The most recent round of the World Superbike Championship at Jerez in Spain resulted in numerous talking points including a crash for the seemingly unflappable Alvaro Bautista, some great form shown by Michael van der Mark and two major on-track clashes, the first between Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes and the second involving Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri.
Bautista proves fallible
After winning the first 11 races of the season, Bautista tasted defeat for the first time last month at Imola when he could ‘only’ manage second and third. Returning to Jerez, a circuit he knows well after his Grand Prix days, both he and the Ducati Panigale were back to their dominant best.
The Spaniard took Saturday’s race win and followed that up with victory in Sunday’s Sprint race, both of them following a similar pattern to the early rounds when he took the lead early on before opening up a sizeable lead.
In race three, he quickly took the lead from Rea and we all expected win number three of the weekend to duly follow. However, soon after hitting the front he lost the front and crashed out much to his and the thousands of Spanish fans’ disappointment.
With his lead cut to 41 points, it was the first mistake made by Bautista all year to prove he is fallible after all and it will give his rivals some hope that if they can apply enough pressure, anything can happen.
Rea and Lowes clash
Having been forced to play second fiddle to Bautista at the first four rounds, quadruple world champion Rea looked to have turned his season around at Imola last month with a resounding double victory. However, despite taking pole position at Jerez, he struggled at the Spanish venue as he failed to finish on the podium in two of the three races.
That doesn’t tell the whole story though as the Northern Irishman had a last corner, last lap coming together with Lowes in the first race which saw Rea ‘finish’ third and Lowes crash out. Hours later, the result was overturned with Rea relegated to fourth and forced to start from the back of the grid in race two.
It was a late lunge, without doubt, and much of the debate afterwards surrounded whether or not the punishment fitted the crime. Rea is a not a dirty rider, he’s the polar opposite, but whilst he was the prime instigator of the crash, he didn’t do it deliberately and there’s been far worse at the final turn at Jerez, none more so than when Valentino Rossi knocked Sete Gibernau off in 2005.
Times have changed in racing and whenever an on-track incident happens now, it’s nearly always followed by the phrase ‘under investigation’ on both the timing and television screens. What would once have been deemed a ‘racing incident’ will now nearly always be followed by a punishment of some description but series organisers need to ensure consistency in the punishments they hand out.
Van der Mark shines
This year marks the fifth successive season Michael van der Mark has competed in the World Superbike Championship but although he’s been a regular front runner in that time, firstly for Honda and more latterly Yamaha, the Dutchman’s only wins came last year when he dominated proceedings at Donington Park on his way to a double victory.
With the Yamaha seemingly working well at some tracks but not so others, a recent test saw both he and team-mate Alex Lowes make significant strides forward with the R1 and after taking second place behind Bautista in the first two races at Jerez, he took full advantage of the Spaniard’s demise in race three to finally claim his third WSB victory.
Still only 26, van der Mark hasn’t finished outside of the top four in the last three rounds and put together a faultless weekend moving on now to a career total of 26 WSB podiums. As we’ve said before, consistency is the key for the Yamaha rider but performances like those in Spain show what he’s capable of and he looks the rider most likely, at present, to take the fight to Bautista and Rea.
After podium finishes at Aragon and Imola, it looked like Chaz Davies had got his season back on track but he was down in the doldrums at Jerez with a relatively lowly seventh place finish his best result from the three races. Having been seriously overshadowed by team-mate Bautista, those rostrums were just what he needed but the Welshman was lacklustre in practice and qualifying in Spain and ultimately never recovered.
His weekend ended in an even worse fashion when he got knocked off by former team-mate Marco Melandri in the third race, just when it looked like he’d salvage the weekend with a good result. His words afterwards left no-one uncertain as to where he thought the blame lied but the incident didn’t help either rider and both need to improve significantly at the next few rounds.
Melandri returns to form
After taking third at the opening round in Australia back in February, Melandri’s form completely deserted him at rounds three to five and he found himself languishing down the order but he was getting somewhere close to his best in Spain before ending his weekend on a somewhat controversial note.
The Italian has struggled to get the R1 Yamaha set up anywhere close to his liking but a recent test at Misano got him back on the pace with the end result being a brace of third place finishes at Jerez. However, going for another rostrum in the third and final race an ambitious overtaking manoeuvre, to say the least, on Davies resulted in the pair of them crashing out.
The Italian tried to move up the inside of Davies at a corner on the track where overtaking has rarely been seen and his impetuous and rash move cost the pair of them the opportunity of a good result. He’s subsequent been hit with a penalty of a six-place grid drop at the next round.
Despite of his considerable achievements, Melandri isn’t known to be one of the most popular riders in the paddock and the crash only strengthened that viewpoint. It isn’t the first time the former 250cc World Champion has been involved in such an incident and it probably won’t be the last!
Ten Kate return
The meeting marked the return of one of the most successful teams in the World Superbike and Supersport paddock, Ten Kate, but although it wasn’t a fairy tale return for the Dutch squad their presence was greatly received.
Run by Dutch brothers Gerrit and Ronald ten Kate, the team have been part of the series for two decades, all with Honda, but after being unceremoniously dumped by the Japanese giant at the end of last year, they immediately laid off staff and went into receivership with their whole future in doubt.
However, since then they’ve been working hard to return and have formed a new partnership with Yamaha with former WSB race winner and MotoGP rider Loris Baz the chosen pilot. Unfortunately, the Frenchman came off during free practice on Friday which saw the bike completely totalled and ninth place was the best he could manage across the three races.
Running bikes to the same spec as the factory teams though, the team is only going to get stronger as the season goes on and if they can make the same impact with Yamaha like they did with Honda, success will be happening sooner rather than later.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.