2017 Imola World Superbike Preview

During the opening four rounds of the 2017 World Superbike Championship, Kawasaki Racing Team’s Jonathan Rea was practically untouchable. The 30-year-old Northern Irishman won seven of eight races, and garnered 195 out of 200 perfect points.

Rea is the clear favorite heading into round five of 13 at he iconic Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari di Imola in Italy. Not only because of his dominance so far this SBK season, but also his record at Imola. Rea has won five races there, including a double in 2015—his first title-winning season aboard the Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja.

With Rea’s double win at Assen two weeks ago, now aboard the all-new ZX-10RR Ninja, Rea achieved 45 career World Superbike wins. Thirty of those arrived on Kawasaki machinery, which he has only raced for the past two years.

2017 Imola World Superbike Preview: Kawasaki's Jonathan Rea
2017 Imola World Superbike Preview: Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea

Rea’s biggest threats so far this season come from Ducati Team’s Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri, and Rea’s teammate, 2013 WSBK title holder Tom Sykes.

In the points race, Rea leads Sykes by 64 points. Davies is third with 111, and Melandri fourth with 97.

“I enjoy the track and the atmosphere at Imola,” Rea says. “It is normally the first round in Europe where we see the nice weather coming along and I have been out here in Italy for a few days just to spend some time here.

“After the last few races everything has been going in the right way. We faced a really difficult Imola last season, and had many challenges, but this year our bike has been even more competitive – so I am excited to see how the ZX-10RR works there. We will just go about our plan and try to make a good package for both races. Our bike is working in a much bigger window than last year and that gives me a lot of confidence.”

2017 Imola World Superbike Preview: Ducati's Marco Melandri
2017 Imola World Superbike Preview: Ducati’s Marco Melandri

All eyes will also be on the home favorite Melandri and Ducati. The last Italian to win a SBK race was Michele Fabrizio in 2009 (Ducati 1198), and if Melandri can claim victory, he will secure 100 wins for Italian riders.

Melandri has struggled at Imola in the past, and claimed five podiums so far this season. With the home crowd behind him, and the Ducati fans, Melandri can make WorldSBK history. Two other Italians also have a great chance at claiming a victory: Althea BMW’s Rafaelle De Rosa, Milwaukee Aprilia RSV4 pilot Lorenzo Savadori,

Melandri’s teammate Davies is not having the best luck this season, the Welshman claiming two podiums and two DNFs in the last two rounds. He will look to change this at Imola. Sykes, who has secured four victories at Imola, will be looking to continue his streak of podium finishes; to date, he has only finished off the podium twice.

2017 Imola World Superbike Preview: Yamaha's Alex Lowes
2017 Imola World Superbike Preview: Yamaha’s Alex Lowes

The Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team duo of Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark continually impress on the YZF-R1 superbikes, and will chase podiums this weekend at Imola World Superbike. The same goes for the Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team of Nicky Hayden, the 2006 MotoGP Champion, and Stefan Bradl, the 2011 Moto2 Champion. Both have struggled so far with the new Honda CBR1000RR SP2.

The Imola World Superbike action gets underway with free practice on Friday, ahead of Saturday’s Superpole qualifying and race one. Race two is set for Sunday.

2017 Imola World Superbike Preview: Kawasaki's Tom Sykes
2017 Imola World Superbike Preview: Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes