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Did you see that bike explode at WSBK Imola? I did!

Posted By Wes Fleming, Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Race 1

Both races this weekend were delayed due to safety issues; Race 2 actually started and was quickly red-flagged before a lengthy delay led to a restart.

Chaz Davies came into Imola a heavy favorite on a track that favors the power curve of his Ducati. He also debuted his new X-Lite helmet paint job, a sharp-looking tribute to the Italian national flag.

Photo courtesy of Cycle News.

Italians in this weekend's race include Rafaelle de Rosa (BMW S 1000 RR), Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia RSV4), Marco Melandri (Ducati Panigale R), Ayrton Badovini (Kawasaki ZX-10RR), and Riccardi Russo (Yamaha YZF-1). There wasn't an empty seat in sight, and the crowd was vocal throughout the races.

BMW rider for Team Althea Jordi Torres missed Superpole 2 due to illness and didn't race on Saturday. His teammate Raffaele De Rosa crashed twice in practice & Superpole sessions, and is thus relegated to 16th on the grid for Race 1. The usual names are at the front of the grid: Davies, Sykes, Rea in Row 1; Camier, Melandri, Laverty right behind them. Pretty much all the riders have an SE0 soft rear tire; Davies used a softer front tire than the majority of the field.

Jordi Torres, #81

Rea has won five times at Imola, and has won 7 of 8 races so far this season. Sykes came into Imola 64 points behind Rea, Davies 20 points behind him.

Race 1 started off with Davies taking the hole shot, with Melandri right behind. Sykes pulled a big wheelie off start and found himself in fourth position. De Rosa came through the first few turns in 18th position.

Raffaele de Rosa, #35

Davies making early gap of 1 second; Melandri holding Rea off but Rea challenging hard. All the riders had difficulty with the vicious double 90-degree chicane right before start/finish straight, but De Rosa rose to 16th going into Lap 2. Rea has shown his willingness to play the long game, so his early third position in the field was likely no worry for him. Melandri was full second behind Davies, but half a second ahead of Rea, who stumbled a bit through the final chicane. Rea's teammate Sykes right on his tail, making the field Ducati-Ducati-Kawasaki-Kawasaki.

On the same lap that Davies set new track record w/ 1.46.393 lap - 0.4 sec. faster than previous lap record, De Rosa dropped back to 17th on lap 3. Then Mercado (#36) crashed in Turn 7, dropping out. In Lap 4, Rea closed the gap on Melandri, but Davies continued pulling away. Rea put tremendous pressure on Melandri, who worked hard to stay ahead of the points leader. A quick wobble from Melandri allowed Rea to take advantage, pass and immediately start pulling away to try to close on Davies' 1.5-second lead.

Hayden dropped out in Lap 5, indicating trouble with the front end of the bike. Xavi Forés pulled into 5th place, showing one of his strongest efforts to date, with Laverty and Camier battling for 6th place. By then, Davies had a 4.5-second lead. Sykes pushed Melandri, trying to take over 4th place. Rea was solidly in second, not closing the gap on Davies and perhaps waiting for Davies to make a mistake or crash. By Lap 8, Davies increased his lead to 5.25 seconds.

With 7 laps to go, Davies had 7.5-second lead, but he didn't relax, keeping his lap times in the mid-to-high 1.46 range. He only ran three laps in the low 1.47 range.

With no warning, Eugene Laverty had a spectacular crash coming out of Turn 17. The replay showed contact between Lowes' rear tire and Laverty's front end, resulting in Laverty's front fender breaking off. It appeared to get bound up in the front wheel or the front brake, and rocketed straight through the gravel into the wall. Laverty ejected, and the bike dramatically exploded when it hit the wall. Laverty was taken for a medical checkup - he was OK, just a little beat up - and officials determined there was no fault/malice in contact that caused the crash. An understandable red flag stopped the race.

The Race Marshals declared the race complete with six laps to go due to the red flag. Davies took the win, finishing 6.6 seconds ahead of second-place Rea. Melandri took third, then Sykes, Forés, Camier, van der Mark and Lowes. De Rosa finished 14th, 43.5 seconds behind Davies. Davies' top speed was 282.3 kmh (175.4 mph).

Due to his fourth-place finish, Tom Sykes got pole position for Race 2; he usually shows strongly when he starts from front row. Rea was remarkably sanguine about finishing second, congratulating Davies and saying he looked forward to better finishes at future tracks. It was odd to see Rea basically conceding the second race to Davies, but in nine of the last 13 rounds, the winner of Race 1 has also won Race 2.

The mayor of Imola came out to award the trophies. Davies and Rea appeared cordial with each other, perhaps showing that they've moved past the animosity between them on display for the last couple of rounds. Claudio Domenicali, the CEO of Ducati, attended the weekend's festivities and accepted the team win trophy, getting soaked with Prosecco by Davies in the process.



Race 2 was slated for the same 19 laps around Imola's 4.936 km (3.067 miles) track of nine right and 13 left turns, including two 90-degree chicanes, but it was quite a different race. Other than a little early excitement, it was a more sedate race than Saturday's affair, perhaps because nobody's motorcycle exploded. Conditions on the track were hot, with the temperature approaching 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit).

With the front of the grid looking pretty normal for this season's Race 2 events (Sykes, Forés, Camier in Row 1; van der Mark, Lowes, Ramos in Row 2; Melandri, Rea, Davies in Row 3), Laverty gridded 10th for Race 2 after his fiery crash in Race 1 caused him - obviously - to drop out. Team Milwaukee's Aprilias gridded 10-11-12 (Laverty, Mercado, Savadori). Team Althea's De Rosa gridded 16th after 15th place finish in Race 1. De Rosa's senior teammate Jordi Torres gridded 21st after failing to get a time in Superpole or participate in Race 1 due to gastrointestinal distress. Confidentially, the word on the street was that his sluices were open at both ends, but clearly he's gotten that under control for Race 2.

If Sykes managed to get the hole shot and if he could hold on to the lead for a few laps, popular wisdom was that he could finish on the podium. He did indeed get the hole shot and managed to hold the lead through about the first half of Lap 1. Torres rose two positions by Turn 5.

Rea was in fourth and Davies in ninth going into Lap 2, a rough start for the Race 1 winner. However, the engine on Ayrton Badovini's Team Grillini Kawasaki ZX-10R gave out in Turn 16, spreading smoke in the air and oil on the track. The red flag came out again, and Race Marshalls decided to restart the race with original grid positions, not race positions at the time of the flag. They shaved one lap off the length of the race, waited for track workers to use cement dust to absorb the fluids on the track, brooms to spread it, and then a tractor with a giant directional fan to blow most of the cement dust off the track. Forty hot minutes after the red flag, Race 2 restarted.

Sykes got the hole shot again, but critically, Davies got a much better start and went into Turn 3 in sixth position. Rea moved into 3rd position before half the initial lap was over. Lingering loose cement dust on the track from Badovini's grenaded engine gave the riders - including Camier and Davies - some trouble. Rea ran wide in a chicane due to carrying too much speed into the second half of the chicane; he gave way and dropped to sixth position behind Forés. Melandri had trouble with a chicane as well.

Torres rose to 14th position in Lap 2, with De Rosa not far behind in 16th. Sykes continued to lead, with Camier, Davies and Melandri close on his rear tire and Rea in 5th. Rea seemed impatient, perhaps concerned that Davies was statistically likely to win the race and there hasn't been a round yet in which Rea failed to earn at least one first-place finish. Sykes was able to maintain a two-second lead through Laps 3 and 4.

Camier crashed in Turn 12, out of the race after running in 2nd place for the whole of the first three laps. Davies rose to 2nd, with Rea behind him in 3rd. De Angelis followed Camier in the same lap, crashing out in Turn 19. Torres rose to 12th, De Rosa to 13th, both of them trying to catch Mercado and American Nicky Hayden, who continued to fight his Honda for dominance on the track.

Davies pulled in fastest lap with 1.46.720, started chipping away at Sykes' two-second lead. By Lap 7, Sykes' lead was just 0.3 of a second - about a bike length. Davies made his move in the first chicane of Lap 8, passing Sykes and quickly opening up a half-second gap. Rea remained in 3rd, but with a 1.5-second gap to make up to catch Sykes. In mid-Lap 9, De Rosa dropped back to 14th thanks to a nice pass by Savadori; at the same time, Torres rose one position to 11th and started to put pressure on Hayden.

Rea mercilessly gained on his teammate Sykes, steadily closing the gap to 0.2 of a second in Lap 10. Sykes pushed his bike hard, sliding through turns and putting up puffs of smoke from that abused rear tire. Sykes' defensive riding eventually gave way to Rea's expertise, but it was an incredible effort on the part of Sykes. Davies extended his comfort gap out front to three seconds as Rea started putting distance between himself (in 2nd) and his teammate Sykes.

Finishing in second or third would mean different things for Sykes; if he finished in third and Davies won the race, then they would switch places in the overall point standings, with Davies taking over second place. A second place finish in Race 2 by Sykes would keep him second in the points behind Rea.

Hayden stumbled in Lap 13, allowing Torres and Mercado to get past him. De Rosa dropped back another spot to 15th, while Torres set his sights on Ramos in ninth place ahead of him. Torres made his move to collect Ramos in mid-Lap 15, easily making the pass as he continued to make up about a full second a lap. Catching van der Mark looked like a piece of work - difficult, but not impossible - given the short amount of time left in the race.

Going into the last lap, it looked as if the final standing would be Davies, Rea and Sykes on the podium, with Torres in 9th and De Rosa in 15th. Then Krummenacher passed De Rosa, bumping him back to 16th and robbing him of the one point assigned for finishing in 15th.

Davies indeed won the race handily, taking his first double win of the season since nobody was able to catch him once he took the lead. Rea followed, then Sykes, Forés, Melandri, Lowes, Laverty and - surprise! Torres in 8th after he managed to pick off van der Mark at the last second.

Torres had the most impressive performance of the race, using the power and technology available to him with the S 1000 RR to make up an astonishing 13 places over his grid start. "We had a good race today," Torres said, continuing, "Fortunately I’ve recovered after yesterday’s illness and that didn’t affect me at all during the race. Starting last on the grid, it wasn’t easy of course, but I was able to quickly get into a good rhythm. I hoped to be able to do a little more actually but in these conditions with the tyre that we use it was the best I could do. I thank the team, the result is good considering we lost the whole day yesterday and then I want to thank the Clinica Mobile, because without their help I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did today."

De Rosa added, "It was a difficult race, with two red flags. The third start turned out to be the worst for me, I was having trouble stopping the bike, and particularly defending myself from the other riders. With the pace I had, I think fifth was about all we could do today, conditions weren’t easy. I thank the whole team for their great work this weekend, we’ve scored some points and I hope we do more at Donington."

The championship points standings have Rea still in first place with 235 points. Davies is 74 points back, with Sykes one point behind him. Torres has 65 points and is in eighth place. The manufacturer's standings still see Kawasaki in first place with 235 points, Ducati in 2nd (-32), Yamaha in 3rd (-129) and BMW in 4th (-162).

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