The World Superbike Championship has now started its seven-week long summer break and there’s certainly been some contrasting fortunes amongst the leading protagonists at the last few rounds.
Indeed, the change in fortunes has been immense and whilst Jonathan Rea found himself 61 points adrift of Alvaro Bautista after the opening race at Jerez in June, he’s now a massive 81 points clear. That’s a quite staggering swing of 142 points and the Northern Irishman now has one hand on title number five with just four rounds to go.
Rea surges clear
When Rea fell back as far as what he did, he was at a loss to know what he had to do to prevent Bautista from taking the 2019 title with rounds to spare but the advantage the Ducati appeared to have has disappeared, the Spaniard has pressed the self-destruct button and Rea himself has dug deep to ride out of his skin and apply as much pressure as possible.
That combination has all come together to see the major swing in points and although Rea had an inkling recent rounds at Donington Park and Laguna Seca would go in his favour given Bautista’s long absence from both venues, even he could never imagined he’d be in the position he’s in now as he headed off on his summer holidays.
One of the crucial factors is that whilst Bautista won all the races that he did – 11 in the first 12 races alone – Rea finished in second place in the majority of them and whilst it’s now the Kawasaki rider doing all the winning, the Ducati rider isn’t scoring any points at all.
Laguna Seca saw Rea score 57 points compared to Buatista’s none and although he’s adamant the race is far from over, which with 248 points still available it certainly isn’t, deep down he knows that with two more good rounds, another title will be heading back to the Emerald Isle.
Repeat crashes for Bautista
If the races at Jerez, Misano and Donington had been disappointing for Ducati’s Bautista, then Laguna Seca was most definitely a disaster. Three successive crashes at the first three had put him on the back foot and left his confidence severely dented but what happened in America will have removed whatever confidence he had left and he’ll be glad of the break to get away, recuperate and reboot the system.
Whether it’s been the pressure from Rea or a problem that was masked by the Ducati’s top speed advantage at the early rounds, only he will know but three out of the four crashes – Donington’s wet crash being the exception – were near identical and the one in America saw him almost literally fall off the side of the bike as he tipped into the left hander.
It’s true that what happened at the first six rounds, where he took 14 wins from 18 races, saw the Spaniard in dreamland and in a situation he would never have expected but the way his season has fallen apart has been quite astonishing. Just like the winning left him almost speechless, so too has all the crashing.
As a former world champion, he’s well used to pressure so it’s hard to give that as a reason and both he and Ducati will need to use the seven-week break wisely to analyse what’s been happening and help ensure he comes out fighting at Portimao in September in a bid to immediately claw back some of the deficit. If he doesn’t, the title will be over sooner rather than later.
Davies re-discovers his mojo
The Chaz Davies that we saw at Laguna Seca was completely different to the version we’d seen at the first eight rounds and it was some transformation by the Welshman. Save for a strong weekend at Aragon, where he’s won numerous races in the past, it’s fair to say he’s been a shadow of his former self this season.
The 32-year old has been a mainstay of the World Superbike Championship for the last eight seasons, five of those as a factory Ducati rider and he’s been the man, more often than most, to take the fight to Rea. He’s clearly struggled to adapt to the all-new V4 whilst the injuries sustained in a motocross accident during the off-season hampered him more than most realised.
It’s been a disappointing campaign on the new Ducati Panigale V4R and although the wheels have come off Bautista’s challenge of late, the fact remains that Davies is still some 168 points adrift in the championship standings. His win at Laguna Seca was his first of 2019 compared to the 14 racked up by Bautista so he’ll probably be regretting the fact the summer break has come when it has.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer though and it’s worth pointing out that the American circuit has always been one he’s excelled at but he looked much more like the Davies we’ve all become accustomed to and his whole body language and the way he threw the bike around the undulating circuit gives cause for optimism for the final four rounds.
Melandri calls it a day
With his up and down form having been discussed here before, it perhaps came as no surprise when Marco Melandri announced ahead of Laguna Seca that he would be retiring from racing at the end of the season. Although he’s still only 36, the Italian has been racing at the highest level ever since he made his debut in the 1998 125cc World Championship where he immediately impressed with third place overall in the final standings.
At the time, he was the youngest Grand Prix winner ever and he’s since gone on to enjoy an illustrious career with the 2002 250cc World Championship and runner-up in the 2005 MotoGP World Championship amongst the highlights. He’d already won 22 Grand Prix races and stood on the podium 62 times before he switched the World Superbike series in 2011.
Factory rides with Yamaha, BMW, Aprilia and Ducati have seen him, strangely enough, win 22 races in WSB as well – and finish in the top five of the Championship six occasions – but after more than twenty years at the top, he’s decided the time has come to hang up the leathers. With the desire and drive having fallen away, it’s clear this year has been difficult but there’s no doubt it’s a career to be proud of and he’ll be looking to end it in the best possible way in the final 12 races.
As has now become traditional, the WSB season has broken up for its extended summer break and whilst the MotoGP season has a three week hiatus, the seven weeks in World Superbikes does seem awfully long.
Teams and riders may disagree and may be grateful of the lengthier gap after what’s been a busy few weeks and months but their season is a lot more spread out that MotoGP, 13 rounds over nine months compared to 19 rounds over the same period.
From a fans perspective, the break comes just when the championship is at fever pitch and is one that doesn’t really seem necessary to be as long as what it is. When they resume in September, some of its impetus will have been lost and it will be like starting the season all over again.