Motorcycle racing icon Barry Sheene once commented that the Imola circuit was one of the best in the world before “they buggered it up with all those chicanes”. The majestic Italian layout surrounded by trees, parkland and mired in nostalgia as well as notoriety is still an epic course for bike bravery, braking and balls-out action. Early summer sunshine bathed the fifth round of thirteen in 2017 WorldSBK and across two races on two days World Champion Jonathan Rea had to watch the rear slick of main title rival Chaz Davies as the Ducati ace satisfied the clamour of the home crowd with a dominant 1-1.
Rea was left to analyse the positive aspects of his 2-2 and another 40 points towards his bid for a record third championship in the competition. The #1 has been resolute on his Ninja ZX-10RR thus far and from five rounds and ten outings has registered seven victories and boasts a 100% podium appearance streak. The Northern Irishman may not have been able to do much about Davies in two sprints at Imola that were both interrupted by accidents and red flag stoppages but has extended his advantage in the standings to 74 points over the pursuing Welshman; almost three races with sixteen remaining.
“I was too far back from Chaz but today we halved the winning margin compared to yesterday,” he said. “I raced with the new soft prototype front tyre and in these temperatures I think it was maybe too soft an option for our bike. But I am generally content to have increased our championship lead, take 40 points and get on the podium twice at what is probably not our strongest track right now. It has been a really positive weekend.”
Teammate Tom Sykes also popped the cork on the podium champagne with third place and a very small margin of difference to Rea on Sunday. The Englishman had been disappointed with fourth spot on Saturday and had been vying for the top three until proceedings were stopped after 12 laps of 19. Sykes is now third and one point behind Davies in the chase for the crown.
“I had to make a good start and push hard early on,” he recounted. “I knew the speed of Chaz was incredible and I knew Jonathan would have good speed as well. Finally, Jonathan and I were quite evenly matched on lap times. There were two areas of the track where I was not able to do my usual riding style and over a lap I was suffering with turning the bike. Third was probably our realistic maximum today.”
Pata Yamaha’s Alex Lowes posted an 8-6 at Imola.
“It is so easy to look back on a weekend in hindsight and say we could have done this, we could have done that: at Imola we just couldn’t find the performance we needed from the bike, the guys never stopped trying and in the race sixth place was all we could manage,” he said. “It was a tough race for me, but the least my team deserve is for me to give everything I’ve got until the end.”
Round six represents a significant meeting for Monster Energy’s protagonists at the sharp end of WorldSBK with Donington Park in the UK staging their home fixture in two weeks time.