2014 Imola World Superbike Sunday Roundup: Podium Contenders

At the beginning of a weekend, there are eight riders that can be considered serious dry-weather podium contenders and all of those men are in the top eight of the championship.

Jonathan Rea leads the championship, having won the last three races, on a bike that, if its performance at Donington includes podiums, may need a reassessment. The Honda Fireblade has been considered uncompetitive for a while now, but Rea and his team have managed to eke performance out of it when it was written off. While the Honda's chassis is extremely good, the engine and electronics were becoming a weakness that held it back. However, the question remains, that if Honda have truly turned a corner, why is Leon Haslam no longer considered a threat to the title? Haslam was previously a serious championship contender, so it does appear that Rea is making up for the bike's deficiencies. Imola is a track where agility can beat power, which also suited the Ducati, but this in no way diminishes Rea's success.

Tom Sykes is always a threat for the podium, but he appeared to be struggling this weekend with getting his bike to use the tyre properly. Looking to his teammate, Loris Baz was fourth in both races, passing Sykes in the second race to put paid to theories of team orders. The Kawasaki ZX10R is a very competitive bike, with plenty of speed available as well as all-round manoeuvrability, but Sykes had a bad weekend by his standards. Baz was happy with his result of two fourths while Sykes was disappointed with his third and fifth, which goes to show where the riders expect themselves to finish.

Sylvain Guintoli is in his second year on Max Biaggi's Aprilia, and he has won two races on it this year, and he sits in third place in the championship. The Aprilia RSV4 is a very fast bike, and Guintoli makes the majority of his overtakes using the strengths of the bike. Marco Melandri, however, prefers to pass riders with precision cornering and he cannot get the Aprilia to act like anything he's used to. If Melandri learns how to adapt to the bike, his talent will throw him back in contention, but as a rider who can't compete outside his comfort zone, this could well come too late this year.

Chaz Davies got the best result the Ducati Panigale has ever had, and he did it twice. Like the Honda, the Ducati can't rely on power to get it out of trouble, and it has been a difficult bike to figure out what works at World Superbike level, so there are a lot of red-clad people hoping that Chaz Davies has figured out more than racing on tracks that suit agile bikes. Davide Giugliano showed great promise as well, before throwing away the first race, but even after that, the race is on to see who gets the first win on the Panigale.

Eugene Laverty is the eighth rider with podium potential, especially after taking a surprise win in the opening round, but the Suzuki GSX-R doesn't seem ready to challenge consistently. Alex Lowes on the same bike, in spite of a podium at Assen in the wet, still needs a little more experience to get consistent, but Lowes, the reigning British Superbike champion, could well surprise at Donington.

Bimota still can't score points, but that didn't stop them claiming the Evo victory today. Ayrton Badovini was twelfth in the second race, two tenths ahead of Leon Camier, and he would have been the first of the Evo bikes if he could score points, but it's not known if Camier didn't fight Badovini knowing he couldn't take his points or place.

In World Supersport, Kenan Sofuoglu had his third DNF of four races, which could well put a spanner in the works of his title chase, but with five other riders all fighting for the title, a bit of good luck could throw him back in the mix. However, forty points is a huge deficit. Michael Van Der Mark and Florian Marino share the top spot, reminding us of how competitive this title challenge will be.

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Per the commentators, the Panigale is now installed with the "latest Ducati MotoGP" electronics and the factory engineers were walking the track with locations marked out using a device on wheels hooked onto an ECU to "learn" the track. Chaz rode amazingly! Charging hot and braking hard into turns, very committed!!! I'm seriously keeping my fingers crossed the virtual positioning bugs that Nicky/Crutchlow experienced before stays away from him! Chaz is doing well as a rider who is riding for different manufacturer every year since he came to WSBK, I'm a fan at his adaptability!

Great wrap-up on the season to date. It is certainly a lot less predictable than it appeared to be before the opening race weekend... I'm hoping for more from Baz and I'd love to see Lowes get a run of good results.

My money is still on Sykes though. He will have a break-through weekend and then once again will be the man to beat.

Is it a coincidence that the recent announcement about illegal frames being 'pursued' at scrutineering has seen a change in qualifying and race performance?

Suzuki seem to have done something for Lowes' engine braking, looking at the test times!

Kudos, Jared on an informative and interesting article. World Superbikes seem to be really competitive this season. It's wonderful to see so many marques and riders racing for the win. I'm really impressed with the level of riding and the hunger displayed by the contenders, brilliant stuff from a terrific series.