an extended ninety minute free practice, for both Superbike and Supersport, able to take advantage of the free time in the schedule not holding Superstock races afforded them. Nine of the riders, including both wildcards and Elias, who took second place in the 2007 MotoGP round here, had seen the track before, with eight who were new to it. Tom Sykes demonstrated that experience wasn’t as important as just being fast, with Davide Giugliano and Leon Haslam also demonstrating a lack of experience wasn’t a guarantee of a poor time.
However, the form men are Sylvain Guintoli and Marco Melandri. While the track suits the Aprilia, it also suits Melandri, a winner here twice in MotoGP.
In World Supersport, Kenan Sofuoglu is a local legend, appearing on TV adverts in his native Turkey. Arguably, more spectators are in Istanbul Park to watch the World Supersport race than are there to see the main events. Unfortunately for Sofuoglu, Sam Lowes is doing what he has a knack of: going fast early on. While Sofuoglu is likely to start on the front row, he will likely be behind the man who is 54 points ahead of him in the title chase. With his team mate four rows slower than him, Sofuoglu will have to win unassisted to keep his championship hopes alive, knowing a DNF could hand the title to Lowes.
With the size of this weekend's World Superbike grid, without the wildcards, even a Martian on a Harley Davidson could race and get a point, as long as he was able to get within the usual 107%, and with teams leaving, winter needs to bring an influx of new teams taking advantage of the price cutting if World Superbike wants to be taken seriously. Racing at new tracks is only good if people are watching.