After having successfully completed the Pirelli Spanish Round at Jerez de la Frontera two weeks WorldSBK now heads to the wonderful circuit that is Portimao in what is one of my favourite countries in Europe, Portugal.
The third round of the Motul FIM Superbike World Championship will take place from 7th to 9th August and as per Jerez double races are scheduled over the weekend for the three Championship classes, as the riders will hit the track on Saturday for Race 1 and on Sunday for Race 2, in addition to the Tissot Superpole race for WorldSBK.
The Autódromo Internacional do Algarve was designed by architect Ricardo Pina and was inaugurated exactly ten years ago. This track is 4592 metres long, with 9 right-handers and six left-hand corners and a configuration with a maximum gradient of 57 metres, a long turn radii that goes from 23 metres to a maximum of 207 metres, and a finishing straight which has a total length of 835 metres. It is very demanding but a truly magnificent riders circuit and second only to Phillip Island in this scribes eyes.
The Portuguese circuit remains one of the circuits that best brings out the capacity of the tyre to operate in extremely different conditions because of its altitude changes and demanding blind entry curves. Specifically, the rear tyre must go from low to extremely high temperatures, the front must be able to come into the turns mentioned above quickly and precisely. Unlike the rear, which undergoes few but intense mechanical/thermal stresses, the front is always engaged in slow turns with a quick entry and small curvature radii (tight corner) which forces the rider to brake sharply, sometimes downhill.
The most challenging part for the tyres is the last turn which is 350 metres long and takes 6.5 seconds to navigate, and due to the wide turning radius (about 150 metres), the bike is in constant acceleration and goes from 150 to 250 kph at a lean angle of about 50-degrees. So there is a remarkable increase in temperature on the side of the tyre affected by the lean, particularly for the rear tyre which must withstand the high temperature while simultaneously ensuring strong lateral force and allowing the bike to accelerate, it is a ballsy corner… Corners 5, 8, 11, 13, and 14 have on the contrary a very tight radius (about 30 metres), which forces the rider to brake to an extremely low speed. Halfway through the turn the bike needs the rear tyre, which is very cold, to provide strong longitudinal acceleration up to 1G at a lean angle of 50°. The tyres are particularly cold, especially coming into the left handers (numbers 5 and 13).
Marco Zambenedetti – Ducati Corse Superbike Technical Coordinator
“It’s a track with a very particular layout, with many ups and downs and for this reason, it will be important to interpret it well. One critical point is the presence of several bumps, while I think a strong point for us could be the exit from the last corner where we can exploit not only the engine but above all the aerodynamics, an aspect where Ducati has always been at the forefront even in bikes derived from production model“.
So far this year in WorldSBK we have had four different winners in the opening six races and new riders have been making their mark. Championship leader by 24 points after the first two rounds, rookie Scott Redding (Ducati) heads to round three confident. The Brit took his first wins of his WorldSBK career at Jerez and with the Ducati Panigale V4 R winning Race 2 with Alvaro Bautista in 2019, he could add to that tally.
“Portimao is an almost new circuit for me. I only raced here once in my career, then I came back for the tests in January. I must admit, though, I had good feelings. It is a track that I really like, that I find fun and the feeling in the tests was positive. We’ve come from an exciting and satisfying weekend and I can’t wait to get on my Ducati Panigale V4 R on Friday morning“.
Team-mate Chaz Davies enjoyed a return to podium form at Jerez and finished second in Race 2 to Redding, securing Ducati’s first WorldSBK 1-2 since Assen in 2012. Davies was second in Race 1 at Portimao in 2019 and looks good in 2020; don’t discount him.
“I hope I can confirm the positive trend we had in Jerez de la Frontera. Last year we achieved a good result on this track as I finished second in Race-1. I think we have improved a lot compared to that race and I am sure we have all the credentials to do well. The weather conditions will be different here. We are ready and determined to face this weekend“.
A contrasting weekend at Jerez for Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK); leader in Race 1 and Tissot Superpole Race winner, yet off the pace in Race 2 and outside the top five in a race for the first time since Laguna Seca in 2014. But if one track can host a Rea revival then Portimao is it, as he has the most wins (nine), most podiums (17) and shares the record for pole with Tom Sykes, (three).
“Portimao is a circuit that has been kind to us in the past and it suits the nature of our bike. There are a lot of areas where we can exploit the strengths of our Ninja ZX-10RR. I enjoy the challenge of the circuit as it is very undulating and it is the closest thing you get to a motocross track. The changes of elevation and blind corners; it really takes a lot of rider input and set-up to make a perfect lap. I am looking forward to starting on Friday with the team again and the emphasis will be on understanding how our base set-up works there, especially in the heat. We will possibly face hot temperatures like we have just had this past weekend. We will confirm everything because it was working pretty OK in Jerez. Our goal is to improve the feeling, work toward the races and at the end the target is to win.”
KRT team-mate Alex Lowes was the Championship leader coming into Jerez, but he’s third going to Portimao; he’ll be in the mix again after his first podium at the venue last year.
“I am looking forward to Portimao after not the easiest weekend in Jerez but I learned a lot about the bike. I had not had too much experience of the Kawasaki in the heat so the past weekend was about understanding it and learning the best way to ride the bike and adapt my style to the bike rather than chasing a setting. We made some good steps and hopefully that will put us in a good position at Portimao. It is not the easiest track but it is one I really enjoy. I think that the Kawasaki is going to work well there. I am looking forward to trying it for the first time on the ZX-10RR. I am happy we have had only had a few days until we get back out, because we were building momentum over the weekend in Jerez. We can just focus on starting on Friday morning and building from there. It is going to be good fun.”
Toprak Razgatlioglu (PATA YAMAHA WorldSBK Official Team) lies fourth and has four podiums so far this year, but two technical DNFs have left the Turk behind. He was a podium runner at Portimao in 2019 and set impressive times at the rollercoaster in testing on his Yamaha. If he can have a round without issues, it could transcend into something special. On the other side of the garage, Michael van der Mark also suffered a mechanical issue at Jerez but took a first rostrum of 2020 in the same meeting. He has a best result of second at Portimao; can he go one better in 2020?
Toprak Razgatlıoğlu – Pata Yamaha
“I like Portimão because although it’s very tough, there’s a good flow to the circuit. We’re confident of a strong result, having set the fastest lap during the pre-season test here in January. I’m happy to be back and we’ll start with the same set-up that we had in the test, which we know works well. It wasn’t an easy weekend in Jerez with the hot conditions, but it’s a little bit cooler here and we will see where we are when we get going for Free Practice. The goal is to be fighting for victory again.”
Michael van der Mark – Pata Yamaha
“Very happy to have another race this weekend. Jerez wasn’t quite the race we expected so I’m looking forward to bouncing back and getting some good points in Portugal. Portimão is one of my favourite tracks on the calendar and we’ve always had really good results there and are always in contention for the podium, so I’m excited to go racing at this circuit again. It looks like it will be another hot one, but I’m ready and our goal is to be fighting for the top three at least.”
Paul Denning – Team Principal Pata Yamaha
“Despite the challenges faced in Jerez, namely the extreme heat and of course the Covid protocols in place to ensure that the event could proceed safely, it was great to be “back at it” and fighting for victory in the WorldSBK championship. To be completely transparent, the team faced a number of difficulties in addition to these challenges, it was not the smoothest race event we have ever experienced, so we are looking to put that right at Portimão. Both Michael and Toprak love this circuit, and the R1 certainly enjoys the flowing nature and elevation changes of the track. The competition is as strong as ever, but as we saw in Jerez even in a “tough weekend” both riders and the Pata Yamaha team were ready to battle at the front – and we intend to do just that again at Portimão this weekend.”
Occupying seventh in the Championship is Loris Baz (Ten Kate Racing Yamaha), who is promising in 2020. In contention in Spain, Portugal and Portimao await the fastest Independent rider of 2020 so far. Just ten points behind van der Mark in sixth, a special duel awaits in the Algarve. Baz has his own threat for Independent honours; Michael Ruben Rinaldi’s (Team GOELEVEN) stunning Jerez results sent shockwaves through the paddock. A fourth place in Race 2 – after passing Lowes and Rea – gave a fairytale result for the Italian. Can both riders battle at the front again?
Lying between Baz and ninth-placed Rinaldi in the standings is Alvaro Bautista (Team HRC); the 2019 runner-up won Race 2 for Ducati last year. Two races in the points at Jerez and with potential there, Portimao’s intricacies will test Honda, but it should be a track that suits both rider and bike. Leon Haslam (Team HRC) has four podiums at Portimao, including one for Honda in 2008’s Race 2. Tenth overall and yet to finish outside the points, a strong weekend calls the ‘Pocket Rocket’.
“In Jerez we collected a great deal of information to work with in Portimão. It will be very important to be able to combine this data with what we got from winter testing in order to try and be more competitive than we were in Jerez. We have some ideas and we’ll see if they work once we get there. Portimão is a challenging track as it’s bumpy and has a lot of undulation. It might not be easy, but we really need to take a step forward with respect to Jerez.”
“I think Portimão can be a good track for us as the Honda is very fast and the circuit’s main straight is one of the best places to pass. It also requires a lot of hard braking and one of the things we’ve been working on is our straight-line braking, so I can say I’m looking forward to it. It’s a real rollercoaster of a track, where we see some big wheelies, so there are various things to manage but I hope we can use our third event to better understand where we need to continue working.”
It was a dismal Jerez for BMW; Tom Sykes’ (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) third place start was the only real highlight after a Race 1 technical problem. Sixth in the Tissot Superpole Race was followed up by 11th in Race 2, so Sykes comes to Portimao in search of a much-needed result. Two wins at Portimao will lift his confidence and BMW’s best result in 2019 at Portimao was seventh. For teammate Eugene Laverty, Portimao’s almost been like a home event for him and like Sykes, has won there twice. 17th in the standings, the Irishman needs a turnaround in luck and form.
“It has always been my favourite circuit, it’s so natural with the undulations. It’s great fun, especially on a motorbike. When you’re braking into turn one from more than 300 km/h, the braking point goes sharp downhill. Also great is Craig Jones Corner, where it is fourth gear, spinning the rear and on the exit it is completely blind so experience is so valuable at this track. It is not a track that you can learn instantly and I have more than a decade of experience there. I am hoping that this weekend I can benefit from that and get back on the podium.”
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