#GBRWorldSBK Donington, weekend preview: World Superbike, World Supersport, WorldSSP300
Donington Park, a spiritual home for World Superbike if there ever was one. A land of firsts, from Carl Fogarty’s maiden win in 1992 to Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) last season and, let’s not forget, the very first MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship races in 1988. Where it all began, and where it all begins again. Because if two months ago the winner of the 2019 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship may have seemed a foregone conclusion, now we’re facing the closest title race in years, after the trials and tribulations of Álvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) in the Riviera di Rimini.
Sometimes the longest way around is the shortest way home. Since Phillip Island, Rea has jumped from second place to second place, keeping calm and steady, even when outpaced on a race-to-race basis. The head to head between him and Bautista reads 14-5 in the Spaniard’s favour, but that’s not what counts. Neither do massive winning margins, not even overall race wins (14-4 to Ducati). The one deciding factor is points and Rea is a meagre 16 behind, despite all the above.
How did we get here? Bautista cited over-confidence, track conditions and the added weight of a full fuel tank as potential explanations for his Misano, Race 2 crash, but little did that matter the moment the V4 R surrendered beneath him on lap 2, just like it had two weeks before. All the momentum that Bautista had has been lost in two flashes of the eye. One more and the championship lead will be lost too.
The gap could have been even shorter too, had it not been for van der Mark’s huge Jerez, Race 2 win; his first since that season-defining double in Donington last year. Unfortunately, the recovering Dutchman seems unlikely to feature in this year’s Prosecco DOC UK Round, leaving the reins to teammate Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team), who was desperately unfortunate not to deliver another win for the Japanese manufacturer under the deluge in Italy.
The Englishman, based just a few kilometres away from the Leicestershire track, will not be content with playing second fiddle to the championship frontrunners. Neither will Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing), part of an ever-growing cast of threats to Rea and Bautista. He featured in an all-Kawasaki podium at Misano, but it was his performance in particular which caught the eye as Kenan Sofuoglu’s protégé sprang upon Rea in the last lap of Race 2.
After that race, Razgatlioglu repeated the same words he expressed in Jerez a fortnight earlier: He wants a race win and Donington Park is the place to do it. The 22-year-old’s second place in Misano was certainly a revelation, as was his out-of-the-blue podium in the UK last season. Is a win a matter of when rather than if? Razgatlioglu would certainly hope so, but even amongst the Kawasaki ranks he will face absolutely ruthless competition, with Rea and Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) – who has perhaps recorded more laps around Donington than any other rider in the world since debuting in the 125cc World Championship there back in 1998 – not willing to back down against the valiant sophomore.
Razgatlioglu could do worse than follow the career path of Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team), who also took his first WorldSBK podium in a Race 2 at Donington Park – only in 2008, rather than 2018. As fate would have it, the Yorkshireman also made a huge breakthrough at Misano by handing BMW their best result in nearly six years, and just in time for his favourite race of the year. Those nine wins on the trot (Race 1, 2013 to Race 1, 2017) at Donington speak for themselves. It may still be early days for the S1000 RR, but in the UK it’s never wise to overlook the 2013 World Champion.
While we’re on the topic of hopeful race winners, what about the first man to hit gold for BMW way back in 2012? That was Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) and the circuit, of course, was none other than Donington Park, where his teammate Sandro Cortese last won in the World Supersport class, just last year. A decade earlier, the 4.023km circuit witnessed Ryuchi Kiyonari’s (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) last WorldSBK race win; the next UK round, one year later, saw his colleague Leon Camier enter the championship for the very first time.
In the World Superbike championship, all roads don’t lead to Rome, they lead to Donington Park. The ‘heart of British motorsport’ always manages to sneak onto the resumé of every successful rider in the series; sometimes it’s a starting point, others a mandatory stop en route to greater things, and occasionally a destination in itself. This season it could be all three. Seven rounds down, six left, read it as zero hour or square one; either way, the UK Round promises to be anything but unremarkable.
Follow all the action from the Prosecco Doc UK Round. Friday, July 5th hosts Free Practice 1 (10:30 local time, GMT+1) and FP2 (15:00), followed by FP3 on Saturday morning. Then, after qualifying on Saturday (11:00), it’s time to get racing: Race 1 (14:00, Saturday), the Tissot Superpole Race (11:00, Sunday) and Race 2 (14:00, Sunday).
The 2019 WorldSSP season is proving to be one of the most intense in recent years, with BARDAHL Evan Bros. WorldSSP Team riders Randy Krummenacher and Federico Caricasulo literally going head-to-head for World Supersport supremacy. The championship lead at 22 points and other riders set to interfere, the final round at Donington Park before a lengthy Summer break will be pivotal in who carries confidence forward.
29-year-old Randy Krummenacher hasn’t put a foot wrong so far in 2019, as he continues to rack up big points. The Swiss rider has finished first or second in every WorldSSP race this season, with one of his best wins coming at the Misano World Circuit “Marco Simoncelli” last time out. Barging his way to victory with just two corners remaining, the WorldSSP title pendulum swung in favour of Krummenacher, but now he heads to a circuit of which he has just one podium at – back in 2016. Can he remount the rostrum in 2019?
Chasing his teammate as hard as possible, Federico Caricasulo came close to reducing the points gap at the top to just 12 points at Misano but was beaten in the dying moments of the WorldSSP encounter. Now, he turns his attention to Donington Park – a track at which the Italian has yet to feature highly at, with a best result of sixth coming in 2018, whilst he suffered a DNF in 2017. Caricasulo must take points away from Krummenacher, to go into the mid-season break with the momentum.
With another race passing without a win, Jules Cluzel (GMT94 YAMAHA) has seen his championship hopes decrease a little bit more, as the Frenchman has struggled to keep on the pace of Krummenacher and Caricasulo. Scheduled to make his 77th WorldSSP start, the 30-year-old has a stunning record at Donington Park despite having never won, with three second-place finishes and two third-places to his name. Just five races remain and Cluzel will be eager for a first Donington Park win to shrink the points gap to the top from 53 points.
It was another impressive performance by Hikari Okubo (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) at Misano, with the Japanese star taking fifth – his second-best result of the season. Okubo has finished every single race in 2019 and will look to see the streak carry on in the United Kingdom. Donington Park has yielded just one top ten for the 25-year-old, with ninth in 2017. The last Japanese WorldSSP podium came on British soil at Silverstone in 2007 with Katsuaki Fujiwara. Can Okubo end the 12-year wait for another Japanese rostrum?
Okubo isn’t the only Kawasaki who has shone in recent events, as Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) has been a strong contender for the leading positions. The Frenchman gave the manufacturer their first pole since 2017 at Misano before achieving his first podium of the season. Mahias’ form at Donington Park is mixed, with a fifth last season but a second in 2017. He will be hoping for a second consecutive podium of the season at the famed British venue.
Completing the top half-dozen in the championship is Austria’s Thomas Gradinger (Kallio Racing). It was a difficult Misano for Gradinger – who has been a revelation in 2019. Having only qualified in 12th, he salvaged a ninth-place finish; his worst finish in a race since he was 12th at Imola last year. Achieving an eighth place at Donington Park, the 22-year-old will be eager to return to the podium in WorldSSP and close the gap on those ahead of him.
There’s an array of other riders to keep an eye out for, with Raffaele De Rosa (MV AGUSTA Reparto Corse) eager to make up for his Misano mistake. Isaac Viñales (Kallio Racing) showed more promise in Misano until a crash ended his race prematurely, whilst Hannes Soomer (MPM WILSport Racedays) aims to repeat his top seven finish for a second consecutive race, not to mention wildcards from British Supersport; Jack Kennedy and Brad Jones, on their Appleyard Macadam Integro Yamahas.
2019 is proving to be a vintage year for the WorldSSP300 championship, as new faces go in pursuit of the old guard. With the championship going to the United Kingdom for the next battleground, it promises to be an exciting spectacle, but who will come out on top this time around?
A 43-point lead sets aside Manuel Gonzalez from the rest of the WorldSSP300 grid, as the 16-year-old Spanish rider continues to set the world on fire. Having not claimed a win at Misano, it was the first round he had failed to stand on the top step of the podium. The opposition are starting to show their true colours as the season moves on, making Donington Park is crucial for the championship leader, who was only 12th at the circuit last year.
Second in the championship belongs to the reigning champion, Ana Carrasco. A superb win in sunny conditions on Sunday saw the Spaniard conquer the opposition for her fourth career victory. Now, the title race goes to the Donington Park, a track at which Carrasco was a winner at in 2018 with a huge 4.6s gap. With her first win of the 2019 season under her belt, has that opened the floodgates for more success to come before the Summer break?
Joint-second in the championship but third overall by virtue of no wins in 2019, Dutchman Scott Deroue (Kawasaki MOTOPORT) endured a torrid time at Misano. With just nine points from the last two races, the championship gap has opened massively. Deroue took a podium at Donington Park back in 2017 when he was third, whilst he was only able to finish sixth in 2018. A first win this season must come soon if he is to have any hope of an elusive first crown.
Marc Garcia’s (DS Junior Team) form in recent rounds has picked up and the 2017 WorldSSP champion is back in the leading group. Despite not scoring at Misano, the 19-year-old Spanish rider sits on 50 points, although some 58 behind fellow countryman Gonzalez at the top of the championship tree. Garcia has second in 2017 at the circuit, with just 0.067s separating him and race winner, Mika Perez (Scuderia Maranga Racing). Will Garcia go one better in 2019?
German rider Jan-Ole Jahnig (Freudenberg KTM Junior Team) sits in fifth place in the championship, as his consistency in 2019 had seen him finish in the top seven at every round until his crash in Misano. 60 points back of the championship lead may seem like a fair way, but he is only 17 points behind second place. A seventh last year at Donington Park makes him one to watch in 2019.
Behind the leading quintet, keep an eye on French duo Hugo De Cancellis (Team Trasimeno Yamaha) and Andy Verdoïa (BCD Yamaha MS Racing). They are firmly in the battle for race wins and for top positions in the championship. Galang Hendra Pratama (Semakin Di Depan Biblion Motoxracing) is still eager for his first podium of the season after being cruelly denied again in Misano, whilst Omar Bonoli (Team Trasimeno Yamaha) will hope to be back at the sharp end. There are wildcards to keep an eye on too, so be sure not to miss any WorldSSP300 drama!