As the WSBK season heads into the second half, Northern Ireland’s Johnny Rea has built up a 124-point lead at the top of the table. Next best is his teammate, Tom Sykes, who had a good battle and a second place in the first rain altered race at Mugello but a race he quickly wants to forget in the second outing. After battling Rea for the lead, his rear tyre degraded rapidly at the end due to dropping pressure from a damaged rim and he slipped and slid to an eventual eighth place with the slow puncture, losing yet more ground on Rea.
Ducati have shown the Panigale is fast enough to win races but just can’t seem to consistently suppress the Kawasakis. The racing has been tight and exciting, as the different brands all appear to have tracks they are strong at. The big question now is does Rea have a circuit that he’s not brilliant at? With his lead representing more than two full rounds, it looks like a scrap for the minors.
Meanwhile, in Supersport, the fantastic Cluzel – Sofuoglu battle still rages as they battle hammer and tongs to the wire. Cluzel had a few unfortunate results, putting him in catch up mode but the tenacious Frenchman doesn’t have a back off button and is flying on the MV Agusta as he tries to bridge the gap to Sofuoglu’s Kawasaki. Meanwhile PJ Jacobsen is breathing down his neck on another green machine. The 600’s may not get the kudos they deserve but the racing is well worth getting up earlier to catch.
And then there’s the Kiwi contingent – swelling to three as Al Hoogenboezem debuts in WSS, Jake Lewis is racing in 600 Stock and Avalon Biddle competes in the doubleheader EJC and Women’s EJC, run within the same race.
With seven from eleven already completed, Barcelona’s Catalunya circuit just made the racing more of a must-see as there is now a solitary point between points leader, Rossi, and his Yamaha teammate, Lorenzo. With Marquez crashing out of his home race, the first half of the season has been testing for the young Spaniard as he trails in fifth position on 69 points – 69 behind Rossi’s 138. Dani Pedrosa made a welcome return to the podium in third, although the two Yamaha riders were almost 20 seconds ahead at the line.
The other big news was qualifying, with Suzukis taking the top two spots on the grid for the first time since 1993 and the first Suzuki pole position since Chris Vermeulen in 2007. In the process, Aleix Espargaro set a new lap record. That speed on the softer qualifying tyre the non-factory teams are allowed didn’t result in a race win but has given the team a real boost in confidence, knowing they have bridged the gap – almost.
In the smaller classes, the racing was intense with the Moto3 machines five abreast braking at the end of the main straight, swapping multiple positions in a staggering display of slipstreaming. Crafty Danny Kent tried to break away but when that didn’t work, plotted the last section of the last lap to perfection. A master class in knowing when to lead and when to follow sees his lead swell to over 50 points.
Not to be outdone, Moto2 put on a spectacle with eventual winner, and points leader, Johann Zarco getting past Alex Rins and then Tito Rabat in the dying stages. It was the unrelenting pressure that forced mistakes and Zarco pounced, first as Rins went wide and then a similar opportunity as Rabat outbraked himself, letting both Zarco and Rins through right at the end. Fast and furious right to the wire, the smaller classes provided the best action and the closest racing you’re likely to see.