World SBK heads to Imola for round five

The fifth event of the World SBK season takes the series to Imola for the Acerbis Italian Round. In the Province of Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region, the circuit named in honour of Enzo and Dino Ferrari has been on the World Superbike calendar since 2001, with the exceptions of 2007 and 2008 when the series raced at Vallelunga. The current 4.936km layout features 22 corners of which 13 are left-handers. The flowing nature of the layout, the many elevation changes and the lack of long straights make Imola one of the most demanding and technical tracks in the world.

Imola has hosted a total of 23 races to date, with only the second encounter of 2005 having been called off due to adverse conditions. Furthermore, since 2002, no less than seven events out of 11 have thrown up double victories; Colin Edwards did it first on the historic day when he beat Troy Bayliss to a second world title, whereas the latest was taken by current series leader Jonathan Rea in 2014.

Surely facts like this generate only further confidence for the Kawasaki Racing Team rider, who has already picked up two doubles since the start of 2015: Buriram and Assen. Having collected a massive 95% of the maximum championship points on offer so far this season, few would bet against the Northern Irish Kawasaki rider.

Jonathan Rea: “I am looking forward to Imola because it is a track I really enjoy; a really technical track. It requires a lot of thought to be put into the lap and there are many areas where you can make up time by using quite different techniques, especially in the Piratella and Acque Minerali sections. I enjoy going to Italy in general and it is good to go somewhere where I went really well last year and in the past. It is the first time in Italy this year and I am just excited to go there. I have not been working with my crew chief Pere Riba for that long but we have a really good understanding of each other. We will be working through a few plans this weekend to make sure are strong for the next few races. It is going to be another tough weekend because Imola always provides some good racing.”

Jonathan Rea has been dominant on the Kawasaki ZX-10R in WorldSBK season 2015
Jonathan Rea has been dominant on the Kawasaki ZX-10R in World SBK season 2015
 @mcnewscomau on Instagram, or @mcnewscomau on Twitter and Facebook

There could be a lot for the Italians to shout about this weekend. Aprilia has achieved no less than 11 podiums at the track and at least one of the marque’s bikes has always finished in the top five of every Imola race since the start of 2009. The manufacturer’s leading representative in the current standings is Leon Haslam, who is the closest challenger to Rea and took a victory in Australia, while rookie team-mate Jordi Torres is yet to finish lower than in sixth position every time he sees the chequered flag.

Leon Haslam: “I really can’t wait to get things going again at Imola. Even though it’s not an easy track, it is one I always enjoy. The atmosphere of the Italian fans and the history of the track always give me goose bumps. I also know the team has been working hard in the weeks off so it’s exciting to get back on track”.

Rookie Jordi Torres is taking on the Imola circuit for the first time and it is certainly not the easiest track to learn. In any case Jordi has demonstrated an ability to quickly adapt to the new category and his work method could very well allow him to find speed and confidence straight away. For him there is a particularly wide margin for improvement in his first Superbike season. The main goal is to close the gap behind the lead pack and to keep pace with the best so he can begin to stay within reach of the podium.

Jordi Torres: “Imola is also a new track for me. I have prepared as much as possible with video games and films, although it isn’t easy to figure out the nature of such a complex circuit. I’ll be riding onto the track with a great desire to do well and to stay close to the best riders, even if not knowing the track makes everything more difficult. We’ll keep working on fine tuning my RSV4 in braking and from an electronics point of view in order to try to push the bike and tyres to the limit.”

Jorid Torres
Jorid Torres

Perhaps the biggest stories will be the World Superbike comebacks of two famous names. Davide Giugliano finally returns, having been ruled out of action when he injured his back in a pre-season testing crash at Phillip Island. Since then, his Racing – Ducati SBK Team has returned to winning ways with Chaz Davies, who is third in the championship standings. Last year, Giugliano started on the front row at Imola, having finished on the podium after leading Race 1 in 2013.

Davide Giugliano  – “It’s great to be able to come back for Imola, the home track. There’ll be a lot of expectations but the fact that I’ll have a lot of supporters there will give me an extra push. I like the track and we were fast there last year, even though we were unable to score the results we deserved come race day. This year it seems like we’re more competitive but seeing as I’ll be getting on the bike for the first time in three months, I’m going to have to work hard to regain the feeling with my Panigale R. Physically I’m feeling quite good but over the last two months I’ve been unable to train as I normally would, only doing some swimming and rehabilitation. Obviously the level of physical preparation is not as it was when I arrived at Phillip Island, but we’ll know more once I get back on the bike – I can’t wait to (re)start!”

Chaz Davies – “I’m excited to head to Imola. We had two good races last year, and I was able to finish both in second place, at a point at which we still had things to sort out with the bike. One year on, and with a lot more knowledge and experience of the Panigale, I’m hopeful that we can do well. Imola always feels like the best race of the year in terms of atmosphere, and feeling the support of the fans is something special, especially as a Ducati rider. It definitely adds some pressure but I like that! My goals remain the same as in recent rounds, to be on the podium twice, and then if I can do more, I’ll do more. I think this is a crucial point of the championship, and it’s time to be looking to winning more races and getting some points back – this is at the forefront of my mind.”

Elsewhere, Michel Fabrizio is also likely to boost attendance figures as he reappears on the grid, subbing for Nico Terol at the Althea Racing Team. The 30-year-old from Rome has been a regular on the grid since 2006 and will ride alongside fellow countryman Matteo Baiocco ahead of Terol’s suspected return at Donington Park.

Michel Fabrizio: “I’m pleased to be able to race at a track at which I’ve won in the past and I’m proud to be a part – even if only for one race – of a team that has already achieved so much success, as well as a world title. Together with the team, that has so much experience and the will to win, I know that I’ll be able to complete two good races, finally having the highest quality materials and bike at my disposal. I only have to concentrate on twisting the throttle. I want to thank Genesio Bevilacqua who has shown how much faith he has in me.”

Matteo Baiocco: “I’m pleased to race in Italy in front of our fans. We closed the Assen weekend positively, finding the right set-up, though starting a bit further back compromised results, which could have been better. The potential of the team is very high and at the home round I’ll try to do everything that I’ve not managed to do up until now, that is start near the front and give 110% in the races. I hope to see all of the fans there.”

The grid’s other Italian is Ayrton Badovini, who believes his season ‘will begin’ at Imola, where in the Superstock 1000 class he won in 2010; this was his ninth victory out of ten races in what proved to be a truly dominant title-winning campaign.

Behind the championship top three of Rea, Haslam and Davies, 2013 title winner Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) is looking to get his championship fight back on track, having struggled with a major lack of rear-end traction last time out at Assen.

Tom Sykes: “I do not look at Imola any differently from any other circuit just because we have had some success there in the past, but for whatever reason we have had some good results there, even on the previous model of Ninja ZX-10R. I have two main limitations on the bike right now but when we cross those bridges I feel confident that I will be back to myself. And back to where we have been in the past three years, which is challenging and at the sharp end of the timing sheets. I am going to Imola like always, expecting to be fighting. I just want a package that lets me challenge the other guys at the end of the race. We have not had that yet but it is something we have had in the past and I do believe we are knocking on the door now, gradually getting that balance right for me now. I am hoping that this weekend, in front of a really fantastic and enthusiastic Italian crowd, we can hit the nail on the head. That is what I am gunning for.”

Pata Honda World Superbike Team’s Michael van der Mark, made history at Assen by becoming the first Dutchman to clinch a World Superbike podium finish; he immediately doubled the tally by clinching another podium in Race 2. He now sits just five points in arrears of World Champion team-mate Sylvain Guintoli, while the championship top ten is completed by Barni Racing Team’s Leandro Mercado.

Michael van der Mark – “I actually got to Italy a few days early so I’ve been relaxing and driving around and enjoyed a visit to San Marino. It was fairly quiet after the busy weekend at Assen, but it was good to meet some fans at the Ten Kate Pitstop Day the following Saturday, even though the weather wasn’t very kind. I’m really looking forward to getting back into action at Imola though. I really like the circuit but I know it will be very different on a Superbike than it was on my CBR600RR from last year. I hope we can make the Fireblade work as well here as Jonathan Rea made it work last season, but we have quite different settings, so it won’t be easy. But we definitely found something really positive at Assen, working together as a team and analyzing the data, so we’ll be looking for more this weekend in Italy.”

Michael Van Der Mark
Michael Van Der Mark

Sylvain Guintoli – “Assen started as quite a difficult weekend for us but we ended up closer than we have been to the guys at the front. It was another important stepping stone to getting up there, and at least I can see what’s going on now! It was a mixture of changes to the CBR, my own riding style and the Assen circuit suiting the package but it was definitely a boost that we were able to catch the leaders in the first part of both races. It seems like Imola also suits the CBR because Johnny (Rea) had such a strong weekend there last season. It’s very technical and physical, and tough on both riders and bikes, so I’ve been training hard since Assen But it’s a great track with its own personality and it certainly gives us, as riders, an extra adrenalin shot.”

At Voltcom Crescent Suzuki, Alex Lowes and Randy de Puniet move into their third round since switching to a Magneti Marelli electronics package. They will continue to juggle their race setup work with bike development, with the ongoing testing ban meaning the British-based team is having to use practice sessions to continue expanding its bike capabilities. Although it may be a steep mountain to climb, signs of progress were visible in The Netherlands two weekends ago, not least as Lowes qualified on the second row of the grid and went on to finish Race 2 in ninth place.

Alex Lowes:  “After the three week break I’m looking forward to Imola, getting back on the GSX-R and trying to get closer to the front. I like the track as it’s so technical, it can be quite hard to set the bike up there but I enjoy the challenge! The atmosphere of the race event and Imola itself, with its racing history, are cool and the fans are so passionate, so it’s a great place for the Championship to visit.”

Randy de Puniet:  “For me Imola is almost like a new track, having not ridden there for 16 years and the last time was on such a small bike so it will be very different. It’s an interesting track as it moves up and downhill so it will be great to ride and after three difficult race events I am really hoping for a good weekend. The team has been working really hard to develop the electronics since Assen and it looks like we have found a solution which is good news for me and for the whole team. I really hope we can come out at Imola and perform the way we all know we are capable. I’m confident because the team is dedicated to pushing the GSX-R’s performance forward and I will give my best over the weekend, work hard and stay focused.”

Randy De Puniet
Randy De Puniet

Several riders will reach landmark race start numbers in Italy. Ayrton Badovini will make his 130th World Superbike start in Race 2 and Davide Giugliano’s return will begin with his 80th race in the opening encounter. As for championship leader Jonathan Rea, Imola’s second race will see him become the 24th rider to start 150 races in WorldSBK’s premier class. He debuted on the Algarve in 2008; since then, Rea has amassed 21 race wins, 50 podium finishes, 13 Superpoles and 13 fastest laps. He also carries the sixth-largest lead after the opening eight races of a season in the series’ history, with a 50-point cushion over Haslam.

2015 eni FIM Superbike World Championship (4 of 13 rounds completed)
  1. Jonathan Rea Kawasaki Racing Team – 190
  2. Leon Haslam Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils – 140
  3. Chaz Davies Racing – Ducati Superbike Team – 123
  4. Tom Sykes Kawasaki Racing Team – 88
  5. Jordi Torres Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils – 83
World Superbike Assen 2015 Points
World Superbike Assen 2015 Points
Jonathan Rea on way to victory in race one at Imola in 2014. The Australian based Northern Irishman has switched to Kawasaki machinery for 2015, with instant success
Jonathan Rea on way to victory in race one at Imola in 2014. The Australian based Northern Irishman has switched to Kawasaki machinery for 2015, with instant success
WSS travels to Italy as Sofuoglu tries to consolidate title lead

Opinions were rife following the fascinating Kenan Sofuoglu-Jules Cluzel battle at Assen. The fact of the matter is that the two rivals made contact en route to a Sofuoglu victory. Naturally, each man blamed the other while fans and journalists had their own opinions, although Race Direction decided that no further action should be taken and that the race result should stand. That leaves Puccetti Racing Team rider Sofuoglu with a 25-point championship lead over PJ Jacobsen (Kawasaki Intermoto Ponyexpres), while Cluzel has fought back up to third overall and is 35 points in arrears of the overall leader.

Next on the agenda is the historic Imola circuit in Italy, where last year Lorenzo Zanetti – now team-mate to Cluzel at MV Agusta Reparto Corse – clinched an emotional career-first World Supersport victory complete with an Ayrton Senna replica crash helmet, dedicated to the three-time F1 World Champion who lost his life at Imola in a 1994 crash. Current championship leader Sofuoglu has also been able to enjoy a strong run at Imola, having won there both in 2009 and 2013.

World Supersport Assen 2015 Podium
World Supersport Assen 2015 Podium

Imola debuted on the World Supersport calendar in 2001 for that year’s season finale. Australia’s Andrew Pitt sealed his first title, peculiar due to the fact that he had not clinched a race victory that year, as he finished fourth while closest rival and championship leader heading into the round Paolo Casoli retired on the opening lap. Since then, the circuit has undergone major redevelopment and was off the calendar for two years as Rome’s Vallelunga staged the race for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. 

At Imola 2015 Andrew Pitt is bringing another young Australian to the fore in his Kawasaki Intermoto Ponyexpres Team. Aiden Wagner recently starred in his Australasian FX Superbike debut, and was then offered a fully sponsored Team Honda Superbike ride in Australia but has chosed to throw his hat into the international ring and will make his European debut this weekend.  Aiden will join the already established team that consists of Patrick Jacobsen (USA) and Lucas Mahias (France), both riders are front-runners with Jacobsen currently sitting second in the championship. Wagner will make it two Australian riders on the World Supersport grid, Glenn Scott on his AARK Racing Honda the other Aussie in the World Supersport ranks.

This year Italian fans will be looking to the likes of the aforementioned Zanetti, as well as other regulars Rolfo, Baldolini, Faccani, Gamarino, Menghi and Russo who hope for a first home World Supersport win at Imola. On the other hand, Gino Rea will do something only another four number of British riders have done before him, which is to make his 30th race start in the category.

In terms of the Constructors’ Championship, Kawasaki edges Honda by the slim margin of seven points. The first Japanese marque is aiming for a 25th pole position in the category, while Honda is looking to make it 95 occasions of heading up a grid.

2015 FIM Supersport World Championship (4 of 12 rounds completed)
  1. Kenan Sofuoglu Kawasaki Puccetti Racing – 80
  2. PJ Jacobsen Intermoto Ponyexpres Kawasaki – 55
  3. Jules Cluzel MV Agusta Reparto Corse – 45
Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta RC – Yakhnich Motorsport) snatched Pole Position for the fourth round of the World Supersport championship at Imola in 2014, under sweltering conditions with a final lap surge to displace multiple champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Maha Team India Kawasaki).
Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta RC – Yakhnich Motorsport) snatched Pole Position for the fourth round of the World Supersport championship at Imola in 2014, under sweltering conditions with a final lap surge to displace multiple champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Maha Team India Kawasaki).
Savadori leads Superstock 1000 pack coming to Imola

The end of the 2014 Superstock 1000 season was nothing short of disastrous for Lorenzo Savadori, who threw away an almost certain title win on the final lap at Magny-Cours. Since then, the Nuova M2 Racing Aprilia rider has notched up a second place plus a victory to lead the class standings by 12 points from compatriot Raffaele De Rosa (Althea Racing Team Ducati).

It has been four years since an Italian won at Imola in the Superstock 1000 class. On that occasion it was Danilo Petrucci who did the honours en route to the runner-up spot, before heading to Grand Prix racing the following season. Judging by Savadori’s performances so far, there looks to be a fair chance of another home winner this weekend, although a number of potential challengers are queuing up for victories.

Behind de Rosa and third overall is Brno’s Ondrej Jezek (Triple-M by Barni Ducati), who won the Imola race last year, while Kev Coghlan (MRS Yamaha) is fourth and Roberto Tamburini (MotoxRacing BMW) makes it three Italians inside the top five. In Tamburini’s case, he has fallen to 20 points behind Savadori after leading the standings following his Race 1 win in the opening round; at Assen, it all went wrong as he clipped the back of Kevin Valk’s machine and was unable to restart after the red flag.

Incidentally, should Kawasaki see at least one of its bikes finishing inside the top 15 this weekend, this would equal Suzuki’s leading tally as both a manufacturer and engine supplier for 61 straight races inside the points. So far this season, Bryan Staring has been Kawasaki’s leading representative in both races, finishing sixth at MotorLand Aragón and eighth at Assen in the most recent round, two weekends ago. Staring is currently sixth in the standings with 18 points. 

Bryan Staring wins at Aragon 2012
Bryan Staring won the Superstock 1000 race at Aragon in 2012
2015 FIM Superstock 1000 Cup (2 of 8 rounds completed)
  1. Lorenzo Savadori Nuova M2 Racing Aprillia – 45
  2. Raffaele De Rosa Althea Racing Ducati – 33
  3. Ondrej Jezek Triple-M by Barni Ducati – 27
2015 FIM Europe European Superstock 600 Championship
Can the Turkish March be stopped at Imola?

In terms of global recognition as a classic race circuit, Imola never comes far from the top of the list. In a previous age, the venue was known for chariot racing. Now horse power of a very different kind is top of the agenda. However, a certain 18-year-old rider from Turkey has prevented anybody else from having a look-in so far in 2015.

The start of the Superstock 600 season has seen domination from one teenager. Hailing from the Mediterranean Turkish resort of Alanya, Toprak Razgatlıoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) has not only won three races out of three this season, but also maintained his 100% victory record dating back to Magny-Cours at the end of last season. He has already become the first rider to clinch the opening trio of race victories in a single season since the FIM Europe Superstock 600 Championship began back in 2005.

So who could challenge the Turk? Pata Honda Junior Team’s Federico Caricasulo of Italy is his nearest contender, 30 points behind and having finished on the podium in both races at MotorLand Aragón. Next up is another Italian in the form of Michael San Carlo Team Italia’s Ruben Rinaldi (in the top three once at MotorLand and again at Assen), a further five points in arrears, while Finland’s Niki Tuuli (Kallio Racing Yamaha) is fourth from Gauthier Duwelz (MVR-Racing Yamaha) of Belgium. The previous eight Imola victors have all moved on to different classes.

Kawasaki also has the advantage when it comes to Imola history. The Japanese marque has won half of the eight Imola Superstock 600 races to have been staged to date, followed by Honda on three and Yamaha on a sole victory. Should Toprak continue his run again this weekend, he will set a new record for five consecutive race wins in the category – an impressive feat should he achieve it, bearing in mind the short length of seasons in the class and his lack of time competing in it.

2015 FIM Europe European Superstock 600 Championship (3 of 8 rounds completed)
  1. Toprak Razgatlioglu Kawasaki Puccetti Racing – 75
  2. Federico Caricasulo Pata Honda Junior Team – 45
  3. Michael Ruben Rinaldi San Carlo Team Italia Kawasaki – 40
 @mcnewscomau on Instagram, or @mcnewscomau on Twitter and Facebook