With Moscow marking the half-way point in the 2013 season, Sykes is in the midst of his best WorldSBK season ever. He enters the round with five race wins to his credit (matching the total number he’d accumulated over a five year period from 2008-2012) and the overall points lead, which he wrested away from Aprilia Racing’s Sylvain Guintoli in the previous stop at Imola. He’s also the first Kawasaki rider in 19 years to lead the championship and has taken six consecutive pole positions, maintaining his reputation as the current king of Superpole.
Guintoli’s ace this year has been his consistency, scoring podiums in all but four races out of 14 and falling out of the top-five just once until Race 1 at Imola. There, the Aprilia rider was forced to retire from competition after six laps due to engine problems, ceding the overall lead to Sykes, who was only four points back at the start of the round. Guintoli followed up his Race 1 disaster with a third-place finish in Race 2, which helped keep him six points adrift of Sykes. The French rider will have to push hard in Russia though if recent trends continue, since Sykes has finished ahead of Guintoli in all but just a few races since Round 3 at Assen.
Guintoli’s teammate, Eugene Laverty, is third in the championship tally, 45 behind the leader. The Irishman held to third-place in Race 1 at Imola, but crashed out of Race 2, taking a DNF and zero points. Laverty had a tough time at Moscow in 2012, following up his fourth-place finish in Race 1 with a crash at the end of Race 2.
BMW Motorrad GoldBet’s Marco Melandri trails Laverty by eight points in fourth overall but enters the Russian round confident of a strong performance. Last year Melandri split wins with Sykes, taking the checkers in Race 2 after his second-place performance in Race 1. The S1000RR posted the fastest lap time in both races as well. Melandri recently conducted testing at Imola and left feeling positive about the team’s work. He’s hopeful that the advances there will translate to a strong result in the forthcoming round.
Melandri’s teammate, Chaz Davies, was on an Aprilia mount during last year’s races and following a mechanical issue which forced him to retire in Race 1, came back to earn his second podium of the season in Race 2 (third-place). He had a stellar weekend during Round 2 at Aragon this year, winning both races, but has since finished consistently between fifth and eighth. He’ll be looking for a turn of fortune at Moscow in order to keep hopes alive of contending for this year’s title. Currently Davies sits fifth overall, 81 points behind the leader.
Sykes’ teammate, Loris Baz, trails Davies in sixth and has been a consistent top-10 finisher in all but one race this year. Pata Honda’s Jonathan Rea, who sits seventh, hasn’t been so fortunate, retiring from three races and falling outside the top-10 twice. His experience in Russia during the 2012 round was especially difficult, with a false neutral causing him to fall in Race 1 and retire while a collision with Laverty in Race 2 saw him go down again. He was able to recover from the incident to finish in seventh-place, but will be looking for a more positive showing this time around.
Team SBK Ducati Alstare’s Carlos Checa is already well beyond reach of the title this year thanks to an injury-plagued start to the season. He’s also breaking in the new Ducati 1199 Panigale, so has been hard at work dialing in settings on his machine for optimum performance. The shoulder issues that made it difficult to race during the initial stages of 2013 are healing well and he’s looking for a strong second-half of the season. His teammate, Ayrton Badovini, has also been wracked with injury this year and is only recently recovered to a competitive level of fitness.
Suzuki Racing’s Leon Camier and Jules Cluzel will be fighting for improved results as well. Camier has only broken into the top-five once this year, and Cluzel has yet to achieve the feat. Camier missed the entire round at Aragon after sustaining a knee injury, but was able to return in the following round at Assen and has since been in competition for every stop on the calendar.
Althea Racing’s Davide Giugliano grabbed his first podium of the year in the previous round at Imola in Race 1 and then retired from Race 2. Red Devils Roma’s Michel Fabrizio went 5-8 at the Italian circuit. Both riders will look for more top-five results in Russia.