Nilox Portuguese Round – Weekend WorldSBK Preview
Popular Portuguese holiday destination the Algarve debuted on the eni FIM Superbike World Championship calendar at the end of 2008, shortly after the circuit inauguration. Nowadays, it can be found in the middle of the season: in this case, very much in the middle as, after Race 1 in Portugal this weekend, the 26-race campaign of 2015 will meet its halfway point.
Troy Bayliss was the first rider to stamp his name on the new venue seven years ago, dominating 2008 proceedings on what was his swansong weekend before retiring. That same weekend featuring a stunning World Superbike debut for Jonathan Rea, who qualified on the front row on a Honda and finished Race 1 in fourth position after switching from World Supersport.
This time, Rea heads to Portimao as a convincing championship leader. Eight wins and four second places from 12 races leave the Northern Irishman with an advantage of 101 and 102 points over Leon Haslam (Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils) and Kawasaki Racing Team partner Tom Sykes, with his current teammate having finally opened his winning account with a third consecutive Donington Park double last time out.
Incidentally, Sykes is a two-time winner at Portimao, having triumphed in the soaking wet first race of 2012 and the dry opening encounter of last year. Rea won the second 2014 race on a Honda, making the most of difficult conditions as Aprilia riders Sylvain Guintoli and Marco Melandri collided while chasing and catching.
With three Portimao podiums to his name, including one as a wildcard rider in 2008, Leon Haslam has traditionally seen the track as one of his stronger venues. That said, this year could be more of a challenge as Haslam has confirmed that he is still feeling the effects of the three cracked ribs from his Imola crash earlier this season. Team-mate Jordi Torres will not need to learn a new circuit on this occasion, as he tested in Portugal in January, although that particular test was blighter by inclement weather and so dry running will be a venture into the unknown.
As for the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati Superbike Team, both Davide Giugliano and Chaz Davies finished on the podium in 2014’s second race in the aftermath of the Guintoli-Melandri coming together. The Welshman was in contention for a rostrum finish also in the previous encounter, before coming together with Leon Haslam at turn 5.
Reigning World Champion Guintoli, now with the Pata Honda World Superbike Team, holds positive memories on the Algarve. He has finished on the rostrum there on no less than five occasions. Team-mate Michael van der Mark went well there in the junior ranks, with Superstock 600 successes in 2011 and 2012 prior to setting fastest race lap en route to victory and the title in the World Supersport Championship last year.
Voltcom Crescent Suzuki has not enjoyed such pleasant times at Portimao, with its best results there being a couple of seventh places for Eugene Laverty last season. They continue to strive to most closer to the front, with the improvement in pace confirmed by Alex Lowes’ two sixth places at his home round two weekends ago.
Elsewhere, Althea Racing’s Matteo Baiocco has been celebrating off-track as he became a new father less than two weeks ago, while team-mate Nico Terol is looking to bounce back from a frightening highside in England from which he was able to escape unharmed. Others – such as BMW Motorrad Italia’s Ayrton Badovini and MV Agusta Reparto Corse’s Leon Camier, showed much promise at Donington and are now looking to string together more consistent results.
The first World Superbike track action at the Nilox Portuguese Round will come in the form of Free Practice 1, which commences at 11:15 local time (GMT +1) on Friday.