Team orders, an unpopular aspect of team racing, usually come into play at this point of a title chase, with Eugene Laverty gifting Max Biaggi points to win the 2012 championship being the most blatant example of recent years.
This weekend showed that, for now at least, team orders aren't in effect. Sylvain Guintoli is in second place right now, and took thirteen points off Tom Sykes. The one person that could have the most impact to Sylvain Guintoli's attempt to wrest the championship from Tom Sykes is Guintoli's teammate Marco Melandri. While Melandri is in a chance for the title, it is an outside one, as if Sykes gets on the podium at any point between now and the end of the season, Melandri cannot win the title, and this weekend, if Melandri had sat behind Guintoli, he would be in almost the same position, requiring 4 DNFs from Sykes, but Guintoli would have halved the difference to Sykes. twenty-one points from the title with four races left is a lot better than thirty-one points. Twenty-one points is four victories and one bad race for Sykes from the title, something that seems plausible.
Marco Melandri has his own fight to fight, though, and has finally got the Aprilia to act like his bike. Starting with Sepang, he has been able to push the front into turns in his inimitable style, allowing him the tight angles he loves and putting his rapier-thrust overtakes back in his arsenal, as Loris Baz will attest to from the gravel trap. Two wins this weekend from Melandri must be demoralising for Guintoli who, on the same bike, has no answer to him. At this point in a title fight, the last thing you want is someone better than you on the same bike.
Tom Sykes must have briefly thought that when his Kawasaki teammate Loris Baz took pole position on Saturday, but Baz left the weekend with nine points to Sykes's twenty-seven, and Sykes had a terrible weekend, scoring fewer points than all but two weekends this year. Loris Baz has only outscored Sykes one weekend this year, and that was at Philip Island, at the beginning of the year. Sykes is still odds on favourite for the title.
Chaz Davies is quietly getting the Panigale good results behind the big fights for the podium, and this weekend was no different. With his teammate Davide Giugliano once again self-destructing in race one and suffering from a technical issue in race two, Davies one again was the top Ducati man, and Melandri removing Baz from the podium left third place open for Davies to get another podium. While Giugliano's style may be more entertaining, Davies is the one racking up miles and points.
Third place in the championship, Jonathan Rea once again scored more points than his bike deserved, reverting to the older, less powerful engine to do so. Rea isn't really in the running for the title, with his bike being the most limiting factor, and his third place is under serious threat from an awakened Marco Melandri, but there is no disguising the fact that he has ridden around the limitations of a rather crappy bike with a solid team helping it look less crappy. As always, rumours of a GP Honda rear their head this time of year for Rea, rewarding his almost self-abusive loyalty to the marque, but for once, they are flavoured with a hint of Kawasaki. Leon Haslam also struggled, ending the races in his usual seventh and eight positions.
Eugene Laverty, along with Rea and, for once, Baz, is also rumoured to be in with a chance of a GP ride, but as with all rumours, the number of riders moving to GPs is always larger than the number of actual bikes available. Laverty at Jerez is supposed to be a show worth the ticket price alone, but the Suzuki just isn't the bike on which to shine, more so than the Honda. Alex Lowes, his teammate, made an excellent start in the first race, but it wasn't maintainable. Still, you're supposed to get all your stupid errors out in your rookie year, and as such, it's hard to blame him.
In World Supersport, the title chase is done and dusted. Michael van der Mark pulled it off in a race that will go down as one of the hardest-fought Supersport racers of recent years. We have had many two-way fights, usually involving Kenan Sofuoglu, over the years, but this was a three-way scrap between all three title-contenders that, for eleven laps, looked like the flashy violent bit at the end of a Mexican stand-off. In a phone box. With knives.
Van der Mark is the second-youngest World Supersport champion, behind Chris Vermuelen and is the first Dutch road race champion in forty years, and it is loudly rumoured that he will be vaulting up to World Superbike next year on the bike that Rea leaves, but, as with all rumours, none of this is certain.
Jules Cluzel's crash that ended his title hopes and handed Florian Marino second place in the title chase was an unjust end to the race, but that pace, that close, was bound to have consequences. Cluzel and Marino's fight for second place, along with Sofuoglu's redemption, will give us something to watch in the last two rounds, but we will be doing so knowing we have a worthy champion.