After Jonathan Rea's commanding performance in the opening round in Australia, it came as no surprise that Rea again took first place in both races in Round 2 of World Superbike action, this time at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand. In fact, even though I have to apologize for being a week delayed in watching this race due to work travel and a brutal schedule the other days of the week, I have to say I was disappointed in how ... well, I don't want to say boring
Race 1 was, but it was probably one of the least exciting motorcycle races I've seen in a long time.
Rea (UK, Kawasaki Racing Team), Tom Sykes (UK, Kawasaki Racing Team) and Marco Melandri (ITA, Aruba.it Racing) gridded 1-2-3 for Race 1, with Althea BMW Racing Team's riders Jordi Torres (ESP) and Markus Reiterberger (GER) gridded 10th and 12th, respectively.
Markus Reiterberger works to keep his position.
Rea took the hole shot into the 90-degree right-hand Turn 1 and led the entire race, building the gap over the second-place rider to 6.2 seconds in his third straight WSBK win. He not only set a new track lap record of 1.33.436 seconds, but the majority of his laps were faster than the OLD track record of 1.33.8! Chaz Davies (UK, Aruba.it Racing), Melandri and Sykes rounded out the front running pack for the whole race, with the most excitement coming in the last turn of the last lap, when Sykes made his move on Melandri and nudged the Italian off the podium in an ending that visibly agitated the Ducati rider.
Torres spent most of Race 1 behind Eugene Laverty (IRL, Milwaukee Aprilia) and in front of Nicky Hayden (USA, Red Bull Honda), ranging from 10th to 8th place. He finished the race in 7th place (26 seconds behind Rea) after Laverty exited with a technical problem forcing him - upright - to the gravel run-off in Turn 5 on the last lap. Reiterberger was boxed out going into Turn 1 on the first lap, then relegated to the back quarter of the pack. Unfortunately he wasn't able to capitalize on anything, using his skills to rise to 14th place by the end of the race, 40.1 seconds off the lead bike.
There was a small measure of excitement when Ayrton Badovini (ITA, Grillini Racing Team) crashed in Turn 5 on Lap 7, but other than that, the only edge-of-the-seat moments of the race came from the last seconds of the last lap as Sykes got around Melandri to rob him of a podium finish.
Jordi Torres, #81
Markus Reiterberger, #21
Race 2, however, was a completely different story, with excitement from the first lap to the last.
Because of the new Race 2 gridding rules, the fourth through ninth place finishers from Race 1 grid in positions one through six, with the Race 1 winners gridding behind them. This put Melandri, Michael van der Mark (NEL, Pata Yamaha) and Alex Lowes (UK, Pata Yamaha) on Row 1, with Torres, Leon Camier (UK, MV Augusta Reparto Corse) and Hayden behind them. Reiterberger gridded 13th for Race 2.
Track conditions for both races were hot, but track temperatures in Race 2 started at 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Every rider had a handy supply of wet (and I assume cool) towels and water bottles available before the sighting lap. There was a solid amount of discussion going between the race announcers on over the choice between using the Pirelli Diablo SC1 (softest) or the SC2 (slightly less soft) for the 20-lap, 90-kilometer (56-mile) races. Most riders chose the SC1 front.
Technicians fuss over Reiterberger's BMW S 1000 RR race bike.
Melandri nailed the hole shot as Race 2 kicked off, with Rea stuck in the rear of the front group. Torres was in 8th and Reiterberger in 13th as the first lap rounded into the second. Rea got around Davies in Lap 2 to get into second place, and he stayed in Melandri's draft, waiting patiently to attack for the lead position.
Davies low-sided in the middle of Turn 3 in Lap 2, but got his bike back up and back on the track, languishing in catch-up mode in 20th place. Torres took advantage of the timely crash to rise to 7th. At that point, Rea was just 0.719 of a second behind Melandri, but Davies was a full 30 seconds behind the race leader. Rea made his move going into Turn 12, forcing Melandri to the outside of the track in a classic passing maneuver, then used the flat-out power of his ZX-10 to create a tiny gap down the Start/Finish straightaway. Right behind Melandri were Lowes and Sykes, when...
Photo of Savadori's crash in Race 2, Round 2. From Eurosport.com.
MASSIVE CRASH GOING INTO TURN 12! Lorenzo Savadori (ITA, Milwaukee Aprilia) had smoke coming from his RSV4. It looked like his rear wheel locked up briefly, and suddenly the bike high-sided and Savadori was flipped off the bike. He landed on his head/neck/upper back, slid into the gravel and popped right up on his feet, uninjured. Torres avoided the crash, rising to 5th place, but the race was red-flagged. Track workers used cement dust, brooms and paper towels to clean up whatever fluids Savadori's Aprilia left on the track and the race restarted with the Lap 4 positions - Torres in 7th.
The restart greatly benefitted Davies, who suddenly no longer had to make up the huge gap between where he was in 19th place and the front of the pack. Davies rose to 10th place in Turn 1 off the restart, while Rea and Melandri retained their 1-2 positions.
Stefan Bradl (GER, Red Bull Honda) low-sided and slid off the track in Turn 12 with 11 laps left to go in the race, while Torres rose to 6th and Reiterberger to 13th place. Torres was constantly hounded by Davies and rode hard in his effort to catch and pass Laverty. While Rea expanded his lead to 1.3 seconds over Melandri, Laverty crashed in Turn 5, giving Torres the slot.
Torres, with Camier, Davies and Hayden trailing.
Not long after Torres started closing the gap on Camier, the Brit's MV Agusta 1000 F4 started giving off smoke. The smoke was intermittent at first, but it was clear that Camier's bike was losing power. More smoke and Camier found himself under the dreaded black flag - ordered into the pits! Reiterberger found himself in 11th place, and Laverty's seemed intent on earning at least one point, keeping his crippled bike on the track in last place.
Torres desperately held off Davies during the last three laps, and was finally able to expand a small gap ahead of the Ducati rider by holding tighter lines through the turns. His gap of just a quarter of a second was enough to keep Davies behind him, and Torres finished the race in 5th place, 14.7 seconds off the winning time turned in by Rea (who won his fourth straight WSBK race).
Torres celebrates his 5th place finish in Race 2 in Thailand.
Beyond the crashes, red flag, restart and black flag of Race 2, Turn 12 in the last lap again provided the emotional climax, as for the second time in two races, Sykes out-braked Melandri going into the last turn and used his bike's power to steal a position from the now-even-grumpier Italian rider. At least in Race 2 Melandri finished on the podium. Even though Davies never managed to get around Torres, he went from 19th at the restart to 6th at the finish, a monster comeback on any track, let alone one as fast as Chang. It was truly World Superbike racing at its finest.
Rea now leads the series with 100 points, with Davies (70), Sykes (62), Lowes (49) and Melandri (45) rounding out the top five. Torres is in 7th place with 29 points, and Reiterberger is tied with Laverty in 11th place with 15 points - had Laverty not stubbornly stayed in Race 2 after his crash, he wouldn't have finished in 15th place and earned one point, which would have given Reiterberger that 11th-place spot all to himself.
Kawasaki Racing Team leads the team standings with 162 points, followed by Aruba.it Racing with 115, Pata Yamaha with 76 and Althea BMW with 44. Kawasaki leads the manufacturer standings with 100 points, followed by Ducati (76), Yamaha (50), BMW (32), MV Agusta (27), Honda (22) and Aprilia (19).
The next round of World Superbike racing takes place at MotorLand Arágon in Spain from 31 March through 2 April.
Jordi Torres (ESP, Althea BMW Racing) is in 7th place in the WSBK standings after two rounds with 29 points, trailing series leader Jonathan Rea (UK, Kawasaki Racing Team) by 71 points.