After Round One in Australia left mouths agape across the motorcycling world, focus in the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship now shifts over to Chang International Circuit and the Pirelli Thai Round, World Superbike’s fifth trip to the south-east Asian nation. Tropical heat, rapturous fans and stellar racing are on the menu this weekend, a triple treat to match the mouthwatering three WorldSBK races that will take place around the 4.554km track.
At least one man will land in Buriram, the ‘City of Happiness’, with a grin on his face. Álvaro Bautista’s (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) hat-trick of triumphs Down Under raised as many new questions as it answered. The Spaniard was incredibly ruthless in Race 1 and Race 2, winning both full-length races by double figure gaps – as well as emerging victorious from a bruising Tissot Superpole Race battle with Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK). No one expected such sheer domination, with the Ducati rider only really showing his hand once the lights went out. So, all bets are off in Buriram, a venue Bautista is nonetheless much less acquainted with than Phillip Island having only raced there once before. Can Bautista re-create that debut magic in Thailand?
After such a scorching performance, the Spaniard will have a target on his back – and Rea himself taking aim. These are uncharted waters for the reigning world champion, who was in damage limitation mode throughout the entire weekend in Australia. From that perspective, it was a fantastic round for Rea, with three runner-up spots keeping him only 13 points below the new championship leader (in 2018 he sat 19 behind after Round 1). But rest assured that the Northern Irishman will not be satisfied with remaining best of the rest for another round. Chang International Circuit is a happy hunting ground for the 31-year-old – his results there since 2015 read 1st-1st, 1st-2nd, 1st-1st, 1st-4th – and Rea will be out to make a statement of his own. There is perhaps no one more capable of rising to the challenge than the Champion.
Australia was a mixed bag for the other men in green and red. Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) showed anything but complacency in a phenomenal Race 2 duel with Rea, yet a tumble in the opening race left him with a bittersweet taste leaving Victoria. Haslam’s adaptation to the ZX-10RR has been nearly flawless and the Englishman will be eager to prove it again in Buriram, where he picked up two second-place finishes in 2015.
Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) meanwhile made significant gains in the last of the opening races, making it to seventh after a tough week on the timing sheets. The Welshman knows not to put too much weight in any Australian results – he no-scored in his 2011, WorldSSP title-winning campaign, then missed out both races in 2012 due to a broken wrist and has often struggled since. His season starts anew in Thailand, the scene of his penultimate win in WorldSBK.
And what about Yamaha? At Phillip Island, four YZF-R1s lined up on the grid. Three finished inside the top six in every race; all four inside the top eight. The key to success is consistency and both Pata Yamaha and top independent team GRT Yamaha seem to have it in spades. The latter can even boast the leading Yamaha in the championship standings, as Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) sits level with Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) and one point clear of Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team). All three have scored podiums at Chang International Circuit in the past two seasons and are ready to tussle again – with rookie Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) closing the gap after a hugely impressive WorldSBK debut.
BMW Motorrad meanwhile roll into South East Asia after an eye-catching return to WorldSBK. Sunday struggles in Australia for Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) might have slightly dampened the mood but the new S1000 RR’s potential – aided by the 2013 World Champion’s world-class talents – was on display all weekend. Controlling an already solid package, don’t be surprised if the swift Yorkshireman or Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) have saved some tricks up the sleeves of their white leathers.
Lessons will have also been learned inside the Moriwaki Althea Honda Team after an intriguing week on the Island. Leon Camier and Ryuichi Kiyonari started testing on the Monday without a reference point and finished Sunday inside the points, the former even breaking into the top 10. Further steps forward should be taken under the Thai sun.
The Destination of Speed awaits from 15th-17th March, as the second round of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship gets underway! Catch the first of three exciting races from 16:00 local time (GMT+7).
The FIM Supersport World Championship moves on with great pace into one of the most atmospheric rounds on the calendar: the Pirelli Thai Round. Year after year, battles take place right the way through the grid in WorldSSP, making it one of the best rounds for rivalries to flourish, evolve and blossom and for records to be shattered.
In 2019, it is Randy Krummenacher (BARDAHL Evan Bros. WorldSSP Team) who leads the way on his Yamaha YZF R6. The Swiss rider has a fantastic record at the Chang International Circuit, scoring points in every year he has raced there. Starting with fourth in 2016, he returned to WorldSSP last season and won onboard the same Yamaha he competes with now. Should he win the WorldSSP race on Sunday, he will become the first Swiss rider in the history of the WorldSSP and WorldSBK paddocks to achieve back-to-back wins. Records hang in the balance for Krummenacher.
Jules Cluzel (GMT94 YAMAHA) has a mixed record at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram. The Frenchman has secured one win in 2016 but apart from that, has retired from all three other races in Thailand Cluzel has had two pole positions at the circuit and a fastest lap, so he could be a threat come race day, especially having led for 31 laps over the course of the four seasons in Thailand. The 30-year-old is scheduled to start his 71st WorldSSP race on Sunday.
Federico Caricasulo (BARDAHL Evan Bros. WorldSSP Team) is a WorldSSP winner at the Chang International Circuit, after a phenomenal battle in 2017 with local hero, Decha Kraisart. On the podium last year with a second place, the Italian hopes to return to the podium for a third consecutive season in Thailand. Having been robbed of battling his championship-leading teammate at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, Caricasulo will almost certainly want to take the battle to him around the 4.554km track. Can Caricasulo capture and overcome Krummenacher and Cluzel this time?
Hector Barbera (Team Toth by Willirace) made a solid start to his 2019 WorldSSP season, with a fourth place at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. However, the Spaniard knew that circuit well and now comes to a track which he has never competed at – one of just two circuits that he will experience for the first time with the WorldSSP championship. Barbera will hope to carry on his trend of improving race results in every WorldSSP race, and in doing so, achieve his first World Supersport podium. Is he a contender in Buriram?
Austrian Thomas Gradinger (Kallio Racing) started his season with a fifth position in Australia, a better start than last year. Gradinger was 11th at the Chang International Circuit in 2018 so will look to improve on that this weekend. Gradinger is looking to become the first Austrian rider ever to finish five consecutive WorldSSP races inside the top five and, the first Austrian rider ever to mount the podium in a WorldSSP race.
Completing the top six is Japanese rider, Hikari Okubo (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing), who had his joint best result of his WorldSSP career in Australia. With his only other sixth place coming at the Chang International Circuit in 2017, the Thai circuit looks sure to be a venue where Okubo will seek to achieve his best World Supersport finish to date. The last Japanese WorldSSP podium came in 2007 with Katsuaki Fujiwara at Silverstone (3rd). Will Thailand see the end of this long wait?
Other riders to keep an eye on include the 2017 WorldSSP Champion, Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing), who achieved pole position and second place last season. Corentin Perolari (GMT94 Yamaha) will seek to continue his good start, whilst Peter Sebestyen (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda), teammate Jules Danilo and Loris Cresson (Kallio Racing) will all fight it out for the remaining top ten positions.
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