World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki teammate Tom Sykes brought the ‘green haze’ over the 2016 series once more in what was a frenetic and gripping set of races in California for round nine of thirteen in the current campaign. Rea owned the first chase on Saturday while Sykes prevailed ahead of the factory Ducatis – all three riders crossing the finish lines less than a second apart – to rule on Sunday.
Laguna Seca provided its usual blend of cambers, rapid curves (the G-out experience of the rapid first ‘corner’ among one of the fastest and scariest on the calendar) and the flip-flop plunge of the Corkscrew; arguably the most famous chicane in international motorsport. A strong breeze blew some of the American dust onto the asphalt and increased the technical demands of the track. The speed and compact nature of Laguna usually unsettles machinery, and makes a very visual and exciting sport even more exhilarating to watch as the riders barrel through sections inches apart searching for a hint of a gap to force a pass.
Former AMA racer Chaz Davies led and then crashed out of the first race and with the Ducati star brushing himself down it was left to the Kawasaki duo to again dice for victory and top honours. Rea fronted Sykes until he made a mistake and then defied strong gusts of wind to attack his English teammate and seize the initiative with five of the twenty-five laps to go. Rea conquered for the eighth time in seventeen outings (the 37th chequered flag of his career) by a few tenths of a second. “I am happy with the result but it was, honestly, not my most beautiful race because I made quite a lot of mistakes,” he admitted. “I am sure when I watch it back I will be quite upset with myself but the most important thing is the 25 points for winning.”
“We just struggled with the last part of the turns and over 25-laps it adds up,” confessed Sykes who’d bagged Superpole prior to the first of the two sprints over the weekend. “I had to compensate in some other areas and that was not ideal, especially in the windy conditions. Second is the best we could do today and second is not a disaster! We can build on this.” And build he would.
Rea watched a well-earned gap of 71 points in the standings dwindle to just 46 on Sunday. The Champ lost a remarkable podium streak (seventeen top three classifications) due to a technical problem that counted him out of a restarted second race. The quick-starting Sykes had to cope with a full-blooded attack from Davies and Davide Giugliano in order to toast his fifth success of 2016 and reduce the cushion to his Kawasaki teammate in the championship duel. “That was quite exciting,” he said “I had a lot of pressure from the Ducati riders all race long. It was good race for the spectators and a close one between three riders. I am happy enough but it was a difficult race in some ways. We have made a good weekend, with pole position, a second place and a win. We will go into the summer break on a high.”
Rea had to be stoic about the situation. “To not finish is disappointing because up to that point I felt so good with the bike,” he reflected. “I feel it was one more race we could have really capitalised on, but this is racing sometimes. We have to take the rough with the smooth because we have had a really good run so far, but it is a frustrating way to go into the summer break.”
Pata Yamaha’s Alex Lowes managed a decent fifth place on the new R1 on Saturday after a lighting-jump from his slot on the grid but a last corner crash while diving for a top nine position on Sunday pushed the Brit down to fourteenth.
WorldSBK enters an extended two-month summer hiatus. The Pirelli German round at the purpose-built Lausitzring Eurospeedway brings the series into the final four fixtures of 2016 and gathers the paddock together in mid-September.