World Superbike Istanbul Preview 2013

September 11, 2013
Byron Wilson
Byron Wilson
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Byron's sure to be hunched over a laptop after the checkers are flown, caught in his own little version of heaven. Whether on dirt, street or a combination of both, MotoUSA's newest addition knows the only thing better than actually riding is telling the story of how things went down.

Round 11 of the 2013 eni FIM World Superbike Championship heads to Istanbul with Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes leading the championship by a single point over Aprilia Racing’s Sylvain Guintoli. Sykes gained the top-spot the last time out at Nurburgring, beating Guintoli in both races and making up for ground he lost in the poor-weather-plagued Silverstone round. BMW Motorrad GoldBet’s Marco Melandri remains in contention as well, 30 points adrift of the leader in third-place as does Guintoli’s teammate, Eugene Laverty, who is 40 points behind the Kawasaki ace.

Sykes displaced long-time championship leader Guintoli once before this year, but only for a short time. The British rider first gained the top-spot from Guintoli at Imola, but then lost it the following round in Moscow after a mechanical DNF left him with zero points. In total Sykes has taken zero points in three races and finished outside the top-10 just once. When weather is good and his machine is dialed, Sykes’s record has been impressive – six wins, 11 podiums and six pole positions to-date.

Guintoli’s strength has been his consistency; apart from a single DNF in Race 1 at Imola he’s finished every race inside the top-six. The French rider has struggled to reach the top-step, however, earning only one race win through 10 rounds, which came in the season opener at Phillip Island. He’s reportedly doing well following a shoulder injury which he sustained in training and doesn’t expect the condition to affect his performance in Turkey.

Melandri has three wins this year while Laverty has four, but each has also experienced his fair share of difficulties. Laverty has taken zero points in five races due to crashes or mechanical issues while Melandri has fought through injury, crashes and mechanical issues of his own throughout the season. Both are within reach of making a bid for the title since four rounds remain on schedule, but they will need a serious change in fortune in order to become legitimate threats.

Sykes, Guintoli and the rest of the field will have the added difficulty of competing at an unfamiliar track as Round 11 marks the first time the series has raced at Intercity Istanbul Park. To help riders acclimate to the new circuit, the first Free Practice on Friday has been lengthened to 90 minutes instead of the standard 45. A number of riders do have experience there, but it’s been a number of years since anyone on the current grid has raced in Istanbul. The circuit’s inaugural season was in 2005 and the MotoGP World Championship competed there from 2005 through 2007 when the likes of Melandri, Laverty, Guintoli and Melandri’s teammate, Chaz Davies, were among the GP and 250cc competitors.

Melandri is the most decorated rider with prior experience in Istanbul. The Italian rider won the GP contest in 2005 and again in 2006. Guintoli and Davies contested the 250cc class there in 2005 and 2006 and in 2007 Laverty finished 17th in the 250cc class. Ducati Alstare’s Carlos Checa and FIXI Crescent Suzuki’s Jules Cluzel have also competed at the circuit.

Sykes, however, has not raced at Intercity before. He’s been strong at new tracks though, notably during the inaugural event at Moscow Raceway in 2012 where he finished 1-2.

Whether experienced on track or not, all will be hoping for an incident-free weekend as the past three rounds have been fraught with trouble. Following the untimely death of Andrea Antonelli, the round at Moscow was cancelled halfway through proceedings on Sunday. The next stop at Silverstone was marked by on-again, off-again rain showers which made it nearly impossible to push hard without the risk of a crash, as a number of riders discovered during the course of competition. Finally, the last time out at Nurburgring both races were red-flagged during the final laps due to crashes which left oil on track. In Race 1 the fluid left after Team Pedercini rider Federico Sandi’s engine blew causing Pata Honda’s Jonathan Rea and Cluzel’s teammate, Leon Camier, to crash. Rea broke his femur in the incident and Camier was sent to a nearby hospital for observation of potential neck injuries. In Race 2 Matej Smrz, brother of former WSBK rider Jakub Smrz and a regular competitor in the German Superbike series, high-sided during the final laps forcing officials to end the contest early. Sykes’ teammate, Loris Baz, suffered an off in the warm-up at Nurburgring and it was thought he may have sustained fractured vertebrae. According to the most recent information Baz’s prognosis is now more positive and he’s expected to make a return in Turkey.

Camier also plans to attempt a return in Istanbul, saying in a team press release that “I’m still a bit beaten-up from the accident and although my neck is feeling a lot better it’s not perfect. My arm and hand are giving me a bit of trouble, because I don’t really have full feeling yet. I think I might have a bit of nerve damage, but I’ve been in the gym and it’s getting better all the time. It still hurts a bit in certain positions, but I will give it a try on Friday and see how I get on. It should be ok, but until I ride and feel what it’s like, I won’t know for sure.”

The Red Devils Aprilia Team has added to the excitement of the final portion of the season with the announcement that 2010 Moto2 World Champion, Toni Elias, will ride the RSV4 for the remaining four rounds. This marks the first time ever that a rider has moved from the GP series to Superbikes mid-season.

Former Red Devils rider, Michel Fabrizio, will remain on the grid too, taking over Rea’s seat with Pata Honda. He joins current Pata Honda rider, Leon Haslam, who is continuing to rehabilitate the broken leg he sustained during practice at Assen.

“I am very happy to come back to the Honda CBR after my earlier experience with the DFX Honda Team,” said Fabrizio. “To race with the Ten Kate boys in the Pata Honda team is a real honor for me and, of course, I will do my best to get Jonathan’s machine near to the front. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish Jonathan a fast recovery from his injury and I would like to thank the whole Honda Superbike team for their hard work to fix the bike in time for me to race in Istanbul.”

Team Ducati Alstare’s Carlos Checa and Ayrton Badovini will arrive in Turkey to the welcome of the “Ducatistanbul” Ducati owners club the Wednesday prior to the race weekend. In the following days Badovini will work to build on the momentum he found in Nurburgring, where he earned his first World Superbike pole position and finished 9-7. Checa was disappointed with his 10-10 result in Germany so will be focused on an improved performance in Istanbul.

Two Turkish wildcard riders will join the Superbike ranks for Round 11 – Tolga Urpak with CMS Racing aboard a Ducati 1098R and Yunus Ercelik with Sampiyon169 Racing Team aboard a BMW S1000R. This also marks the first home race for defending World Supersport champion Kenan Sofuoglu of Mahi Racing Team India. Sofuoglu currently sits second in WSS standings behind Yakhnich Motorsport’s Sam Lowes.

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