2014 Qatar World Superbike Weekend Roundup: Done And Dusted

The last World Superbike race of a season is done, and with it, the season is over. The cloud of team orders hung over the overnight races, and tensions rose over orders refused.

Sylvain Guintoli is the 2014 World Superbike champion, the first Frenchman since Raymond Roche in 1990 to win the title. Guintoli won by six points in a title decided at the last race of the year, not unlike a large number of World Superbike championships, and took the title with his first ever double win, bringing his tally of wins to five for the year, and just nine in his five year career as a full-time rider. Guintoli's defining trait has been brilliant consistency and perseverance, finishing on the podium in two thirds of the year's races and never lower than ninth in the other third, in place of outright race-winning speed. But it was sheer speed that won him both races this weekend and thus the title.

The question of whether or not team orders are actually orders or merely suggestions has been well and truly been put to bed, with Loris Baz wilfully ignoring the team's request to drop back a place, a decision that could have determined the way Tom Sykes rode in the second race. Had he been gifted those four extra points, might he have not settled for third behind Rea? Sykes took to Twitter this morning to make it clear he was not happy about Baz's behaviour and blamed his actions in Sepang for the loss of the title and necessity of team orders. Baz, fifth place in the championship and off to MotoGP next year, didn't seem too concerned.

Aprilia helped their rider in a different way, by giving them both a last-ditch engine that benefitted from the year's development and knowing that it only had to last one race weekend. The bikes were geared appropriately and both factory riders topped out at over 320kmh. Down the front straight, Sylvain Guintoli and Marco Melandri were visibly faster than anyone else, more than making up, in Guintoli's case at least, for any areas where their bike was slower. This paid off with a world championship title for Guintoli, but not for Melandri, whose eight and fourth places, were a return to a lesser form he has not shown since before the Sepang races at the end of the first half of the season. He lost third place in the championship to Jonathan Rea by just one point. Also, with Aprilia leaving the championship and handing Honda the number one plate for next year, Ten Kate Honda signing Guintoli to take the place left vacant by Rea, that's a bitter pill to swallow.

Kawasaki finally announced that Jonathan Rea, with Pere Riba as crew chief, will be riding for Kawasaki in place of Baz next year. Tom Sykes will go from having an unfriendly teammate to one determined to usurp him as the number one rider. Jonathan Rea demonstrated all year that he wanted to be fighting for a title and, if Honda wouldn't give him a bike with which to do it, he would finally end his fealty to Honda and switch to a bike with which he can fight for the title.

In spite of qualifying in pole position in the hands of Davide Giugliano, the Ducatis of Giugliano and Chaz Davies never managed to get to the battles at the front of the races, both riders taking part on the second groups fighting for fifth place in the first race and fourth in the second. The Panigale has finished another World Superbike championship year without a victory. Giugliano demonstrated how the bike could be ridden, handing over his fate to electronics, with a faith that didn't seem altogether sensible sometimes, even if it got him two pole positions, two podiums and eight place in the championship, while Chaz Davies took a more measured approach and earned four podiums and sixth place in the championship. Both riders are riding together in the same team next year, trying once more to capture that elusive win.

Leon Haslam was seventh in the championship, only finishing better than sixth once all year, with a third place. While his teammate Jonathan Rea was doing the impossible with the old Fireblade, Haslam reminded everyone that it was actually not that good a bike. Only one DNF all year, and a third place, assured that he ended the year with six points more than Davide Giugliano, but that wasn't enough for him to keep his ride, with World Supersport champion Michael van der Mark being promoted to the Ten Kate Honda team in his stead.

Suzuki had a difficult year, in spite of bagging last year's second-placed rider Eugene Laverty and British Superbike champion Alex Lowes. Apart from rare moments of brilliance, including the opening victory of the year that surprised not only Suzuki but Laverty himself. Lowes managed one second place and they both got a third and a fourth, but that was it for good results. This weekend's no-better-than-ninth results for both riders capped a disappointing season for the Japanese team. Eugene Laverty heads off to MotoGP next year, leaving Lowes to try to do better with a new teammate.

Tony Elias on the third Aprilia did what Elias does at the end of a year without a ride, he reminded everyone he could ride. A pair of sixth places will serve as a good advert for the Spaniard.

In 2015, there will be no EVO class, but the series did what it was supposed to and fill the grid. Last year's numbers were poor and the cost-saving drive refilled the grid. EVO was supposed to be what all bikes in 2015 were, but resistance from the factories brought a compromise. David Salom will be the only ever EVO champion and he was crowned after race one after finishing behind Niccolo Canepa. He beat Canepa in race two.

World Supersport was a relatively sedate affair at the front, even if the pace was relentless, as a pair of Hondas ran away at the front. Kenan Sofuoglu, the most successful active Supersport rider continued his poor pace, not able to get any sort of performance since the Mahi team folded, putting him in the San Carlo team, a relationship that has netted him thirteenth place, a DNF and eighth place, far from his usual top-four performances when with Mahi. That Roberto Rolfo was the fastest Kawasaki, taking seventh place in the championship from the Turkish rider in the process, shows that something stopped working. Florian Marino and PJ Jacobsen, the other fast Kawasaki men, finished eleventh and twelfth, behind Hondas, Yamahas and MV Agustas.

Jules Cluzel showed the determination required of a future champion, making the MV Agusta truly competitive all year and showing that he knew how to make the most of it, and in return, the bike rewarded him with stability and allowed him to seem to have more lean angle grip than any other bike on the track, making up for the idiosyncrasies of a 675 triple by giving him something he could trust not to spit him off too often. This weekend, dicing with two fast Yamahas, his third place was enough for him to secure the lap record on the last lap and second place in the championship.

Kev Coghlan in fourth was given a teammate in the form of French Supersport champion Lucas Mahias who Coghlan managed to keep behind him at the flag. Mahias finished his first race without a win all year having DNFed at Magny Cours but having won every single French Supersport race of 2014.

The weekend and the championship ended under a Qatar moon, with Sylvain Guintoli elated and Tom Sykes resigned to just not having the pace to catch Guintoli, but the morning after, the first day Loris Baz wasn't a Kawasaki rider, the mask slipped, like it did in Sepang. That Sykes would resent a Frenchman was no surprise, but that it would be Baz was interesting. Winter will be short, and 2015 is coming.

Round Number: 
12
2014
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Comments

Why? He's young, full of confidence, speed-wise he got to the top of SBK in two and a half years, and he's jumping on a bike that is more of a sure bet than an Aprilia or a Suzuki, or even an open Honda.
To me the question is how he will adapt to the Bridgestone tires for 2015. But I wouldn't be surprise with a few quick lap times on the soft tires, when he starts understanding how they work! Worst-case scenario, he just has to keep a ride for 2016 and wait for Michelin to take over. And in that regard having a french passport may help, for once.
So actually I can imagine quite a bright future for him. Maybe there's a bit of that too in Sykes' bitterness...

Anyway good season recap' Mr.Earle!

We are sponsors of Kawasaki. I was at Losail this weekend, and spent much of the time inside the Kawi garage. I am a fan of both Loris Baz and Tom Sykes. Loris is a very likeable young firecracker - humorous and fast, always great with the fans. He had a great season, batting well above what anyone expected. Tom is a brilliant rider and Kawasaki owes a lot of its recent success in racing to him.

With that out of the way, I can say that rarely in my experience has there been a more clear-cut case for a team order than the circumstances in race 1. The championship was at stake, everything that Kawasaki had worked for so hard was on the line. The top bosses from Kawasaki were present (not that this motivation was needed but always good to please your sponsor!)

Aprilia pulled out an engine that simply Tom couldn't catch down the long Losail straight. After race one, I joked to the Kawi crew that they ought to have scrutineering check the bike for hidden rockets...

This isn't a personal matter. It isn't a case of Tom wasn't good enough to beat him on his own merit. This was a very clear case of damage limitation and how to protect a 12 point lead over the next two races, in which Sylvain had a technical advantage and of course the great skill and motivation to capitalise on. The team needed to mitigate against the very real possibility of Guintoli winning both races. Tom had to be second on both to retain his title. Like any sport, tactics play a huge part.

Tom could easily have had second on the first race had but Loris backed off the throttle a tiny bit and let him pass. This was not an unreasonable demand and this was good for the team that had given the opportunity to a relatively unknown French rider to shine all year.

But even more to the point, orders are orders, and Loris had no right to disobey. Personal feelings, past animosities, grudges, etc have to be put aside and he needed to behave like a professional. He is part of a team and teams play together or lose. It doesn't matter if the team is an army squad, a business unit or even a group of people putting together tours to World SBK rounds! We all depend on each other.

And whatever you or I may think about "team orders" and their place in racing, and whatever debates take place over this or past indiscretions between riders; the simple fact is that if your boss gives you an instruction, you follow it. The atmosphere in the garage at the end of the night was awkward to say the least. Everyone was being very professional about the matter, but clearly a majority underlying thought was "what if"... Top marks to a team gracious in unexpected defeat.

To repeat my comment above: this is not a personal comment about Loris - who I like a lot and look forward to seeing him in the MotoGP paddock. He is young, and like anyone in their chosen profession, needs to mature and learn. This should be a very important lesson for him.

A further comment on the subsequent "social media war": this has done neither participant any good. Tom should have left it at a completely unemotional level ("You were given an order which you didn't obey, and in thus doing you let down both me and the team") and Loris should know he is fighting a losing battle here and stayed quiet, not raising to the bait or even issuing a moderating statement of regret to the team. I have often commented that social media gives us a brilliant platform to really foul up your PR -- a lesson in this sport that not just Tom and Loris need to learn!

At the end of the day however, well done to Sylvain and Aprilia. Even if circumstances outwith their control assisted Guintoli to the championship, they still had to be there in the first place to capitalise on the situation!

You gotta love this sport! :-)

But, I disagree on one thing. Us watching here on our TV really dislike team orders, and we were cheering for Baz not to back down. That isn't because we don't like Tom, it's just that this is the rider's championship, not the manufacturer's.

We didn't like it at Magny Cours either and we are pleased that thanks to Baz and Melandri both only giving way once and disobeying once; we have a fair result. It doesn't do Tom or Silvain any credit to have their WC manipulated, and Sylvain looked positively embarrassed at Magny Cours after R1, Melandri was clearly the faster man on the day, and to beat Guinters in the wet, is quite an achievement.

Totally agree about the Twitter spat, although it is very entertaining for the rest of us!

Can I say how grateful we are that Kawasaki have TWO great riders next year, and please, no team orders, best man wins.

...with disobedient employees, and fire him.

And isn't this forum a form of social media? So who are you, and why are you fighting this battle here?

Good luck getting Mr. Rea to let Mr. Sykes past next year.

Would Jonathan Rea let his teammate pass if the team manager asked? If his teammate had a championship on the line and Rea didn't... I believe he would. Rea has a lot of respect for Ron Ten Kate (http://www.superbikeplanet.com/2014/Nov/141104mn.htm) and will probably treat his new team boss with respect, too.

Of course that's pure speculation. We'll probably never know for certain and we can agree to disagree. But... here's a more likely scenario (in My Humble OpinionTM): What if Jon Rea is in a position to win the championship next year and Tom Sykes isn't? Will Sykes follow team orders to let Rea pass if necessary? It will be difficult for him to say no at this point, won't it? Food for thought!

I wouldn't insist too much on the "technical advantage", as an in-form Melandri with an even faster bike (he's lighter) finished ten seconds behind his team mate in both races...

Was Marco Melandri's bike nobbled for Losail round?
Was the frame or swingarm used earlier in the year used At Losail?
Was this done for disobeying team orders, re: Magny Cours race 2?
Why was he not as fast as Guintoli, seeing he blew him away at Sepang, which is a similar style of track as Losail?

I very much doubt Melandri's bike was nobbled as Sylvain couldn't win the title without a wingman. If Guintoli won both races with Tom in second, it wouldn't matter because Sykes would still be crowned.

Aprilia needed Tom to get third place in both races and they gave their riders the tools with which to make this happen. Melandri didn't do his part, but luckily for Aprilia, Rea and Baz did it instead.

So Melandri just had a bad Sunday? The quickest test is to see if his and Guintoli's speeds down the straights are close together. Not saying Melandri's bike was de-tuned as punishment or strategy, but at the same time I wonder why he was simply not there for both races. Maybe he just doesn't get on with the night setting?

Marcos pre race comment mentioned how he was looking forward to continuing his streak and helping Aprilia win the Manufacturers title. That was a pretty open admittance that he wasn't going to help Ginters if asked. I can see Aprilia making a few "adjustments" to ensure he couldn't maintain the pace over race distance. Or simply ensuring that only Ginters got the new engine spec for the race.

My understanding was the Guinters still had a new engine available for the race. I wonder how the engine management varied on either side of the garage.

Fastest lap & Top Speed
Race 1:
Guintoli - 1:58.388 - 323.4kmh - 12 laps in the 1:58s - 1 lap faster than Melandri's fastest lap
Melandri - 1:58.626 - 326.3kmh - 7 laps in the 1:58s

Race 2:
Guintoli - 1:57.906 - 324.3kmh - 12 laps in 1:58s, 2 laps in 1:57s - 6 laps faster than Melandri's fastest lap
Melandri - 1:58.372 - 327.3kmh - 8 laps in the 1:58s

If Loris had team orders in his contract and he breached that, then yes, this would be serious. However, if his contract didn't state that the team get to decide where he finishes, he has to also honour his contracts with personal sponsors who expect him to do his best. 

Without seeing his contracts, I'm not going to take sides. smiley

First, speaking for the readership I/we appreciate a real insider's perspective, but with all do respect, I believe your insider's perspective is blinding you to the much bigger picture....the integrity of the sport.

It is hubris to believe that either you or Kawasaki is the true employer of a rider. Personal sponsorships aside, WE the ticket buying public are the "employers" of your company, Kawasaki, DORNA the track owners & everyone down the line to the janitor in the restrooms & as the boss, we demand that the racers RACE to their utmost abilities & the teams give them the best equipment or we'll show our (dis)approval with our wallets.

This whole enterprise exists solely on the fickle whims & remaining in the good graces of the motorcycling community. If this bond is shattered by the putrid stench of cheating..yes CHEATING, the whole house of cards falls.

If behavior like this comes to light the whole sport will engender the same level of respect as professional wrestling or politics (redundant?).

And as to Sylvan's technical advantage..sour grapes, they just came more prepared.

I have said on here that I believe team orders make sense. However, I was SO pleased for Sylvain, and I agree with Swiftnick that it was the riders championship, not the manufacturers. I guess I have mixed feelings around this subject depending on who I like!
Tom's mistakes have been made on social media and in the 'box' this year. He has ridden really well and I thought that he was a shoe-in for the championship in the first half of the year. Sepang seemed to change a few things - the strength of his complaints against Baz surprised me and, whilst Baz was in the wrong (and Haslam seemed nearly as annoyed in Losail's Race 2), it was just a mistake. Perhaps a friendlier, more mature and forgiving approach could have changed both their relationship and the season outcomes.
Lorenzo/Rossi versions 1 and 2 show how much better it can be for everyone.
Rea is a nice enough teammate to have and Tom should work harder to be a team player, not the 'do as I say' boss he has been this year. His immaturity shot does him no favours. Out-psyching your competitors doesn't mean you have to be like Fogarty was.
I have swung against team orders through this, and believe that it might only be justified in the last race. Even then, I'm sure Sylvain is a lot happier over his win due to the manner of it, rather than being helped. For me, the team orders balanced themselves out and he is a deserving champion as well as a good ambassador for the type of championship and attitude many of us like to see.

Just to follow on from my previous post. I agree with most of what has been said, and I am not alone in the paddock thinking Tom is a victim of the "what goes around..." syndrome. Indeed this exact phrase was used by several people I spoke with. Tom has done himself no favours over his injudicious comments (I cringed when I watched the Sepang press conference...) over various media.

However, the hard nut here is that in racing, as in other endeavours of life, you need to put aside your emotions and behave professionally.

Jared - I am not sure about the contract point -- I have been involved in a couple of riders' contracts and frankly have never heard of a clause one way or the other on this issue. I concede you are likely to have more experience on this matter. Although I accept that there might be some over-riding term that we are unaware of, the general rule in any contract would seem to apply: You respect the instructions of your boss!

(Indeed one team manager I spoke to -- not related to anyone in this story -- commented he would have sacked Loris on the spot)

On the matter of "Riders Championship": in fact this is both a rider and manufacturer championship. Aprilia took it this year... And while you and I may be more focussed on the riders, the two top Kawasaki executives standing next to me in the garage in race 2 were certainly disappointed that they didn't take the title! (mitigated by their joy in winning the EVO class!)

Melandri? We were all puzzled over this -- it would seem he would try harder to defend his 3rd place. But personally I have to comment that we are delighted to see Johnny take it - and not just because he is joining Kawasaki next year. A brilliant chap.

And setting aside our support of Kawasaki, I have to say Sylvain is a brilliant and deserving champion, and agree very much with your final comment that he is a great ambassador.

2015 will be a very interesting year!

-gordon

,

I can understand the fans' dislike of team orders, but I can see the perspective of the team owners, too, and they're the ones doing the hiring (yes, riders have personal sponsors, but the teams are the ones who decide if they have a job or not!)

And like the team owner you heard about, I would at least have not let Baz ride in race 2. If he's not going to help his teammate why should I waste my money? (In tires and fuel and risk the expense of a possible crash.)

"I'd rather get second than win through my teammate gifting me a spot" is a noble cry as far as the fans are concerned. But if I were a team owner I wouldn't hire someone with that attitude.

Seeing as how there are lots of riders who need to bring money to get a ride....

If that's the case with Baz, where he's bringing a bag full of cash to get the ride, then I'd say he's the boss.

Does anyone know if Baz was paying to ride, or being paid?

The boss is the guy who runs the team and decides if you're on the team. He's the "employer" on the contract you sign, whether you're paying for the ride or not.

But, when I pay for something, I expect to have some say in the matter.

When you go to a store, pick out your goods, and pay for them, wouldn't you be a bit put off if the store took half the stuff out of your basket and replaced it with other stuff, or didn't replace it at all?

We don't know whether Baz was being paid, riding for free, or paying for the whole bloody thing.

That makes quite a bit of difference as to who 'The Boss' is.

First of all this post is not aimed at Mr. cb750wtf and neither is it aimed at any particular person who posts here. I chose this post to put my post as a reply because reading the comments on this thread has brought out any irony that is striking. When Valentino Rossi won a race and I put a post about how I stopped being his fan because of his past misdeeds such as demanding number one status, putting up a wall etc, there were quite a few who came out in support of Rossi and said things such as "one should consider how much pressure a rider is because of the sponsors, because of the team managers and also because of the factory etc. etc". Very few seemed to have appreciated at that time that fans pay to see riders race and not to see races settled in garages even before the season began. So when big ticket riders are found doing horrid things, there doesn't seem to be an indignation of the sort that I see in this thread. Tom Sykes is no Valentino Rossi and hence does not have the halo nor the fan base. What makes it better for the morally upright is that this is just WSBK and not MotoGP. So we can now be objective and demand that as fans we want pure racing.

Again the disclaimer; comment made in general and not aimed at anyone person or Mr. cb750wtf. Posted here, because it seemed like an appropriate place to say what I wanted to say.

...Tom Sykes and his little Twittrum, this is about the idea that it's ok to try to manipulate the outcome of a race realtime, because you think your money means you deserve the outcome you want more than the fans money means they deserve a real race.

History of races is full of politics and fights behind the scenes between teams, see e.g. Senna Vs. Prost or even today Hamilton Vs. Rosberg.

Both Guintoli and Sykes were slower than their teamate, both embarassed to have to hope for support and even more embarassed not to get it (Guintoli obviously in the previous race at Le Mans).

Not sure why you mention it again anod not sure what is the link with this case...anyway, back on VR46 Vs. JL99. VR46 did what he tought was best to beat or anyway upset his young competitor, as simple as that. He wanted to win at all costs, like they very often do.

Like it or not, these are not nice guys, they are self centered, full ego, win-or-die, no compromise riders. If you want a nice guy go look somewhere else.

Oh absolutely, you do have a say when you pay for something. That's what a contract is for. If what's in the contract isn't worth what you're paying you don't sign and both parties walk away happy.

Gordon, I too agree that 2015 has the potential to be interesting, especially for anyone involved with Kawasaki. It will be fascinating to see what Rea can do on a title-ready bike. 

Bike racers appear to be driven by a fundamentally juvenile "I must be first" impulse - and the world rewards them for success in their vocation. Most of us would prefer to have a friend or colleague who doesn't need to hog the limelight all the time - somebody who possesses sufficient self-confidence to make a small sacrifice so that crucial but neglected support staff can taste success.
That said - I was pretty content with the championship result. Just my opinion, but I find the Superbike crew far more human, and the racing far more entertaining than the MotoGP circus. Here we had on one side a Japanese industrial giant, a screaming in-line 4, an admirable British champion with a lovely English rose at his side. In the other pit, a Euro manufacturer, a V4 with serious grunt, a French rider and another English beauty tearfully urging him on.
I'm a bit of a romantic - it was the tears that did for me. Congratulations to Sylvain, Caroline and the entire Aprilia team, but 'bon chance' to all of them. Have a good winter.

Speaking of 2015 ... has anyone else been paying attention to the new sportbike intros out of EICMA? Jesus! No wonder the manufacturers couldn't give two turds about racing bikes with no electronics, and no wonder WSBK is encouraging electronic rider aid development.

If MotoGP regs get any tighter, not only will the bikes in the parking lot be way tricker, they may actually be faster.

OK, maybe not.

Yet.

I cannot believe what you can get from Yamaha for less than $22,000 ...

"If MotoGP regs get any tighter, not only will the bikes in the parking lot be way tricker, they may actually be faster."

I think it mostly depends who's riding them.

I could hardly contain my delight (and it was tough to keep my mouth shut!) when they confirmed to me that Rea would be the second rider, and that pretty much closed the deal for us for 2015. (Not officially announced yet...) I only hope that Tom doesn't blot his copybook!

Anyhow really looking forward to the next season, with some cool new destinations (Thailand!) and loads of exciting racing! Just hope more people attend!

(To get an idea of just how poorly attended this event was, see my grandstand race 2 photo on http://galleries.polepositiontravel.com/SBK_2014/12-Qatar.html )