2014 Sepang World Superbike Sunday Roundup: Of Teammates And Rifts
The Sepang World Superbike races brought teammates to the fore today. All of the top teams have two-riders that need to get along and compete at the same time. Under the tropical sun, some of the partnerships may have changed beyond repair.
Tom Sykes has had nothing but positive comments to say about his teammate Loris Baz, but in the press conference podium after race two today, the mask slipped and he said "Loris proved a lot of people right at my expense". In race one, Baz ran into the back of Sykes on turn two, and to many observers, Baz has been due a crash for a while, but turn two looked like the result of diminishing gaps, one ahead of Sykes and one ahead of Baz. Either one on its own would be business as usual, but the two compounded into a nasty crash as Sykes slowed down faster than Baz was expecting to avoid crashing into the back of Toni Elias, but Baz couldn't return the compliment as he was already deep into the turn.
Whether the fault was with Baz or not doesn't matter as much as whether Sykes believes Baz was at fault, and it seems that he does. After the close racing between the Kawasakis at Donington, the morning's incident could well be an unhealable rift in the green garage. Sykes hurt his wrist in the crash and took a harsh punch to his championship lead, and countries have been plunged into civil war for lesser slights.
Aprilia has been Sylvain Guintoli's team all year, with him having been there a year before Marco Melandri signed, and Guintoli has two wins and a decent chance at the title. Guintoli adapted to Max Biaggi's bike while Melandri tried to get the bike to work like his previous bikes. Melandri has been playing second fiddle, unable to get the Aprilia to turn as tightly as he needs to go faster, but today, that changed. With the confidence to turn as tight as he wanted, even if he still needed a few of his trademark lunges to overtake, and the power of the bike out of corners, Melandri turned a weekend of rumours of his impending termination into a double victory, flat out beating his teammate on identical machinery. Much like the Sykes/Baz incident, it's too soon to say if this will have any impact on the team dynamics, but a confident Melandri is a welcome sight.
Ducati has Chaz Davies and Davide Giugliano, with Giugliano constantly looking like the rider most likely to take the Panigale's maiden win while Davies is the rider actually putting it on the podium twice. Giugliano is thirty four points behind sixth placed Davies and probably costs them more in replacement carbon fibre, but both racers are waiting for the right combination of factors for that elusive first win. Until that happens, both riders can consider themselves the number one rider.
Eugene Laverty is the more experienced rider in the Suzuki team, and the most likely to step from the Superbike to a GP bike. Alex Lowes is a class rookie and unlikely to try to usurp his teammate. As part of the Baz incident this morning, his afternoon's race was hampered by injury, but Lowes is tough and watching Laverty grab a podium in the first race with a broken foot, from his Donington crash, likely encouraged him to ride in race two.
Another tough rider, Leon Haslam has not been the same since he broke his leg last year, and a bike like the old Fireblade isn't as forgiving as the faster bikes. Jonathan Rea wanted Haslam as a teammate to challenge him after the year with Hiroshi Aoyama's dismal performance as an albatross around the team's neck. Rea needs Haslam to be fighting fit as much as Haslam himself needs it.
In an ideal world, teammates help you go faster and give you a benchmark against which you can measure yourself, and all five teams have a brace of decent riders apiece, but if rifts start appearing, they may cause more trouble than not having a teammate at all.
In World Superport, the only rider with a teammate in with a shot at the title won again today. Michael van der Mark has had one DNF all year and nothing but second places or wins every other race, which is how you win titles. Be it a fast track or an agile track, Van der Mark seems to have the measure of it. If Honda are looking for a fast, eager teammate for Jonathan Rea next year, they don't need to look very far at all.