Drama and emotion were the prevailing traits of the sixth round of thirteen in the 2017 FIM WorldSBK Championship at Donington Park in England’s Midlands where the Kawasaki Racing Team saw both Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea take the chequered flags around one of the UK’s most distinctive motorsport venues.
Warm and blustery conditions eventually gave way to overcast skies on Saturday…but the series was already under a cloud after the recent shock loss of Honda’s Nicky Hayden. The popular American and last MotoGP World Champion from the United States was properly remembered by the Superbike paddock and further dedications will happen in Mugello next week for the Grand Prix of Italy.
Hoping to wear the black #69 t-shirt in honour while on the highest step of the podium was Sykes. The 2013 World Champion came into the meeting hunting his first chequered flag of the season and at a circuit where he had won every year since ‘13 and the last eight outings in a row. Donington is very much Sykes’ territory and he proved as much in the first race on Saturday. Chaz Davies crashed out of the lead at Goddards hairpin and Rea was forced to slow his pace at the front due to a deflating rear tyre that eventually folded and chucked the world champion into the gravel at the Old Hairpin and one of the fastest sections of the track.
It was the first time that Rea had ‘dismounted’ and crashed out of a race since 2014 and handed a chunk of points to both Sykes and the pursuing Davies in the championship standings. Sykes was more than happy to become the most successful Superbike rider ever at the circuit, beating Carl Fogarty’s record.
“That was a fantastic race and I enjoyed it. It turned out to be very difficult and not necessarily what I had in the plan but that is part of racing,” he said. “All weekend I have been fairly much alone on track and doing my own thing and had some great results. But today being behind other riders was hampering the lap time. Overall to win here and continue my form at Donington is fantastic.”
Rea was unhurt and came back roaring on Sunday. The Northern Irishman somehow worked his way from a grid position of tenth to the lead in just one lap and not only kept Sykes at bay but also placed his bid for a third consecutive crown firmly back in place. #1 posted his eighth win from twelve races and recorded the 100th for Kawasaki in the discipline.
“I had an incredible first lap today,” he recalled. “I had been really frustrated because I got penalised by no fault of my own yesterday in scoring no points and then penalised again with my grid position today, when I went back to tenth. I knew I had to make a good start straight away otherwise my race was over. After warm-up I was really nervous. I was going through all these scenarios in my head about what I would do with a good start, or a bad start, and then what my race plan would be. My guys worked really hard overnight to build a completely brand new bike because yesterday’s was destroyed. The bike was talking to me in a way I have not had this year. So I knew today was mine…”
Rea is now 55 points ahead of Sykes with round seven taking WorldSBK back to Italy in three weeks time and the Adriatic site of Misano.
Donington was not just a Rea-Sykes show. Alex Lowes produced an astonishing comeback on Saturday. The Pata Yamaha man was nudged wide and into the nether regions of the pack at Redgate and the first corner. He put his head down and rallied through the field to sit on Marco Melandri’s rear wheel heading into the final corner. When the Italian made a mistake and drifted wide Lowes pounced to grab his very first podium result in third spot with the sleek R1.
“It is always fantastic to race in front of the home fans, it is the only chance we get in the year so I wanted to do something special!” Lowes said. “I thought it had all gone wrong at the first corner as someone hit me from the inside and I nearly went off the track. I thought ‘oh no!’ But I managed to stay calm and stay focused. From then on it was one of the most enjoyable races I have ever had, because I was passing people for the whole 23 laps, so the race felt really short. We got a bit of good luck on the last lap when Marco Melandri made a mistake and we managed to get on the podium. It is nothing more than the team deserves, they work so hard and I am really happy to have been able to give something back to them. I expected to be the next fastest guy after the championship leaders, that is where I have been lately when I have a good feeling with the bike, I knew I could keep my pace until the end of the race.”
That same sprint was notable for British Superbike star and ‘wildcarder’ Leon Haslam profiting from Rea’s spill to bring his Kawasaki home in second position. The former GP and WorldSBK star was unlucky to be tapped out of action early in race two on Sunday.