#QATWorldSBK Losail, weekend preview: World Superbike, World Supersport, WorldSSP300
After 34 races, 12 rounds, visits to ten countries across five continents, unbelievable comebacks, shattered records, very public rivalries, controversy, the occasional inclement weather, laughs, tears and, most importantly, some phenomenal racing, we have arrived at the final destination. The MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship lands in Qatar where fireworks are sure to fly once again between the top contenders, as they have done nonstop for the past eight months.
The fierce back-and-forth between Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and Álvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) promises to continue for several years to come, but for now this will be the final time they face off in their current colours. Bautista will serve the new HRC squad from 2020 onwards, closing a brief yet intense chapter in red (whilst perhaps creating one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in WorldSBK history).
While pure dominance led Rea to at least three of his previous four world titles, this one has undoubtedly been marked by his consistency, even in defeat. Yet the Northern Irishman still has a chance to match his total number of victories from 2018 – albeit in 37 races rather than 25 – and trump his nemesis in the process. Rea has won 14 races, Bautista 16: the rest is self-explanatory.
It remains to be seen which bike takes best to the Losail International Circuit. 5.360km-long and with a kilometre-plus start-finish straight, one would think it would suit the Borgo Panigale rocket and therefore Bautista; but Rea, let’s not forget, is undefeated here since 2017.
Their respective teammates will also be looking to end the season on a high. Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) will be sat on the V4 R next year and seems to be coming to terms with the package – what better way to solidify your claim as a title contender for next year than to win the closing races? It wouldn’t be the first time the Welshman sits atop of the Losail podium; nor would it be for Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who ended his previous full-time stint in WorldSBK with a victory in Qatar. Instrumental to KRT retaining the Teams Championship, a first win in green would be a fine finale to his Kawasaki comeback.
Honour is always on the line in the final showdown of the year, but for many riders the stakes are much, much higher than that. Just six points separate three riders in the battle for bronze: current Pata Yamaha duo Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark, and future Pata Yamaha star Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing). Two of them have won races this season; the other remains ahead in the standings. The two men in blue hold 15 podium finishes between them; Razgatlioglu has claimed 13 alone yet still trails them on points. It’s been a standout season for all three – but there’s only room for one on the highlight reel.
Early 2019 saw the birth of several new projects in WorldSBK; Round 13, accordingly, will be the moment to evaluate where they stand one year on. For Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team), his first year after trading the green and black leathers for white ones can only be deemed a success. A win under the floodlights would cap off this first season quite nicely.
This has also been the first year of the triple-pronged Moriwaki-Althea-Honda project. A season somewhat marred by injuries and disappointing results has taken an upturn in the last couple of rounds thanks to Leon Camier, who has managed to close the gap with the leading machines. More top ten results are on the cards for the Englishman.
Qatar is also synonymous with chapters closing and new doors opening; the list of those who will be moving on in the New Year includes Eugene Laverty (Team Goeleven), Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) or Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team). But for one man the story itself is coming to an end. Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) will write the final lines of his career as an active competitor at the Losail International Circuit. A World Champion and multiple race winner with a memorable personality, his presence in the paddock will be sorely missed. From Monday onwards, that is – on Friday and Saturday the diminutive Italian will be out to win, as he has done in every race for the past three decades.
The final Round of 2019 is upon us! Watch out for the classic, Qatar schedule change: Race 1 will take place on Friday, 25th October at 20:00 Local Time (GMT+3), with Saturday 26th hosting the Tissot Superpole Race (16:00LT) and Race 2 (20:00LT).
After the rollercoaster season that has gripped the FIM Supersport World Championship in 2019, it goes down to the wire yet again. For a third consecutive year, the WorldSSP title fight will be sorted out under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit and Qatar. In what is the only visit to the Middle East, World Supersport has seen some of the closest finishes in its history occur in the ever-developing oil-rich country, and 2019 is going to be no exception.
He’s led the Championship since Australia but Randy Krummenacher (BARDAHL Evan Bros. WorldSSP Team) has seen his lead slashed from over 20 points to just eight. Mistakes in recent rounds have put the title celebrations on ice for the Swiss star and he’s not in the greatest of form either. Coming from his two worst weekends in 2019, Krummenacher knows that if there’s one race he needs to recapture form for, it’s this one. A win for his teammate Federico Caricasulo and a third place for Krummenacher swings the title to the Italian. After fraught comments following a disappointing Argentina, it is now or never for Krummenacher.
Having chased Krummenacher hard all year, Federico Caricasulo (BARDAHL Evan Bros. WorldSSP Team) is the Swiss’ nearest rival in the standings. Eight points separate the two and with 25 up for grabs, this is a crucial round. Caricasulo has failed to take more than seven points out of Krummenacher in one go, something that he will need to fix during the last round. Three wins from 11 races and six other podiums, Caricasulo knows that he has a chance of victory this weekend; if he wins then Krummenacher must be second, but if Caricasulo is second, then Krummenacher must be somewhere else in the top four. It’s that simple.
Against the odds, Jules Cluzel comes into the Motul Qatar Round with an outside hope of the title. 22 points back of Krummenacher, Cluzel must win to even stand a chance. Should he win, then Krummenacher must be 14th or lower and Federico Caricasulo outside the top four in the race. It’s unlikely, but just two rounds ago, both BARDAHL Yamaha riders crashed out. Cluzel hasn’t taken back-to-back wins in the class since Assen and Imola in 2018 and besides his title rivals, five other riders have outshone Cluzel on their day in 2019. He can still win however, and that is what counts. Expect the unexpected.
Out of the top three and with no mathematical chance of the Championship, Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) heads to Losail with a new contract in his pocket for 2020; Remaining with the Puccetti outfit for 2020. Out of all the riders on the grid, Mahias has scored more points than anyone in the last six races and has been on the podium in the last five – the first time in his career that he’s achieved five consecutive podiums. A winner in Qatar in the last two seasons, Mahias could be the spoiler in the title race in 2019.
Mahias’ teammate Hikari Okubo has been one of just three riders to score points in every race this year, but he was somewhat out of position in Argentina. The 26-year-old Japanese star was down in 12th in the race, only his second finish outside the top ten all year. Heading to Losail, Okubo reaches a circuit that he’s failed to finish at in the last two seasons. But don’t count him out; Okubo needs a strong performance in the final race of the season to secure a 2020 ride. Could that elusive podium finally come his way?
Completing the top six in the standings is Raffaele De Rosa (MV AGUSTA Reparto Corse), who is still without a WorldSSP win. He featured strongly at the end of the race in Argentina to finish in sixth place, meaning he is now just five points behind Okubo in the standings. Yet to feature inside the top ten at Losail, De Rosa knows that a strong result over Okubo could give him a best end-of-season finish – fifth overall. Can the 32-year-old Italian deliver?
Outside of the top six, there’s plenty of riders to keep an eye on. Recent rounds has seen Isaac Viñales (Kallio Racing) on the podium and looking strong, whilst pole-sitter in Argentina Corentin Perolari (GMT94 YAMAHA) will be eager to achieve his first rostrum of his WorldSSP career. Thomas Gradinger (Kallio Racing) is eager to recapture his early season form, with Ayrton Badovini (Team Pedercini Racing) seeking the continuation of his top ten streak. Just behind him overall is the best Honda of Peter Sebestyen (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda), who could beat Badovini to the top ten overall.
The season finale of the World Supersport 300 Championship is approaching, as the class takes on its first visit outside of Europe to the Motul Qatar Round. The Losail International Circuit should lend itself perfectly to the WorldSSP300 field, with fast and flowing corners and a 1068m front straight. The Champion has already been crowned with Manuel Gonzalez (Kawasaki ParkinGO Team) taking WorldSSP300 honours, but the battle behind him for second place is raging, with three riders in mathematic contention for runner-up spot in 2019.
It has been a stunning season for Manuel Gonzalez, having romped clear at the head of the field and wrapped the Championship up with a round to spare, making him the youngest ever FIM Road Racing World Champion. Like most of the WorldSSP300 class, it is the first visit to Losail for Gonzalez, and he will be out to reinforce the fact that he is Champion for a reason. He could be the first WorldSSP300 rider in history to achieve four race wins in one year.
The battle for second is the focus point and former Moto3™ stars Ana Carrasco (Kawasaki Provec WorldSSP300) and Scott Deroue (Kawasaki MOTOPORT) have an advantage over Andy Verdoïa (BCD Yamaha MS Racing), having been to the circuit before. However, back then, neither were able to score points, so it is more of a level playing field than it could’ve been. With both Deroue and Carrasco winning at Portimao and Magny-Cours respectively, the pressure is certainly on Verdoïa, who hasn’t been on the podium since Donington Park in July.
Mathematically, fourth is still possible for Victor Steeman (Freudenberg KTM Junior Team) but he is 20 points away. Moreover, he is leading the battle for the final position inside the top five in the standings. The Dutch rider’s consistency has seen him finish in the points in every single race this year, although his nearest rival is right behind him. Marc Garcia (DS Junior Team) is just one point behind Steeman, whilst seven points further back is Steeman’s teammate, Jan-Ole Jahnig, who was last on the podium at Assen.
There is then a six-point gap which sees Galang Hendra Pratama (Semakin Di Depan Biblion Motoxracing) occupy eighth place, just 14 points from Steeman in fifth. He will be joined in the team this weekend by fellow Indonesian rider, Muhammad Faerozi. Hugo De Cancellis (Team Trasimeno Yamaha) is in the battle for fifth overall too, although he is 22 points behind Steeman. He is joint on points with an in-form Nick Kalinin (Nutec – RT Motorsports by SKM – Kawasaki), with the Ukrainian rider completing the top ten. Fifth to tenth have a mathematical chance of the top five, but all eyes are on Steeman, Garcia and Jahnig.
Other riders who are going to be eager to fight their way into the top ten overall include Kevin Sabatucci (Team Trasimeno Yamaha), who was victorious in dramatic fashion at Donington Park. The top Italian in the Championship lies 11th overall and with a strong result in Qatar, could break into the top ten placings. Fellow countryman Bruno Ieraci (Kawasaki GP Project) is still in search of his first podium and having been inside the top ten until Donington Park, he will be eager to make it back into those positions.
Making his debut in Qatar, as well as Muhammad Faerozi, will be Dallas Daniels, who is one of the next stars coming from the United States. At just 16, he has been a race winner in the Liqui Moly Junior Cup in MotoAmerica, on his way to finishing third. There is one other rider swap and that is Oliver König (Freudenberg KTM WorldSSP Team), who replaces Koen Meuffels – the former race winner parted ways with the team ahead of Portimao.