After Max Biaggi announced his retirement last year, people wondered what would happen to Aprilia and its championship hopes. Well, the soothsayers, their predictions and assumptions took a backseat this weekend. Our favourite warriors gathered around Phillip Island at the first race of the 2013 season and spent their time playing catch-up. The Aprilias were fast, too fast, too powerful. They grabbed 5 of the 6 positions. Aprilia had laid claim to the championship. But that’s not to say that the season will continue this way. The RSV4 riders were fast, but the race results were a culmination of events.
Tom Sykes, a favourite, was recovering from a cracked bone in the wrist. He was going to race, but it would be a tough feat. Ayrton Badovini had a broken foot courtesy a crash during the first Qualifying and was missing from the grid. It wasn’t an auspicious beginning.
During the first race, Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri battled for position, but the Spaniard made a mistake and crashed, taking out Melandri in the process. Checa ended up in hospital with a major concussion and missed the second race. Melandri though bounced back. It was apparent that the BMW Motorrad GoldBet rider was hell bent on podium finishes as he held off Michel Fabrizio during the second race to take the 3rd spot.
Chaz Davies had a good first race, moving past a struggling but determined Sykes to take 4th. But the second race turned out to be disastrous. An opening-lap tangle with Loris Baz and a subsequent ride-through penalty left him with a 17th position. “…I lost the rear as I turned in. I’m not exactly sure why,” Davies later said. “The only reason I can give is either that somebody tapped me, or that the extreme right hand side of the tyre wasn’t quite scrubbed in and that made the rear spin around. Unfortunately, Loris was on the outside of me and he had nowhere to go.”
There were two riders though who truly shone through. One of them was Loris Baz (and I am not saying this because I believe in Team Green). This will be his first complete 2013 season for the Kawasaki Racing Team, and this was his first Phillip Island experience. But he was true to his bike. He pushed the ZX10R, swooping past the others, and battling for position. He went from 11th position to the 6th in the first race, battling with Leon Haslam on the way. He later said, “On a track like this when you are with other people with more experience, it helps because they are pulling you along. I was really surprised, because I was not checking my lap times, that on lap 11 I looked and saw a 1’31.8!” The second race however, became a no-show after Davies hit Baz. It is obvious though that Baz is a man to watch this season.
The second rider who stunned was the new Roman on the circuit. Fabrizio, riding the Red Devils Roma Aprilia was phenomenal the whole weekend. He didn’t disappoint on race day either. He caught up to the front-runners Sylvain Guintoli and Eugene Laverty during the first race and played footsie with the Irishman who was trying to catch up to his teammate. But Laverty dominated leaving Fabrizio to take the 3rd podium spot. The second race was equally thrilling, as Fabrizio took the 4th spot.
It was a thrilling ride for Aprilia – the team leads the manufacturer championship with 50 points. Eugene Laverty and Sylvain Guintoli are tied at the first spot with 45 points. There are now 43 days to go till the second race of the season at Aragon, Spain. And if 2012 was anything to go by, one thing is for sure. Every point counts. Even a measly .5 can help you win the championship.
…In WSS news, Kawasaki Mahi Racing Team got its first win of the season after Kenan Sofuoglu stole a win from right under Yamaha rider Sam Lowes’ nose. The two swapped leads throughout the race with the Turkish rider beating Lowes by 1.899 seconds. Teammate Fabien Foret took 4th place. Sofuoglu later said, “It all worked out very well in the end. Sam Lowes did a good job all weekend and it was not easy to catch him, but we kept working to find the way to save the tyre for 15 laps and in the morning warm-up, I did not give up.”