WorldSBK heads to Thailand
Just two weeks after the sensational season opener at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, the Motul FIM Superbike World Championship heads to Thailand for Round Two, as riders will be looking to build on results or improve on their opening performance of 2017.
A stunning piece of modern architecture, Chang International Circuit was built in the area of Buriram just hours away from the capital of Bangkok. WorldSBK makes its third appearance at the circuit, and its set to bring high action and plenty of exhilarating drama.
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) couldn’t have asked for a better start to his title defence as he looks to make history with three back-to-back titles.
Taking the double win at the circuit he thinks of as his second home, Rea not only secured his 40th career victory but was also the first rider to experience the new grid re-shuffling rule to full effect – starting from ninth in race two and still coming through to take the win.
Rea has taken three wins out of four races in Buriram, and with the momentum he has built so far this season it will be hard to stop the flying Northern Irishman.
Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) could be called the ‘nearly-man’ as the circus rolls into Thailand. The British rider narrowly missed out on securing the victory last time out at Phillip Island as he was locked in two intense battles with Rea, unable to break away from the pack in true Davies style.
Happy with his results, he heads to Buriram where he again narrowly missed out on the victory in Race 2 last season, as he was involved in an intense fight with the Kawasaki pair.
Davies is yet to stand on the top step of the podium at the Asian circuit, and will be hoping to continue his pace found over the winter and in Australia as he looks to get ahead of the all important green machine, whilst also fighting off his fast team-mate.
Kawasaki Racing Team have a strong record in Thailand, and Tom Sykes will be striving to recreate his heroics from 2016 this weekend. Fans were treated to a paint swapping battle between Sykes and Rea, with Sykes triumphant, securing his first win of the season.
Standing on the podium on three occasions out of four at the circuit, the Yorkshireman will be hoping he can be build on his strong record this weekend. Starting Race two at Phillip Island from seventh position two weeks ago, Sykes will no doubt be looking to get a better start in the second race this weekend, as he begins to understand how the grid shuffling rules will work best for his style.
Coming off the back of one of his strongest weekends with Yamaha in the series, British rider Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) heads to Buriram with his eyes on a podium finish, and continuing to produce solid results with his YZF-R1.
Last year Lowes endured a mixed weekend at the impressive Chang International Circuit; he secured a top six finish in Race 1 but was forced to retire from Sunday’sRace 2. Lowes’ performance Down Under has proved he is able to fight up at the front in WorldSBK; he was the first rider to start from pole position under the new Race Two grid regulations which will no doubt boost his confidence ahead of Round Two.
Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) made a big impact upon his return to the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, which holds big promise for the season ahead. In an explosive opening race at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, the Italian crashed out as he was battling for the lead, but was able to stay on his Panigale R for Race 2 to bring home third position.
In what will be his first visit to Chang International Circuit, Melandri may start on the back foot, but his wealth of racing knowledge should stand him in good stead for the weekend ahead.
Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) is another rider to keep an eye on at the Thai round of WorldSBK, as the Dutchman holds a solid history in Asia. Securing his maiden World Superbike pole position at the Destination of Speed, van der Mark comes off the back of a learning curve weekend at Phillip Island and will be hoping to have another solid weekend with his new team.
Some may have been surprised with Xavi Fores’ (BARNI Racing Team)pace two weeks ago, as the Ducati rider turned many heads back in Australia across both the two day Official Test and the race weekend. Gaining two top six finishes and a strong presence at the front of the pack, it will be hard to shake off the Spaniard heading into the second round.
MV Agusta Reparto Course’s lone rider Leon Camier continues to learn and impress aboard his Italian machine, with the Yamaha Finance Australian Round proving a tough test for the Brit. Heading into Superpole on Saturday with just a handful of laps recorded on the Friday, Camier’s pace around the fast and flowing circuit was nothing short of impressive.
He collected a fifth and a eighth respectively around the Island, and it will be interesting to see what he can do with more practise time. Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team still have a fairly steep hill to climb with their new Fireblade, however there are some positives for Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl to take from Phillip Island – gaining a full understanding of the bike will no doubt come quickly to the two experienced riders.
Jordi Torres (Althea BMW Racing) had a slow start to his 2017 campaign last time out. But with two fourth positions secured around Chang International Circuit last season, Torres is no stranger to the Asian circuit meaning he will be looking to make big steps in Round Two.
The Destination of Speed is set to host a nail biting round of the WorldSBK Championship, and with at least five potential winners it won’t be a weekend to miss. Action begins on Friday 10th March from 9.45am (+7 GMT), with Race one on Saturday 11th at 4pm.
World SSP: Will Sofuoglu remain sidelined
Round One of the FIM Supersport World Championship provided unexpected drama, incredible racing and early set-backs which will be tough to beat. However with two of the main title contenders injured, Chang International Circuit is bound to throw in even more irons in the fire of what is already shaping up to be an explosive WorldSSP season.
Reigning World Champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) will be forced to sit out of the second race of the 2017 season with injury, as he flew home from Australia following the Official test the week before the race.
Whilst one of his key title rivals Jules Cluzel (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda) suffered a huge crash in the closing stages of the re-started race, diagnosed with a fracture of the sacrum bone he is confident he will be able to ride in Thailand.
Despite this set-back Cluzel had a strong start to the weekend with his new team, securing second position on the grid and already showing he has the pace to fight at the front of the field. The Frenchman has positive memories at the Destination of Speed, starting from pole position and securing the win last season following a race-long battle with PJ Jacobsen and Sofuoglu meaning he will be keen to return to the circuit.
PJ Jacobsen (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) was another rider to impress with his new team Down Under, but despite starting from pole position he was unable to keep up with the flying Roberto Rolfo (Team Factory Vamag) and Lucas Mahias (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team), and took a top six finish in the opening round.
Last year saw the American display a strong pace around the sweeping circuit as he was locked in the battle for the lead, and took the final spot on the podium – his first podium finish of four in 2016 and second in Buriram.
Star of the sensational final laps in Round One two weeks ago, French rider Lucas Mahias (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team) makes his return to Thailand where he has enjoyed a strong result in the past. Competing around the Chang International Circuit back in 2015, Mahias will no doubt take the confidence he built from Phillip Island with him, to a circuit he is familiar with.
Kyle Ryde (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) quickly found some pace with his new team last time out at Phillip Island, and he was able to be up and fighting for a podium finish around the testing Australian circuit.
The young British rider will look to improve on his debut appearance at the Destination of Speed, where he crashed out of the race on the fourth lap. Now with a more consistent team around him, he will be able to work on his set-up of his ZX-6R machine with the hope of making that all important step onto the podium.
WorldSSP round one race winner Roberto Rolfo (Team Factory Vamag) produced a faultless performance from eighth on the grid and fought hard but fair to take the victory under sunny skies, narrowly ahead of Mahias.
Heading back to Chang International Circuit this week – a circuit the Italian has had a mixed performance at in the past – it will be interesting to see if Rolfo can repeat his performance of two weeks ago.
Nikki Tuuli (Kallio Racing)’s season got off to a slow start last time out, as he secured a top five finish in his first race as a permanent rider for the team. Securing three podium finishes out of three races at the end of last season, Tuuli goes into 2017 with a strong team behind him.
The Finnish rider and his team-mate Sheridan Morias went through a learning curve around the iconic Phillip Island. Keen to take on another new circuit in Thailand, it will be interesting to see if the new team can make another step onto the podium in the hotly contested class.
Profile Racing were another team who had a tough start to the season, with lone rider Luke Stapleford unable to see the chequered flag for the first time of the 2017 season. Despite this set back, the team will only focus on the weekend ahead of understanding how to take on the challenging Chang International Circuit – a circuit Stapleford scored points at last season.
World Supersport will certainly be a class to keep an eye on, and with main contenders possibly on the sidelines the fight for the victory will be more open than ever. And with added excitement of Zulfahmi Khairuddin (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) racing close to home, fans will be on the edge of their seats in Buriram.
Bikes head out for the first time in Thailand on Friday 10th March at 11am (+7 GMT), before the race on Sunday at 14:30LT.