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WSBK Round 3: Two fantastic races - plus FIRE!! FIRE!!

Posted By Wes Fleming, Monday, April 3, 2017

WSBK Round 3: Aragón, Spain

Jonathan Rea extended his early-season domination to a fifth straight win, but Chaz Davies finally broke through to end the streak by winning the second WSBK race in Aragón, Spain, on 2 April 2017. Rea leads the championship standings with 145 points; Davies is in second by a wide margin with 90.

The first two rounds in Australia and Thailand were brutally hot on the track, with temperatures high enough to tax both riders and machines. Aragón gave the riders a respite from that trend, with temps on the track under 80 degrees Fahrenheit on both Saturday and Sunday.

Everybody expected to see a battle royale on the track between Rea (Kawasaki) and Davies (Ducati), but nobody could have predicted the dramatic finale of Race 1.

Davies secured the pole position for the Race 1 grid, and clocked the fastest lap time from all the practice and superpole sessions with an impressive 1:49.319 trip around the 17-turn, 3.1-mile track at MotorLand. The grid shaped up much like previous Race 1s - Davies, Rea and Sykes in Row 1 and Melandri, Forés and BMW rider Jordi Torres in Row 2. The race commentators made much of the native Spaniards Forés and Torres gridding next to each other, and indeed they spent a good portion of each race trying to get round each other as well.

The Race 1 participation of Torres' Althea BMW teammate, Markus Reiterberger, was suspect right until the lights went out. He crashed during Superpole 1, slightly damaging his S 1000 RR, and after the sighting lap for Race 1, his crew wheeled his bike off the track. Fortunately they were able to solve whatever technical glitch was present, and Reiterberger made it to the grid in time to start the race from the back row of the grid.

Most racers went with the conservative choice for rear tires, given the "low" track temperatures. Torres bucked the trend by going with the softest tire he could for Race 1, with most other riders using medium or medium-hard rear tires.

Lorenzo Savadori sat out the round at Aragón, still sore from a neck injury suffered during a spectacular high side crash in Thailand a couple of weeks ago.

Davies took the hole shot through Turn 1, hounded immediately by Rea and Marco Melandri. Reiterberger moved from 20th to 15th in the first three turns, but Torres had a rough start, dropping from 6th at the start to 11th through Lap 3, when he finally was able to start picking up positions. Badovini dropped out early in Lap 1 with a technical problem.

Markus Reiterberger (GER), #21

Rea and Davies traded the lead a few times in the early laps, but Davies took advantage of slightly wide lines through the turns to keep Rea behind him - as close as 0.6 second for much of the race. Meanwhile, Torres overtook Nicky Hayden to climb to 10th place in Lap 7, about the same time as Rea took the lead position from Davies. Davies retook the lead in the next lap, with Melandri in 3rd and Sykes hot behind in 4th.

Xavi Forés took a spill in Lap 5, but was able to get his bike back up and running. He languished in last place for a few laps, then started clawing his way through the pack until forced to retire in Lap 16 when his motorcycle CAUGHT ON FIRE. He rode it out, perhaps hoping the fire would put itself out, but he finally had to jump off before he suffered significant injury.

While the race leaders were putting down lap times of 1:50, Torres continued climbing through the pack, reaching 8th in Lap 12. Reiterberger made some progress as well, rising to 13th in the pack. Late in Lap 12, Torres was able to close what was previously a gap of a full second and overtake Mercado to secure 7th position.

Up front, Rea denied Davies any opportunity to relax, staying on the leader's tail and taking every opportunity to show him the front wheel. Davies maintained his tenuous lead by braking late in nearly every turn and taking lines that successfully boxed Rea out. Rea gained the lead in Lap 15, but Davies took it right back, heightening the tension as the race approached its 18-lap limit.

Jordi Torres (ESP), #81

The pressure Rea kept on Davies paid off late in Lap 17, when Davies' front tire slipped out from underneath him. The bike flipped, trapping Davies' left leg underneath as they both slid through the gravel. After obsessively watching the replay, it looks like Davies is simply running too hot in the turn and the front tire loses its grip for a split second - which at those speeds and turn angles is enough to dump anybody on the ground.

With Davies out, Rea was able to take first place easily, followed by Melandri, Sykes, Lowes, van der Mark and Torres in 6th. Reiterberger finished Race 1 in 12th place - disappointing to be sure, but still in the points, which is a good race for a rookie.

Torres said about the weekend's racing, "We finish this weekend with a good feeling because this is a very difficult track. For me it was a special weekend as we returned to Europe and it was my home round. We all gave our best and also the support of the BMW Motorrad Motorsport engineers was very helpful. Unfortunately the start in both races was not the best and we were not too competitive in the first laps. But lap by lap we found our rhythm and I was able to overtake a lot of riders and to catch up again. That was good and important. The whole team worked very well and we did not have any problems with our BMW S 1000 RR, so it was good."

Sunday's weather for Race 2 was much like Saturday's for Race 1. A 20-kph wind blew across the track, but the temperatures were bearable for all. Due to the new gridding rules that put the 4th place finisher from Race 1 in the pole position, the Race 2 grid had Lowes, van der Mark and Torres in Row 1, backed up by Mercado, Laverty and Bradl. Race 1's podium finishers (Sykes, Melandri and Rea) gridded in Row 3, with Davies, Forés and Hayden behind them. Reiterberger again gridded 13th.

Sykes took the hole shot with Laverty tight on his tail. Torres had an even more disappointing start than Race 1, dropping back to 13th place in the first half of Lap 1, with Reiterberger falling to 15th.

Rea rose to 2nd position just before entering the downhill Turn 8-9 corkscrew on Lap 2, and by Lap 3, Melandri was behind him, while Davies struggled a bit to stay in the front group. At one point early in the race, with just under two seconds separating Rea in first position and Mercado in seventh. Melandri took 3rd position in dramatic fashion, forcing van der Mark wide in Turn 16 on Lap 3.

Melandri kept the pressure on race leader Rea while his teammate Davies forced his way forward into 4th, then 3rd place. Meanwhile, Torres battled Hayden for 10th place and Reiterberger had difficulty climbing out of 15th at the back of the pack. Hayden seemed to suffer some problem, as he soon dropped back to 18th position and later dropped out of the race completely.

Torres got past Ramos to reach 9th position in Lap 7, and not long after, Davies passed Lowes and gained 3rd position in Lap 8. Davies saw his fastest lap time of the day - which he would later top with a 1:50.976 time - in Lap 8. Torres continued gaining positions, passing Laverty with a dramatic inside move to take the lead slot in the second group.

Forés pressured Torres for position, but Torres instead put slight distance between them as he focused on catching Mercado. Though Lowes ran off the track in Turn 13 on Lap 10, he was able to get right back into the race in 13th position, enabling Torres to advance to 7th. Reiterberger was still in 15th position.

Melandri continued running hard, but his teammate Davies passed him, at which point Melandri's focus shifted from catching Rea and winning the race himself to providing support for his fellow Ducati rider. Davies advanced mercilessly on Rea and Melandri rode gallantly, holding off van der Mark's attempts to get into 3rd position and put pressure on Davies.

Both Melandri and Davies had softer tires on their Ducatis, and the acceleration of their bikes proved to be an advantage Rea had trouble dealing with, especially in the kilometer-long back straightaway that leads into the final two turns (16 and 17) of the track. Melandri runs with a slightly shorter swing arm than Davies does, and watching the slow-motion replays allows the viewer to see some slight differences in performance and handling between the two motorcycles.

Davies used his Ducati's advantages to overtake Rea in Lap 12; he quickly built a 0.4-second gap ahead of Rea, who now had to deal with Melandri nipping at his heels. Melandri made a big move in Turn 17, reaching a stunning speed of 202 mph to take 2nd position - briefly - from Rea. Rea took back 2nd, closing Davies' lead to just 0.439 second as they approached the final turns of Lap 15.

The two race leaders slowly built a one-second gap over Melandri in 3rd position over the next two laps. It looked every bit the repeat of the end of Race 1, with Rea pushing hard to swallow Davies. Even though Rea was able to continue closing the gap, he was unable to exert the same pressure he had shown Davies in Race 1, rarely coming alongside to force Davies to brake ever-more-deeply into the turns.

With the gap between Davies in 1st and Rea in 2nd closed to just a quarter of a second, Davies turned in a Lap 17 time of 1:50.954. Despite a quick wobble of the Ducati's rear and a fast move by Rea, Davies barely held on to his lead. Rea briefly passed him coming out of the chicane at Turn 15, but Davies got the lead position back and held onto it into Turn 16, winning Race 2 in dramatic fashion.

Rea found himself relegated to 2nd place for the first time this season, followed by Melandri, Sykes, van der Mark, Forés and Torres in 7th. Reiterberger finished Race 2 in 16th place.

This was Davies' 21st World Superbike win. Rea still leads the standings with 145 points; Davies trails by 50 points. Torres has 48 points and Reiterberger is in 13 place in the overall standings.

Reiterberger said, "“The weekend was a bit difficult for me. We started pretty well on Friday, were competitive and made good steps in the right direction. Especially on Saturday morning, my BMW S 1000 RR felt good. In Superpole 1, I was lying in third for most of the time and went out for another fast lap to further improve my time. In any case I would have had the pace for Superpole 2 but unfortunately I fell - probably because of a cold front tire. During the outlap, several riders had tried to stay at my rear wheel in order to achieve a decent lap time. I had to get rid of them all and also to wait for a clear track. The other riders who also waited crashed in the same corner as well. It was a pity that this prevented me from qualifying for Superpole 2 as I am convinced that a position in the top 10 on the grid would have been possible. Starting from the very back, I still managed to improve to 12th in Saturday’s race, which was okay. Sunday’s race was a bit more difficult. The wind was much stronger and we opted for a different rear tire. That turned out to be the better choice for the opening laps but as the race went on, I started to struggle a bit, could not turn the bike properly and develop a feeling for the bike. Now we will do some testing and I hope that we will find the way into the right direction."

Torres takes a moment to celebrate his race performance with fans.

Althea BMW followed up the round at Aragón with a full day of testing in which they worked on different improvements. Torres worked on tire durability and grip, issues he cited during the weekend's races. Reiterberger worked on getting more in tune with his S 1000 RR after what is clearly a disappointing start to the 2017 season. Both riders tested new components - including different swing arms - that may be incorporated full time onto the bikes in the future.

The next round of WSBK is at Assen in the Netherlands, starting on 28 April.

Tags:  Althea  Reiterberger  S1000RR  Torres  WSBK 

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