Round six of the World Superbike championship in Jerez was, without doubt one of the more interesting and surprising weekends in recent memory.
The biggest story of the weekend surrounded championship leader, Alvaro Bautista. The Aruba.it Ducati rider was in great form once again, and on course for a fifth clean sweep of the season.
Bautista took victory in race one and the Superpole race, increasing his championship lead from 43 to 61 points. However, the Spaniard made an unusual mistake in race two as he tucked the front on the second lap in front of his adoring home fans.
Even with the mistake, the former MotoGP rider has so far put together the most consistent season of his career, and will hope this is just a blip on the way to a possible championship winning year.
Bautista shared his thoughts regarding last weekend and how he felt: “It is a new experience for us not to finish a race, but in any case, I am quite happy with the weekend because we work very well and the atmosphere in Jerez for WorldSBK was amazing! I want to thank all the people who have come here this weekend, it has been great!”
It was an uncharacteristically poor weekend for title rival Jonathan Rea, and one he will hope to forget. The Kawasaki rider surprisingly leaves Jerez having gained two points back on Bautista, cutting the lead from 43 to 41 points. But the four time champion didn’t have the pace for victory at any stage, and will know this was a big opportunity missed.
Rea had great pace over one lap and demonstrated this by taking his first pole position since the opening round of the year at Phillip Island, but that was as good as it got for the Northern Irishman.
In race one, Rea immediately lost ground to Bautista in the opening laps, before being passed by Michael Van Der Mark. With the top two places on the podium out of his reach, Rea was stuck in a fascinating battle with fellow British rider Alex Lowes.
Both riders were fighting extremely hard, but on the last lap the pair made contact at turn fourteen, which is no stranger to controversial moments.
Rea misjudged the gap and hit Lowes, which resulted in the Pata Yamaha rider crashing out and injuring his left arm in the process. Rea was eventually demoted one position, which granted Italian rider Marco Melandri a podium finish, while also being dropped to the back of the grid for the Superpole race.
Although it was a very tough weekend for Rea, the defending champion was in no mood to dwell on what could have been, but instead turned his attention to the next round in Misano: “We had a great test at Misano last week and I felt good with the bike and with the track; it is a track I love and I love racing in Italy. The track was the scene of my first ever WorldSBK win back in 2009 and I always manage to take a nice holiday with my family on the Adriatic Coast, it’s a cool area.”
The action in Jerez was unrelenting, but among all the chaos and drama, one man remained calm to take his first win of the year, and third of his career, in the shape of Van Der Mark. The classy Dutch rider was on top of his game and showed incredible speed from the outset in Friday’s free practice sessions.
Two second place finishes before victory in race two, he has moved him clear of teammate Lowes in the championship standings to the tune of 46 points.
With the next few rounds coming in quick succession and the Yamaha improving every weekend, Van Der Mark will be hoping this isn’t the last time he will taste victory champagne in 2019.
Van Der Mark gave his thoughts after his race two victory: “I followed Jonny for quite a while because I didn’t want to burn my tyres as I wanted to save them a little bit for the second part of the race. At a certain point, the guys behind were catching up and we had to speed up the pace! I passed Jonny and then did a better rhythm than yesterday;”
“I was really happy with the bike and I felt so good! It is incredible; we tested new parts in Misano and we confirmed here that they are better! Big thanks to the team and I am now looking forward to Misano!”
Jerez was a great weekend for some of the satellite teams and riders, with Toprak Razgatlioglu, Michael Ruben-Rinaldi and Melandri all achieving their best results of the season.
Razgatlioglu finished all three races inside the top ten, with a best finish of third in race two, while consistently out-performing factory Kawasaki rider Leon Haslam.
Ruben-Rinaldi of the Barni Ducati racing team finished fourth in race two, ahead of his home round in Italy, while Melandri got his first double podium of the year on the GRT Yamaha.
It was a disastrous weekend for Chaz Davies, who’s best result was a seventh place finish. The Welshman was on course to salvage a decent result in the second feature race, but a mistake from Melandri caused both riders to crash at turn five.
Davies will be hoping to rediscover the form he had at Imola, as the team prepare for their second home round of the year.
Also hoping to bounce back next time out will be the above mentioned Lowes. Two crashes and a fourteenth place finish in race two is unquestionably one of the more disappointing weekends of his World Superbike career.
There are still plenty of positives for Lowes to take from Jerez, as his pace was strong throughout the weekend. Seeing his teammate win should give the Yamaha rider a huge belief that victories will be possible in the upcoming races.