#PRTWorldSBK – Portuguese Round, weekend preview
It is a welcome return to racing action for the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, after a lengthy Summer break. The title fight will reignite this weekend, as Portimao will host the tenth event of the season: the Acerbis Portuguese Round. Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) returns to the Portuguese venue with an 81-point lead, whilst early season revelation Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) will make his racing debut at Portimao, in a bid to surge back to form.
Heading the championship standings with a comfortable 81-point lead, Jonathan Rea has completed a remarkable comeback. The Ulsterman, who was 61 points behind Alvaro Bautista after the Tissot Superpole Race in Jerez, comes to a circuit of which he has been dominant at in recent seasons. Winning the last seven races at the venue – of which six have been with Kawasaki – Rea has a target on his back. Can anyone stop the four-time WorldSBK champion at one of his most successful circuits?
Alvaro Bautista has endured a torrid couple of events and, with his departure from the ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati outfit confirmed, he has nothing to lose in the final four rounds of the season. If he is to rekindle the hope of winning the WorldSBK championship, then he will need to start taking points from Rea straight away. Having never raced at Portimao but tested there, only to finish ninth, Bautista will need to overcome his difficulties of recent rounds if he has any chance of staying in the title tussle.
The battle for third place in the championship is well and truly alive and kicking, with six riders covered by 50 points. At the head of that, Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team), who arrives in Portugal off the back of finishing the Portimao test on top, whilst also confirming he won’t remain in the team for 2020. The British rider has had a difficult time of things at Portimao in recent years, with just two top ten results from the last six races held there. On the other side of the garage, fortunes are different. Now back to full fitness and ready to go, Michael van der Mark will seek to build on his fourth place in the Portimao test. Three Portimao podiums in the last three races and all for Yamaha, can the 26-year-old return to winning ways?
Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) is a rider to watch out for. Having returned to winning ways in emotional fashion at Laguna Seca, the Welshman will look to continue working in this way ahead of the remainder of the season. With his 2020 future confirmed, Davies will also want to gel further with the ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati, in order to end the season strongly. A best result of second in Race 1 in 2017 is the highlight for him at Portimao. Can he win again?
Leading the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team charge is Tom Sykes, who has been on pole three times at Portimao, whilst also achieving two wins at the rollercoaster Portuguese circuit. Sykes has achieved podiums at every WorldSBK round since Misano, highlighting the development of the new machine. The team themselves head into the round with optimism, having signed Eugene Laverty for the 2020 season.
The Independent team charge continues to be led by Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing), as the 22-year-old relentlessly set the pace on the opening day of Portimao testing. Having visited the circuit just once in his WorldSBK career, 2018 yielded an eight and a DNF. A podium during every round since Imola, will Razgatlioglu continue his form? Never discount other former Portimao winners who are in the Independent battle too, such as Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) and Eugene Laverty (Team Goeleven).
Former Portimao podium rider to watch out for include Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who has taken four podiums at the venue for three different manufacturers: will Kawasaki be his fourth? As well as Haslam, there is Loris Baz (Ten Kate Racing – Yamaha), who took a second for Kawasaki back in 2014. Keep your eyes on Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team), Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) and Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK), as they all go in search of their first podiums of 2019.
The Moriwaki Althea Honda Team challenge will see a new face, with Takumi Takahashi replacing Leon Camier, as the British rider continues to recover from a shoulder injury. He will join Ryuichi Kiyonari, who returns to the Autodromo Internacional Algarve for the first time in a decade.
Other riders to watch out for include Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura), who has a best of seventh at Portimao and has been top ten finisher in the last three rounds. Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) will look to end the season on a high and secure himself a ride for 2020. Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) will make his Portimao WorldSBK debut, although he was sixth in the FIM Superstock 1000 race last season. All of the regular riders will be joined by former FIM Superstock 1000 champion, Sylvain Barrier. The French rider will wildcard with the BRIXX Ducati outfit.