Sepang Superbike 2015 Commentary
The temperatures were hot and, at the end of each contest, so was the racing at the Pirelli Malaysian FIM Superbike World Championship round in Sepang. We don’t quite have a new champion, but we’re close. Farther down the standings following Sepang Superbike 2015, there were some other interesting developments in Malaysia.
Sepang Superbike 2015 Commentary, Upside
Jonathan Rea - Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10R: Rea nearly clinched the 2015 FIM World Superbike Championship with his 1-2 finishes at Sepang. He waited until the final lap to take the lead in Race 1, and tried a repeat performance in Race 2. Seemingly out of contention for the win, Rea made an epic run for Davies on the final two laps. However, his hard move in the final corner in Race 2 didn’t work on Chaz Davies.
Rea, who was overly aggressive (though not in his mind), had to settle for second, holding off his World Championship celebration. At this point, Rea could lie in a hammock for the rest of the season and Davies would have to have five wins and a second place in the last six races to take the crown. Consider the championship done and dusted.
“I’m really happy after a good weekend and happy to go into the summer break healthy and looking forward to Jerez,” Rea said. “With three laps to go in Race 2, Arturo my mechanic gave me a bit of a secret signal, and I knew if I went then I could catch Chaz. Halfway around the last lap, I realized it would be possible. I passed Chaz and went through clean. We had contact but I do not blame him for that - I would do the same - but I almost crashed at the same time. I am really happy because we got another first and second on a race weekend and a bagful of points. If I had won the championship here, maybe my wife would not have spoken to me for a day or two because she is at home! I just wanted to have a really good weekend and we did that.”
Chaz Davies - Aruba.it Racing-Ducati SBK Team Panigale R: It was a huge day for Davies, as he passed Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes for second in the standings, and is now the only rider who can challenge Rea for the Championship - not that that’s going happen. Still, with three wins and a second in his last four races, Davies is on a huge roll. He was just one corner away from a double at Sepang, so things are finally going well on the Panigale R.
“Race 1 went really well, especially considering where we were yesterday, when I was thinking we’d do well to finish top six,” Davies explained. “Anyway, we made some changes overnight that put us in a position to fight for the win, though we were still missing something in the last laps in terms of the grip and electronics working together.
“In Race 2, I saw that Johnny was closing in and it took everything I had to hold him off. It was a battle to the line again, and through the last corner when we made contact I thought it was all over, but fortunately we both stayed upright and I was able to cross the line in front! I’m so pleased about Sunday’s results, obtained at one of the most difficult tracks for us. This shows how much progress we’ve made up until now. I’m also pleased to have moved into second place in the standings, having made up a lot of points over Tom this weekend.”
Max Biaggi - Aprilia Racing Team Aprilia RSV4 RF: The two-time WSBK Champion’s second round back was even more impressive than the first. He landed on the podium in Race 1, after battling with Aprilia’s Jordi Torres and Honda’s Sylvain Guintoli. In Race 2, Biaggi grabbed a holeshot!
Unfortunately, he came together with Guintoli and Sykes, a couple of corners later, sending him to the pavement. Still, Biaggi can go out with a podium in the last WSBK race he finished, and he did it while nursing a secret injury.
“Now that the weekend is over I can reveal that my crash during the tests last week left me with a shoulder dislocation on the left side and an injury that required stitches on my right ankle,” Biaggi explained.
“It was mainly the shoulder that bothered me, especially in the more flowing parts of the track. My race pace was consistent. Rea, Davies and Sykes pulled away at the front at the start as I tried to find my pace while keeping an eye on tire wear. It wasn't easy because I had to push at the same time. After overtaking my teammates, I began to focus on Sykes who was getting closer and closer. I managed to catch him up and overtake on the last lap. I'm super-happy. This is the result I was dreaming of - a real cherry on top and the best I could have hoped to achieve. The crash in Race 2 doesn't take anything away from my satisfaction.”
All three of Biaggi’s finishes were better than any of the results Ducati’s Troy Bayliss could muster in his early-season return.
Sylvain Guintoli - Pata Honda World Superbike Team CBR1000RR SP: It’s sad to see the #1 plate running around outside of the Top 5, but that’s the kind of season it has been for the reigning WSBK Champion. His two fourth place finishes at Sepang were his best two results for the year, so that is an Upside. He gained a few points on Aprilia’s Jordi Torres, but Guintoli still sits in sixth place in the Championship Standings, which is where he has been since Round 3 in Aragon.
“It’s been a really good weekend for us and we were able to find some pace on the qualifying tire on Saturday,” Guintoli said, “which gave us a front row start for the races. It’s very positive for us and, at the risk of repeating myself, the whole team has been working very hard throughout the season and it looks like it’s paying off. They were both very tough races and I had to push very hard, but it’s good to take those performances into the summer break. Unfortunately, there are no prizes for 4th, but we’re chipping away. We are not too far off now, and we’re getting a better understanding. We’ll work hard to find extra performance, and we’ll try to finish the championship strong over the last three rounds.”
Guintoli is 24 points back of Torres, so 5th in the standing is attainable this year.
Niccolò Canepa - Althea Racing Ducati Panigale R: Canepa continues to rebound from the EBR fiasco. His ninth an 11th place finishes gave him 12 points on the day, his best total of the year. He now sits in the Top 20, nine points shy of Biaggi who is in 19th.
Sepang Superbike 2015 Commentary, Downside
Tom Sykes - Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10R: The two-time WSBK Champion said it all about Race 1: “ “The last five laps were the longest five laps of my career.” He turned a three-second lead after 11 laps in a dismal fifth place finish, nearly 18 seconds behind winning teammate Rea.
Sykes simply dropped like a stone as his traction evaporated in the Sepang heat: “I certainly didn’t feel like I was over-stressing the tires…I really struggled and couldn’t get any lean angle. It was a big, big shame.” Things went from bad to worse in Race 2. After coming together with Biaggi and Guintoli (two other World SBK Champions), Sykes found himself far adrift after just one lap. Sykes had another mishap during his charge to get points, going down again and finally finishing in 14th place. That dropped him for 2nd to 3rd in the Championship standings and mathematically eliminated him from Championship contention. It can’t get much worse than that.
Leandro Mercado - Barni Racing Team Ducati Panigale R: In Race 1, Mercado was as high as 12th place before dropping back to the final points-paying position. Running in the Top 10 for the first half of Race 2, Mercado look poised to pick up decent points. However, he faded to another 15th place finish, giving him just two points on the day - his worst meeting of the season. That dropped him from 9th in the Championship Standings to 11th, as Suzuki’s Alex Lowes and Ducati’s Matteo Baiocco, both of whom had decent results at Sepang, passed him.
World Superbike Championship Standings (after 10 of 13 rounds):
1. Jonathan Rea - 452 points
2. Chaz Davies - 308
3. Tom Sykes - 295
4. Leon Haslam - 259
5. Jordi Torres - 186
6. Sylvain Guintoli - 162
7. Michael van der Mark - 125
8. Davide Giugliano - 119
9. Alex Lowes - 112
10. Matteo Baiocco - 107
11. Leandro Mercado - 106
12. Ayrton Badovini - 87
13. Román Ramos - 67
14. Leon Camier - 62
15 David Salom - 57