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.