SBK, Imola: Weekend preview – World Superbike, World Supersport, STK1000, STK600

 In News, World Superbikes


World Superbike


The fifth event of the WorldSBK season takes the series to Imola for the Acerbis Italian Round. In the Province of Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region, the circuit named in honour of Enzo and Dino Ferrari has been on the World Superbike calendar since 2001, with the exceptions of 2007 and 2008 when the series raced at Vallelunga. The current 4.936km layout features 22 corners of which 13 are left-handers. The flowing nature of the layout, the many elevation changes and the lack of long straights make Imola one of the most demanding and technical tracks in the world.

Imola has hosted a total of 23 races to date, with only the second encounter of 2005 having been called off due to adverse conditions. Furthermore, since 2002, no less than seven events out of 11 have thrown up double victories; Colin Edwards did it first on the historic day when he beat Troy Bayliss to a second world title, whereas the latest was taken by current series leader Jonathan Rea in 2014.

Surely facts like this generate only further confidence for the Kawasaki Racing Team rider, who has already picked up two doubles since the start of 2015: Buriram and Assen. Having collected a massive 95% of the maximum championship points on offer so far this season, few would bet against the Northern Irish Kawasaki rider.

There could be a lot for the Italians to shout about this weekend. Aprilia has achieved no less than 11 podiums at the track and at least one of the marque’s bikes has always finished in the top five of every Imola race since the start of 2009. The manufacturer’s leading representative in the current standings is Leon Haslam, who is the closest challenger to Rea and took a victory in Australia, while rookie team-mate Jordi Torres is yet to finish lower than in sixth position every time he sees the chequered flag.

Perhaps the biggest stories will be the World Superbike comebacks of two famous names. Davide Giugliano finally returns, having been ruled out of action when he injured his back in a pre-season testing crash at Phillip Island. Since then, his Racing – Ducati SBK Team has returned to winning ways with Chaz Davies, who is third in the championship standings. Last year, Giugliano started on the front row at Imola, having finished on the podium after leading Race 1 in 2013. Elsewhere, Michel Fabrizio is also likely to boost attendance figures as he reappears on the grid, subbing for Nico Terol at the Althea Racing Team. The 30-year-old from Rome has been a regular on the grid since 2006 and will ride alongside fellow countryman Matteo Baiocco ahead of Terol’s suspected return at Donington Park. The grid’s other Italian is Ayrton Badovini, who believes his season ‘will begin’ at Imola, where in the Superstock 1000 class he won in 2010; this was his ninth victory out of ten races in what proved to be a truly dominant title-winning campaign.

Behind the championship top three of Rea, Haslam and Davies, 2013 title winner Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) is looking to get his championship fight back on track, having struggled with a major lack of rear-end traction last time out at Assen. Such struggles were not a problem for Pata Honda World Superbike Team’s Michael van der Mark, who made history by becoming the first Dutchman to clinch a World Superbike podium finish; he immediately doubled the tally by clinching another podium in Race 2. He now sits just five points in arrears of World Champion team-mate Sylvain Guintoli, while the championship top ten is completed by Barni Racing Team’s Leandro Mercado. At Voltcom Crescent Suzuki, Alex Lowes and Randy de Puniet move into their third round since switching to a Magneti Marelli electronics package. They will continue to juggle their race setup work with bike development, with the ongoing testing ban meaning the British-based team is having to use practice sessions to continue expanding its bike capabilities. Although it may be a steep mountain to climb, signs of progress were visible in The Netherlands two weekends ago, not least as Lowes qualified on the second row of the grid and went on to finish Race 2 in ninth place.

Several riders will reach landmark race start numbers in Italy. Ayrton Badovini will make his 130th World Superbike start in Race 2 and Davide Giugliano’s return will begin with his 80th race in the opening encounter. As for championship leader Jonathan Rea, Imola’s second race will see him become the 24th rider to start 150 races in WorldSBK’s premier class. He debuted on the Algarve in 2008; since then, Rea has amassed 21 race wins, 50 podium finishes, 13 Superpoles and 13 fastest laps. He also carries the sixth-largest lead after the opening eight races of a season in the series’ history, with a 50-point cushion over Haslam.


World Supersport


Opinions were rife following the fascinating Kenan Sofuoglu-Jules Cluzel battle at Assen. The fact of the matter is that the two rivals made contact en route to a Sofuoglu victory. Naturally, each man blamed the other while fans and journalists had their own opinions, although Race Direction decided that no further action should be taken and that the race result should stand. That leaves Puccetti Racing Team rider Sofuoglu with a 25-point championship lead over PJ Jacobsen (Kawasaki Intermoto Ponyexpres), while Cluzel has fought back up to third overall and is 35 points in arrears of the overall leader.

Next on the agenda is the historic Imola circuit in Italy, where last year Lorenzo Zanetti – now team-mate to Cluzel at MV Agusta Reparto Corse – clinched an emotional career-first World Supersport victory complete with an Ayrton Senna replica crash helmet, dedicated to the three-time F1 World Champion who lost his life at Imola in a 1994 crash. Current championship leader Sofuoglu has also been able to enjoy a strong run at Imola, having won there both in 2009 and 2013.

Imola debuted on the World Supersport calendar in 2001 for that year’s season finale. Australia’s Andrew Pitt sealed his first title, peculiar due to the fact that he had not clinched a race victory that year, as he finished fourth while closest rival and championship leader heading into the round Paolo Casoli retired on the opening lap. Since then, the circuit has undergone major redevelopment and was off the calendar for two years as Rome’s Vallelunga staged the race for the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

This year Italian fans will be looking to the likes of the aforementioned Zanetti, as well as other regulars Rolfo, Baldolini, Faccani, Gamarino, Menghi and Russo who hope for a first home World Supersport win at Imola. On the other hand, Gino Rea will do something only another four number of British riders have done before him, which is to make his 30th race start in the category.

In terms of the Constructors’ Championship, Kawasaki edges Honda by the slim margin of seven points. The first Japanese marque is aiming for a 25th pole position in the category, while Honda is looking to make it 95 occasions of heading up a grid.


Superstock 1000


The end of the 2014 Superstock 1000 season was nothing short of disastrous for Lorenzo Savadori, who threw away an almost certain title win on the final lap at Magny-Cours. Since then, the Nuova M2 Racing Aprilia rider has notched up a second place plus a victory to lead the class standings by 12 points from compatriot Raffaele De Rosa (Althea Racing Team Ducati).

It has been four years since an Italian won at Imola in the Superstock 1000 class. On that occasion it was Danilo Petrucci who did the honours en route to the runner-up spot, before heading to Grand Prix racing the following season. Judging by Savadori’s performances so far, there looks to be a fair chance of another home winner this weekend, although a number of potential challengers are queuing up for victories.

Behind de Rosa and third overall is Brno’s Ondrej Jezek (Triple-M by Barni Ducati), who won the Imola race last year, while Kev Coghlan (MRS Yamaha) is fourth and Roberto Tamburini (MotoxRacing BMW) makes it three Italians inside the top five. In Tamburini’s case, he has fallen to 20 points behind Savadori after leading the standings following his Race 1 win in the opening round; at Assen, it all went wrong as he clipped the back of Kevin Valk’s machine and was unable to restart after the red flag.

Incidentally, should Kawasaki see at least one of its bikes finishing inside the top 15 this weekend, this would equal Suzuki’s leading tally as both a manufacturer and engine supplier for 61 straight races inside the points. So far this season, Bryan Staring has been Kawasaki’s leading representative in both races, finishing sixth at MotorLand Aragón and eighth at Assen in the most recent round, two weekends ago.


Superstock 600


In terms of global recognition as a classic race circuit, Imola never comes far from the top of the list. In a previous age, the venue was known for chariot racing. Now horse power of a very different kind is top of the agenda. However, a certain 18-year-old rider from Turkey has prevented anybody else from having a look-in so far in 2015.

The start of the Superstock 600 season has seen domination from one teenager. Hailing from the Mediterranean Turkish resort of Alanya, Toprak Razgatlıoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) has not only won three races out of three this season, but also maintained his 100% victory record dating back to Magny-Cours at the end of last season. He has already become the first rider to clinch the opening trio of race victories in a single season since the FIM Europe Superstock 600 Championship began back in 2005.

So who could challenge the Turk? Pata Honda Junior Team’s Federico Caricasulo of Italy is his nearest contender, 30 points behind and having finished on the podium in both races at MotorLand Aragón. Next up is another Italian in the form of Michael San Carlo Team Italia’s Ruben Rinaldi (in the top three once at MotorLand and again at Assen), a further five points in arrears, while Finland’s Niki Tuuli (Kallio Racing Yamaha) is fourth from Gauthier Duwelz (MVR-Racing Yamaha) of Belgium. The previous eight Imola victors have all moved on to different classes.

Kawasaki also has the advantage when it comes to Imola history. The Japanese marque has won half of the eight Imola Superstock 600 races to have been staged to date, followed by Honda on three and Yamaha on a sole victory. Should Toprak continue his run again this weekend, he will set a new record for five consecutive race wins in the category – an impressive feat should he achieve it, bearing in mind the short length of seasons in the class and his lack of time competing in it.


Source: WorldSBK

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