The rain made for a challenging set of races today, with attrition and setup playing a large part in today's races, but mostly, they'll be remembered for one symbol:
Team orders are motorsport's ugly secret and World Superbike has survived without any real scandals. There was shock when Michel Fabrizio didn't let his teammate Noriyuki Haga win the second race in the 2009 round at Imola, with only two rounds to go. Fabrizio also won the last race while Haga was second in both and lost the title to Ben Spies by six points. There was then Eugene Laverty allegedly conceding a place to Max Biaggi in 2012, a move that some thought preposterous because of the reputation of World Superbike. And then, there was today.
Marco Melandri rode a typical Melandri race, gaining speed as the race went on and his bike got lighter, catching and passing Sylvain Guintoli, who always seems stronger in the earlier parts of a race. With Guintoli in with a chance at the title, Aprilia suggested to their rider that he drop back a place. Then, the lap after, the angry face was added as the suggestion was a little stronger. Melandri eventually conceded the lead, and the victory, to Guintoli, who was able to close the gap to Tom Sykes in the title chase. This was not a subtle losing of a position like Laverty's in 2012; this was a blatant “team order”. Kawasaki followed this, whether inspired by Aprilia or off their own back, by suggesting to Loris Baz that he drop back to give Sykes his fourth place.
In race two, the same opportunity arose, with Melandri being asked politely four laps from the end, with the angry face coming out a lap later, but this is where he demonstrated that “team orders” are “team suggestions” and he refused their request, much to the obvious displeasure of his team. To concede one win was acceptable to Melandri, but two was not. He stated that he worked for Aprilia, after the first race, and knew what his job was, but after the second, he said that he couldn't give away another victory as he had the pride of his personal sponsors to think of. Aprilia's racing manager Romano Albesiano, who said “we do not like team orders” earlier this year, comically hit Melandri over the head with a cap when he returned to Parc Fermé.
Team orders are very much a part of motorsport, but today demonstrated that the ultimate choice comes down to the rider. If Melandri had let Guintoli past in both races, with pit boards telling him to do so, the question would still be open as to whether or not a rider is obligated to follow the orders, but there was no doubt today. The team made the request and Melandri saw the signs. He didn't pretend he didn't see the signs or know what he was doing, and he knew that the team wouldn't be happy with his actions. And yet, Melandri left Magny-Cours with a second place and a win. A lesser rider, with fewer job prospects, might not be in as strong a position to refuse, but today, Melandri demonstrated that maybe the term “team orders” is too strong a term for what they are. The genie is out of the bottle, but nothing has really changed.
Tom Sykes still leads the championship, but with the weather being as bad as it was, two fourth places were better than DNFs. Sykes stated that he was at his limit and that he just wasn't able to take the fight to Sylvain Guintoli. What looked like a certainly, winning the championship, will now come down to the last round and it's at Losail International Circuit, a track where the Aprilia has been tested on and one where Guintoli has raced in MotoGP while Sykes has never raced there. For the first time this year, Guintoli is staring down the barrels of a world title, with a proper chance to beat Sykes to the championship, but only, ironically, if Marco Melandri helps him.
Jonathan Rea lost both a race win and third place in the championship today, and even then, he had a good day. In race one, he finished on the podium, in third place, and in the second race, he was leading the race when he triggered the engine braking, something the team has been working hard on all year, by closing the throttle a little too much. This locked the rear wheel and sent him to the wet tarmac. His teammate Leon Haslam finished third in the second race, beating out Tom Sykes for the podium in a calculated outside manoeuvre at the 180 corner. This was his highest finish all year.
Davide Giugliano crashed in both races, but in race one, he was able to recover in fourteenth place and fight through to finish seventh. In the second race, he had no such luck, crashing out from the lead on the second lap. Giugliano is a very fast rider but his lack of consistency has consigned him to eighth place in the championship, two places behind his teammade Chaz Davies. Davies also crashed today, but only in the first race, and his performance keeps him in sixth place, having crashed out three fewer times than Giugliano this year.
Suzuki had a day to forget, leaving with no points scored. Eugene Laverty crashed in both races, but was able to nurse his bike to the pits for a technical finish in nineteenth place in the first race. Alex Lowes had two early DNFs.
The wild cards from the IDM German Superbike series, all three members of the 3C Racing team, supported by Ducati Corse, took part, but the quicker of the three, IDM champion Xavi Fores, crashed out of both races, while Max Neukirchner and Lorenzo Lanzi scored points in both races. Lanzi finished eighth and fifth while Neukirchner finished ninth and sixth.
In World Supersport, Michael van der Mark finished second, continuing his run of first or second places since his DNF in race one at Phillip Island. Jules Cluzel took second place in the championship, taking the fight for second to the last round, the first night time race for World Superbike and World Supersport. Kenan Sofuoglu's bad luck continued with him crashing out from a dominant lead.