The first race of the season always throws me for a bit of a loop. It is followed by over a month’s gap before the second WSBK race. So I never really know whether I should treat it as a forewarning of things to come. Or should I treat it as a teaser? Or maybe a warm-up? Well, if the WSBK and WSS race at Aragon this Sunday was any indication, the first race of the season should merely whet our appetite. There is no way that we could have predicted the madness that was to follow.
For if at Phillip Island 2013 champion Tom Sykes ended up at 7th place during Race 1 and then 3rd during Race 2 (and behind teammate Loris Baz), Aragon was poles apart.
Sykes dominated, and that is an understatement. He first went ahead and staked claim on the Superpole on Saturday. Then, during Race 1, Sykes kept the lead, and extended the gap, steadily, going from 0.303s at the first lap to 4.275s on the final lap. He cruised to victory, and it was a fine win.
Behind though, it was a different story. There were battles being fought, some won, and some lost. Loris Baz had to fend off some stiff competition from Jonathan Rea and took 2nd place on the podium. Rea though, racing for Pata Honda World Superbike had to fight a determined Davide Giugilano (Ducati) who tried his best to claim podium. He nearly did, until the very end. The Italian rider crashed as he tried to take back his 3rd place. He managed to rejoin the race and finished the race in 8th place.
Meanwhile Eugene Laverty aboard the Suzuki was having an even tougher day. The Irishman had made history for his team after winning his debut race in Phillip Island, and becoming the first Suzuki rider to win since Kyalami in 2010. But Aragon was proving to be a bit too difficult. He started the race at 10th place, slipping down to 13th by the 3rd lap. It was horrendous, but it’s Laverty and he, true to form, did not give up. He worked his way up the grid, steadily, battling his former teammate Sylvain Guintoli towards the end of the race. He finished a respectable 5th, a formidable achievement. Chaz Davies, racing for Ducati this year, started the race at 7th place before ending at 4th.
Davies wasn’t so fortunate in the second race crashing out in the 3rd lap, his performance a far cry from the his 2013 double win at Aragon. Meanwhile Tom Sykes found himself being hunted by Loris Baz. The young Frenchman managed to stay on top of the race, matching Sykes’ pace, looking for an opening, and trying his best to edge past. It did look like Baz would manage to wiggle his way past – as he steadily chipped away at the gap, reducing it finally to 0.338s. He didn’t succeed, with the world champion outwitting his young team mate every step of the way.
Rea looked like he would give us a repeat podium. But no one saw Marco Melandri coming. The Aprilia is still fast, and still stunning, a silver bullet that promises to give us a lot of action this season. Melandri struck on lap 9, moving past Rea and becoming a podium contender. The last few laps were stressful to say the least.
Sykes looked like he didn’t have a care in the world, smoothly taking corners and managed to stay ahead – by just about that much. Melandri though has never been one for giving up. He had taken on Sylvain Guintoli, Chaz Davies, Davide Giugliano, Jonathan Rea and Loris Baz to reach 2nd place. Now, he set his sights on Sykes and the top step of the podium. He stuck to the world champion, almost wheel to exhaust and waited to make his move.
But he went too wide, giving Baz a window. The man from Ravenna lost his 2nd spot and had to settle for a 3rd. It was a battle well fought.
The WSS Round: The Fight for Glory
Aragon proved to be perfect for the Green Machines. Kawasaki basked in SBK glory, even as the team grabbed the spot for the best-classified EVO rider in Race 2. World Supersport wasn’t far behind.
The race began as it always does with riders exchanging positions faster than anyone could tweet or commentate for that matter. MV Agusta and its rider Jules Cluzel jumped into fray giving Kev Coghlan (DMC Panavto-Yamaha) competition. Michael van der Mark (Pata Honda) settled into a comfortable lead. Kenan Sofuoglu meanwhile was working his way up to the top of the pack. It promised to be a brilliant battle right up till the very end. That is, until Cluzel made a mistake, as he tried to battle Coghlan for position.
Cluzel and Coghlan crashed and while the Yamaha rider managed to rejoin the race, the MV Agusta had to retire. Luckily both riders were unhurt. It was a disastrous end to what promised to be an exciting battle. But it was providence for Sofuoglu. The Mahi India Kawasaki Team rider swept to victory, his first win this season. Van der Mark took 2nd place on the podium, while Florian Marino of Kawasaki Intermoto Ponyexpres took 3rd. Coghlan finished 5th.