Round three, Aragon: WSBK race weekend preview
Following a dramatic encounter in the new destination of Thailand, the eni FIM Superbike World Championship returns to familiar soil this weekend with the Aragon Round. The MotorLand Aragon facility, a stone’s throw from the town of Alcaniz, made its debut on the calendar in 2011. However, for this year a different track configuration is to be used for the first time, as the riders will take the long double left-hander leading into the start/finish straight. On previous occasions, the tighter hairpin was used at the end of the back straight.
Of the quartet of events to be staged in Aragon thus far, race wins have been shared equally amongst as many riders, all winning two races apiece. Italians Max Biaggi and Marco Melandri each took a victory in 2011 and 2012, while in the more recent two seasons impressive doubles have gone the ways of British riders Chaz Davies and Tom Sykes.
Championship leader Jonathan Rea – having picked up three of the four 2015 race victories to date – heads with new machinery to Aragon, the same track where he had his first outing aboard the Ninja ZX-10 last November, in a two-day private test. Having collected a remarkable 95% of the maximum points available up to this point, the British rider surely has good reason to be confident as he heads out into the Spanish hills.
This could be a crucial weekend for 2013 WorldSBK title winner Tom Sykes. The Englishman may have picked up his first rostrum of the season in the opening Buriram race, although he lies some 45 points in arrears of his team-mate and has ground to make up. If history is anything to go by, he should head to Spain with confidence as last year Huddersfield rider Sykes successfully won both races from the Tissot-Superpole, in each of the Sunday encounters leading home French Kawasaki team partner Loris Baz.
If Rea’s start to the season has been spectacular, then Leon Haslam’s cannot be described as anything other than immensely strong. He may have beaten his compatriot only once, but Haslam remains very much in contention thanks to a trio of second places finishes which ensure he heads to Aragon only ten points behind Rea. Furthermore, he now hopes the Moto2 experience of team-mate Jordi Torres at the MotorLand Aragon circuit will only add to the challenge from the Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils riders this weekend. However, Haslam does admit that the next three rounds at Aragon, Assen and Imola will be key damage limitation exercises before heading to venues on which he expects to be at his strongest.
Spanish fans certainly have a lot to be excited about. Not only is Torres on the charge, but Althea Racing Ducati’s Nico Terol is a former Grand Prix winner in Aragon, while David Salom (Team Pedercini), Santiago Barragan (Grillini SBK Team) and Roman Ramos (Team Go Eleven Kawasaki) have all demonstrated their capabilities of strong showings.
In a further reinforcement to the Spanish Armada, Xavi Fores returns to the grid for the double-head of Aragon and Assen – race meetings separated by the space of just one week. Fores will take up the helm of the second Aruba.it Racing – Ducati Superbike Team bike, becoming the latest substitute for the recovering Davide Giugliano after three-time World Champion Troy Bayliss elected to call time on his WorldSBK career after Thailand. Hailing from Valencia, Fores teams up with 2013 Aragon double winner Chaz Davies who himself is looking to bounce back from a weekend full of troubles last time out.
A rider with momentum is Alex Lowes. The Voltcom Crescent Suzuki man clinched his third World Superbike podium finish and the first of 2015 in Thailand’s second race and is now looking to move up from seventh place in the Riders’ Championship. Elsewhere, Pata Honda World Superbike Team are striving for top three results themselves, with World Champion Sylvain Guintoli continuing to carry the famed number one alongside Michael van der Mark ahead of the latter’s home race event at Assen next weekend.