The UK has a reputation for poor weather and despite being at the height of their summer the tenth round of the world Superbike championship was hit by regular rain showers that ended up delivering some unexpected results.
With practically every session taking place on either a wet or drying track, Superpole was declared wet meaning that it was the result of two 20-minute sessions and it delivered an unexpected front row of Jakub Smrz, Leon Camier, Sylvan Guintoli and local man Leon Haslam.
With rain falling in the build up to Race 1 the race was declared wet, but the closer it got to the start the drier the track became leading to the majority of the field going out on slick tires. In a race that had it all – countless changes of position, runaway leaders that then dropped back and a vast amount of crashes – the day belonged to Kawasaki sensation Loris Baz. At just 19 years of age, Baz became the second youngest ever WSB race winner.
It was a win that certainly wasn’t gifted to him. In fact, his riding verged on aggressive with a number of the top men questioning his on-track antics. But at the end of the 18 laps he’d got to the front, held his nerve and, unlike many of his rivals, not fallen off in the treacherous conditions.
He said: ““It is really special to win and to win in England because I raced here in British Superbike last year for a while. I would also like to thank Kawasaki for believing in me. We made no mistakes in Race 1 and finished up front. I think in the dry we are also really fast and we can fight for the first five or seven places. I chose the slick tire because it was the best choice in Race 1. The conditions in Race 1 were crazy for a while and early on I was missing some grip but when I saw the rains coming I pushed hard even though it was quite wet, but I stayed on the bike and I am really happy for this victory.”
Michel Fabrizio (84) took second without incident in Race 1;teammate Ayrton Badovini (86) took third sliding atop his bike after crashing within meters of the finish line.
As Baz crossed the line all hell was breaking lose behind him. In the closing stages of the race GoldBet BMW riders Michel Fabrizio and Ayrton Badovini had scythed their way through the field in to second and third respectively ahead of Honda man Jonathan Rea. Fabrizio crossed the line but Badovini lost control of his S1000RR when he ran on to the curb just meters from the finish line. His spectacular crash left Rea with nowhere to go and he smashed into the BMW leaving both men sliding down the track. Under regulations the rider has to be in contact with their bike when they cross the line, which both men were, meaning they were classified in the result.
Behind them the title battle raged between Aprilia man Max Biaggi and BMW rider Marco Melandri, but it was Biaggi to crack first when he crashed out of sixth place on the last lap. Melandri secured seventh place but was then the subject of a protest by Aprilia, who claimed that Melandri’s team were still working on the bike on the grid at the start of the race after the three-minute board was shown, which is against the rules. In a bizarre twist both Aprilia men along with John Hopkins and eventual race winner Baz were guilty of the same thing, but the protest was only against Melandri. Rules state that if a team is still working on the bike when the three-minute board is shown they should be removed from the grid to finish the work in pitlane. This didn’t happen and Melandri was later given an official warning and fined 5000 euro. None of the other riders were penalized.
Like Race 1, Race 2 was declared wet meaning the entire grid went out on full wet tires, but the conditions became dangerous when the standing water increased and a number of riders crashed and remounted including Leon Haslam, Carlos Checa, Jonathan Rea and Jakub Smrz.
The one consistent factor in the race was wet weather maestro Sylvan Guintoli, who was riding the Pata Ducati 1198 for the first time after parting company with his Effenbert Ducati team two weeks earlier at Brno. Guintoli rode superbly, leading the entire race apart from when he was passed by Race 1 winner Baz. But Baz’s spell at the front didn’t last long as two corners later he high-sided his factory Kawasaki, asking for a little bit too much from his rear wet Pirelli tire.
Conditions got dangerous in Race 2 when fuel from a number of crashed bikes mixed with standing water on the track causing more to go down, including Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes.
By Lap 10 heavy rain was falling and the standing water combined with leaked fuel from the array of crashed bikes made the conditions treacherous. Tom Sykes crashed his Kawasaki at the exact same place as Carlos Checa and with that the race director red flagged proceedings.
After initial confusion, Guintoli was given the win while late chargers Eugene Laverty and Chaz Davies were credited with second and third place. But then to the shock and disappointment of the home crowd the result was revised and Smrz and Baz were reinstated as the result was called from the end of Lap 8, not Lap 9.
Half points were rewarded as under half race distance had been completed and there was outrage that the race was not re-started. Aprilia lodged an official protest and subsequent appeal as the results affected championship leader Max Biaggi badly, but race direction stuck by its decision meaning that Melandri now sits just 10.5 points behind Biaggi with four rounds of the championship remaining.
Away from the racing, the rumor that Ben Spies will return to WSB to ride the BMW alongside Marco Melandri gathered serious pace. While Spies is yet to officially sign he looks almost certain to join the German manufacturer next year onboard the S1000RR.