World Superbike The fifth Round of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship season is upon us, and if history is anything to go by fans... #ITAWorldSBK – Imola, weekend preview: World Superbike, World Supersport, WorldSSP300

World Superbike

The fifth Round of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship season is upon us, and if history is anything to go by fans around the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari di Imola will be in for a spectacle of magnificent proportions. Regulars here have witnessed epics ranging from the climatic 2002 showdown to 2018’s Race 2 clash, with more thrills promised for this year. After a four-week break, the stage has been set anew and the lights are ready to be dimmed – or rather, switched to green; the ardent Italian crowds are impatient for the curtain to be raised, while each one of the performers – all nineteen on the programme – is more than willing to steal the show.

In the vast lexicon of musical terms with Italian origins, one of the most commonly used is the aria – a solo performance where the singer slips away from the unfolding drama to deliver the audience with a solitary exhibition of brilliance. Traditionally, most vocalists will find themselves at the centre of one as the story winds around, but so far in this production there has been little space for anyone else but the lead performer. Even at Assen, a circuit which many had pencilled in as a potential bogey circuit for the Ducati V4 R, Álvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) was able to impose his authority on the rest of the field – albeit with his leading margin severely abbreviated.

The Spaniard’s star is burning brighter and brighter, yet every round the spotlight is at a bigger risk of veering towards someone else. Bautista knew each one of the four opening tracks inside-out before even stepping onboard the V4 R; that’s not the case with Imola.

Even with a semi-rained out, one-day test behind him, the 34-year-old will for once be at a disadvantage in terms of experience – although, to be fair, he’ll be the only one inside the Borgo Panigale squad with that issue. The Pirelli Italian Round is a home tie for Ducati and the crowd will be hot for the red machines. Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), a four-time winner at the Autodromo, knows the stage better than most and will aim to gain the upper hand on his teammate for the first time this year.

A win for either man would serve as vindication for Ducati after their private test ten days ago, but the word on Kawasaki’s mind might well be vendetta. The last time the Japanese manufacturer failed to win a race inside the opening four rounds was 2011, in the pre-Provec Racing era; similarly, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) had not left four consecutive rounds empty-handed since his Honda days. These are uncharted waters for the men in green, and the visit to their rival’s playfield could not come at a more frustrating time – yet hopes are still high for the first of two Italian meetings. This is after all, the first event which the Northern Irishman outright dominated last year, not to mention his consecutive demolition jobs in 2014 and 2015. Imola was where it all clicked for Rea in 2018 – could it be a turning point in 2019?

Keeping up with the questions: which Yamaha rider will be the one to step up on this occasion? Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) got the blue brand’s first podium in Australia, followed by a triplet of thirds for Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) in Thailand. Then, MotorLand Aragon witnessed an astonishing qualifying performance by Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK), before Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) starred in a heroic homecoming at Assen just seven days later. There’s no shortage of YZF R1 riders with their eyes on the brass ring – the only doubt is whether (or rather, when) one of the four can move past the support cast and claim that leading role. The Pata Yamaha pair have had the early edge in 2019; conversely, Melandri is the only one with podium experience at Imola.

Piano piano, si arriva lontano. While this Italian idiom – roughly translated as “slow and steady wins the race” – may not be a natural fit for the sport, it does do a good job at explaining the mentality behind the early development of the BMW S1000 RR. Upgrades have slowly streamed in from one round to another, while results for both Tom Sykes and Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) have been on a steady rise. The German manufacturer is playing the long game for its full factory return to WorldSBK and each race is a new test of the S1000 RR’s potential. It will be interesting to see what they can bring to the table for Round Five.

The Moriwaki Althea Honda Team found itself in a similar situation at this season’s start, albeit without new machinery; however, results have not been quite as encouraging yet. With the Japanese manufacturer putting its full support behind the project, it shouldn’t be long before we see the duo of Leon Camier – third at Imola back in 2011 – and Ryuichi Kiyonari higher up the grid.

What will the outcome be at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari di Imola? Find out from Friday, 10th May when Free Practice gets underway in Italy! After qualifying on Saturday morning, it will be lights out for Race 1 at 14:00 LT (GMT+2), with the Tissot Superpole Race (11:00LT) and Race 2 (14:00LT) on the menu for Sunday.

World Supersport

The World Supersport Championship is providing exciting, close-quarter racing in 2019, with the last two races (MotorLand Aragon and TT Circuit Assen) going down to the last lap in dramatic fashion. Now, the championships head to the first of two rounds in Italy, at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit – or simply Imola. A historic circuit which has hosted many battles across all classes of racing promises to be no exception to the WorldSSP riders this weekend.

Heading into the fifth round of the WorldSSP Championship at the front of the field, Randy Krummenacher (BARDAHL Evan Bros. WorldSSP Team) will be eager to continue his fantastic podium streak. Yet to finish below second position, the Swiss star has a 17-point advantage ahead of his rivals but heads to a circuit at which he only has one fifth-place finish at. However, the metronomically consistent Krummenacher will hope to become the first ever Swiss WorldSSP winner in Italy.

Krummenacher’s teammate and TT Circuit Assen victor Federico Caricasulo (BARDAHL Evan Bros. WorldSSP Team) is second in the championship. The 23-year-old Italian has been on the podium in every race this season, with three third-places and a win last time out. Caricasulo now heads to Imola, a circuit at which he was a strong second at last year. Aiming to go one better, Caricasulo hopes to become the first same back-to-back Italian winner in WorldSSP races since Luca Scassa in 2011, at Phillip Island and Donington Park.

Jules Cluzel (GMT94 YAMAHA) is third in the championship standings, 31 points adrift of Randy Krummenacher. The French rider is yet to mount the podium in Europe this season, although he was in the thick of the action during the Motul Dutch Round, placing fourth and fractionally behind the podium places. Cluzel was also the winner of the WorldSSP race at Imola in 2018, making him one of the favourites ahead of the weekend this year.

Making history at the TT Circuit Assen, Thomas Gradinger (Kallio Racing) became the first Austrian rider in the history of WorldSSP to get on the podium. Following on from his first pole at MotorLand Aragon and his first podium at Assen, does a first win lie ahead for the Austrian ace? Gradinger now heads to Imola – a circuit at which he had his second-worst result at in 2018. However, with Gradinger’s noticeable improvements in 2019, he may well be a force to be reckoned with come Sunday.

Another stand-out performer in 2019 has been Japanese rider, Hikari Okubo (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing). Having made a considerable step forward with the Kawasaki ZX-6R, which has yielded four consecutive top eight finishes with a best of sixth, Okubo has been in close contention with the leading group in the opening portion of the year. In the last two seasons, Okubo has been firmly placed in the top ten at Imola, so a return to the top six will be his aim this weekend.

Completing the top six in the championship is Corentin Perolari (GMT94 YAMAHA), who has been making small improvements in the European stint of the season. With two sixth-places in the last two races making for his best results of the season, Perolari heads to a circuit which is completely new to him, and with the challenges Imola propose, it may be a learning weekend for him. Can Perolari continue his fine form and remain in the top six in the championship?

Other riders to keep a look out for are Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing), who was back in the leading group at Assen. Raffaele De Rosa (MV AGUSTA Reparto Corse) heads home and will look to redeem himself after a crash out of the leading group in The Netherlands. Hannes Soomer (MPM WILSport Racedays) made a good step forwards at Assen and will hope to build on that at Imola.

WorldSSP300

The Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari di Imola hosts the third race of the FIM Supersport 300 World Championship, a tricky test for the riders of the action-packed feeder series. A massive 56 challengers – many of whom have never stepped foot on the Italian track – will attempt to find fame at the iconic venue, one renowned for separating championship contenders from the pretenders.

Back in 2017, Marc García (DS Junior Team) scored a vital maiden win at Imola, one which immediately propelled him into the fight for the gold. Twelve months later, Ana Carrasco (Kawasaki Provec WorldSSP300) opened her account for the season with an utterly dominant performance on the Italian tarmac. Both riders, champions of the class, know better than most the huge value of a win at the Italian Round – and conversely, both need a boost after a slow start to the season.

The fact that both previous winners of the Italian Round have later gone on to clinch the world title will not be lost on many competitors, particularly those who have begun the 2019 season intent on setting the world alight. The rider who best fits that description is of course championship leader Manuel González (Kawasaki ParkinGO Team). Few would have predicted such a remarkable start from the 16-year-old – yet the signs were there at the tail-end of last season. ‘Manugas’ finished third in each one of the last three races of 2018 and his pace has only improved since then, adding two last-gasp wins to the books.

Can lightning strike thrice? No one has taken three on the trot in WorldSSP300, but on current form the Spaniard, whose sharp and tactical riding belies his young age, is the rider to beat.

Gonzalez’s feverish start shares some parallels with Scott Deroue’s (Kawasaki MOTOPORT) early 2017 run, when the Dutchman also claimed victory in the first two races of the year. A ‘veteran’ of the class, Deroue remains second in the standings after making it onto the Aragon and Assen rostrums for a third year in a row, but in previous seasons the 23-year-old hit a major stumbling block at Imola. Will it be third time the charm for Deroue?

Several more names also fit the bill: Hugo De Cancellis (Team Trasimeno) and Jan-Ole Jahnig (Freudenberg KTM Junior Team) have both taken maiden podiums this season and have shown huge promise on the Yamaha and KTM, respectively. But they will be far from the only contenders, with other starlets including Nick Kalinin (Nutec – RT Motorsports by SKM – Kawasaki) – third at Imola in 2017 – Andy Verdoia (BCD Yamaha MS Racing) or home riders Omar Bonoli (Team Trasimeno) and Bruno Ieraci (Kawasaki GP Project) – 28th to 1st in four laps at Assen – keen on adding their names into the mix.