SBK: Portuguese Round, Preview – World Superbike, World Supersport, SSK1000, SSK600
Popular Portuguese holiday destination the Algarve debuted on the eni FIM Superbike World Championship calendar at the end of 2008, shortly after the circuit inauguration. Nowadays, it can be found in the middle of the season: in this case, very much in the middle as, after Race 1 in Portugal this weekend, the 26-race campaign of 2015 will meet its halfway point.
Troy Bayliss was the first rider to stamp his name on the new venue seven years ago, dominating 2008 proceedings on what was his swansong weekend before retiring. That same weekend featuring a stunning World Superbike debut for Jonathan Rea, who qualified on the front row on a Honda and finished Race 1 in fourth position after switching from World Supersport.
This time, Rea heads to Portimao as a convincing championship leader. Eight wins and four second places from 12 races leave the Northern Irishman with an advantage of 101 and 102 points over Leon Haslam (Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils) and Kawasaki Racing Team partner Tom Sykes, with his current teammate having finally opened his winning account with a third consecutive Donington Park double last time out.
Incidentally, Sykes is a two-time winner at Portimao, having triumphed in the soaking wet first race of 2012 and the dry opening encounter of last year. Rea won the second 2014 race on a Honda, making the most of difficult conditions as Aprilia riders Sylvain Guintoli and Marco Melandri collided while chasing and catching.
With three Portimao podiums to his name, including one as a wildcard rider in 2008, Leon Haslam has traditionally seen the track as one of his stronger venues. That said, this year could be more of a challenge as Haslam has confirmed that he is still feeling the effects of the three cracked ribs from his Imola crash earlier this season. Team-mate Jordi Torres will not need to learn a new circuit on this occasion, as he tested in Portugal in January, although that particular test was blighter by inclement weather and so dry running will be a venture into the unknown.
As for the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati Superbike Team, both Davide Giugliano and Chaz Davies finished on the podium in 2014’s second race in the aftermath of the Guintoli-Melandri coming together. The Welshman was in contention for a rostrum finish also in the previous encounter, before coming together with Leon Haslam at turn 5.
Reigning World Champion Guintoli, now with the Pata Honda World Superbike Team, holds positive memories on the Algarve. He has finished on the rostrum there on no less than five occasions. Team-mate Michael van der Mark went well there in the junior ranks, with Superstock 600 successes in 2011 and 2012 prior to setting fastest race lap en route to victory and the title in the World Supersport Championship last year.
Voltcom Crescent Suzuki has not enjoyed such pleasant times at Portimao, with its best results there being a couple of seventh places for Eugene Laverty last season. They continue to strive to most closer to the front, with the improvement in pace confirmed by Alex Lowes’ two sixth places at his home round two weekends ago.
Elsewhere, Althea Racing’s Matteo Baiocco has been celebrating off-track as he became a new father less than two weeks ago, while team-mate Nico Terol is looking to bounce back from a frightening highside in England from which he was able to escape unharmed. Others – such as BMW Motorrad Italia’s Ayrton Badovini and MV Agusta Reparto Corse’s Leon Camier, showed much promise at Donington and are now looking to string together more consistent results.
The first World Superbike track action at the Nilox Portuguese Round will come in the form of Free Practice 1, which commences at 11:15 local time (GMT +1) on Friday.
Jules Cluzel may now be running second in the title chase, but has time run out for Kenan Sofuoglu’s rivals? With six races still to go and no less than 150 World Supersport Championship points still up for grabs, the battle is far from over, but it is certain that the championship winner of 2007, 2010 and 2012 must be beaten consistently in order to be prevented from clinching the crown for a fourth time.
Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) saw his season start in difficult fashion, nudged off the track at Phillip Island before recovering to sixth position. He grabbed second place in Thailand at the last corner and, since then, has rocked up an impressive run of four straight victories while chief rival Cluzel (MV Agusta Reparto Corse), with whom he fought so hard at Assen, continues to feel the effects of costly engine failures at Buriram and Aragon.
Last time out, British wildcard riders wrote the headlines for the journalists as the likes of Luke Stapleford, Sam Hornsey, and Andy Reid all impressed with top ten finishes on home turf at Donington Park. But it was Kyle Ryde who set the world alight, qualifying on the front row before finishing on the podium after battling with the front-runners. The 17-year-old now concentrates on his British Supersport title attack, but has been advised by Sofuoglu to move across to the World Championship as soon as possible.
Heading to Portimao, which debuted on the calendar in 2008 when Josh Brookes won from Andrew Pitt and Jonathan Rea, the fact that the Kawasaki Puccetti Racing riders have scored only seven more points than those of MV Agusta Reparto Corse proves how close things are at the front, while others have different objectives.
Elsewhere, Pata Honda World Supersport Team’s Kyle Smith will undergo a medical check early in the Portugal weekend, having crashed out of the Donington race at McLeans corner, while CIA Landlords Insurance Honda rider Kieran Clarke is on the sidelines following a heavy crash during a post-race track day at Donington. As he continues his recovery – having been hospitalised – the British rider’s place is taken by Portugal’s own Miguel Praia, who returns to the series and will make his 80th World Supersport race start just a short trip down the motorway from his hometown of Albufeira.
Honda may have scored points in the last 200 World Supersport races, but all of the focus will be on the leading Kawasaki and MV riders as the title battle intensifies…
The fourth round of the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup sees the start of the second half of the season for 2015. From the first half, Italy’s Lorenzo Savadori (Nuova M2 Racing and last year’s runner-up) has collected 95 of the maximum 100 points on offer, with arguably his only faux pas being the final lap loss of the lead in the Aragon season-opener.
Since moving to the top of the standings at Assen, Savadori’s cup-leading advantage has increased gradually from 12, to 25 and now to 30 points, first over Raffaele de Rosa (Althea Racing Ducati) and now Roberto Tamburini (Team MotoxRacing BMW). Tamburini is the only rider other than Savadori to have won a race, missing out on the rostrum only at Assen due to a costly rider error. De Rosa has been less fortunate, slipping to fifth in the standings with two podiums to his name, but with the non-scoring Imola race being anything but his own fault.
Third overall is now Triple-M by Barni’s Ondrej Jezek (two podiums plus further fourth and fifth place finishes) from MRS Yamaha’s Kev Coghlan, having scored just one podium but 50 points thanks to noteworthy consistency. With word continuing to strength that Yamaha will be back in World Superbike next year, the Scot could be in the running for a seat.
Last year in Portugal, Savadori completed a wonderful weekend with victory from pole position, joined in Parc Ferme by Frenchman Matthieu Lussiana and South African David McFadden. With Savadori’s lead already greater than the number of points scored for a race win, his rivals must ensure a repeat Portimao victory does not take place…
If Jonathan Rea’s start to the World Superbike season has been mighty impressive, Toprak Razgatlioglu’s dominance of the FIM Europe Superstock 600 Championship has been nothing other than unprecedented. The dazzling Turkish talent, just 18 years of age, holds a 100% win record dating back to Magny-Cours at the end of 2014.
As the Superstock 600 season consists of just eight races, Toprak’s utter supremacy with Kawasaki Puccetti Racing – mentored by three-time World Supersport Champion Kenan Sofuoglu – leaves him in a position to clinch the title at Portimao this weekend, with another three races still to go. It may require a certain set of circumstances, but it could happen.
Elsewhere, there are some changes to the line-up. Former Grand Prix racer Toni Finsterbusch of Germany will race in Portugal, substituting for Ilya Mikhalchik at Team Go Eleven. Another former GP racer, Bryan Schouten from The Netherlands, is covering for Gauthier Duwelz at MVR-Racing. Anthony Dumont is out of action, with his place at Agro-On WILsport Racedays being taken by Great Britain’s Josh Harland. On top of this, two Italian wildcards will competing, armed with Yamaha YZR R6 machinery: Vincenzo Lagonigro with the FELICIA BIO team, plus Rodolfo Oliva who enters with Team MotoxRacing.