In being the only venue to host a British round of the 2014 eni FIM World Superbike Championship, Donington Park was the place to be on the May Bank Holiday. Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes was the defending champion, as well as one of the stars of 2014, but the atmosphere was electric in Leicestershire, with the 2014 season housing not one, but five British hopefuls, all looking to put their name on the 2014 title. In the early part of the season, it was Tom Sykes who hit the ground running, securing five podiums from eight races, but coming from Imola, Italy, it is fellow Countryman Jonathan Rea who was the man to beat. After securing three wins in a row onboard the Pata Honda, Rea nicked the championship lead from Sykes and the two were separated by a small margin of just three points. Rea was looking to continue his impressive form and build on what could be a championship winning season at Donington Park but the form guided showed Sykes could be the man to beat, after the 2013 Champion secured a superb double in Leicestershire in 2013, as well as pole position on his way to wrapping up his first World Superbike crown. With there being much focus on the top two, Donington Park could have been good hunting ground for the other Brits, with Ducati rider Chaz Davies the third highest in the standings in fifth position. 2014 has so far been a good year for Davies, with the Ducati rider securing two second places at the previous round at Imola. Even though the riders for the Ducati Superbike Team hadn’t had a podium at Donington Park in the World Superbikes, it was very likely that Chaz Davies and team mate Davide Giugliano would be challenging for podiums and race victories. For the manufacture Suzuki Team, Voltcom Crescent Suzuki were coming to Donington Park for their home meeting, with Irishman Eugene Laverty and 2013 British Superbike Champion Alex Lowes aiming for more podiums, after a few difficult rounds, which has seen one win for Eugene and a second for Alex. Both Suzuki riders sat just inside the top ten of the championship standings but for Lowes, Donington Park was one of the venues which set up his championship winning year in BSB, onboard the Samsung Honda. With plenty of Brits to keep the crowd entertained, one team who cannot be missed was Aprilia Racing, with Frenchmen Sylvain Guintoli chasing down Sykes and Rea. Guintoli came into Donington Park sixteen points adrift in third, with the Frenchmen having history of being on the podium in recent seasons and a regular challenger for race wins. With Guintoli a favourite on the Aprilia, he would have to be weary of the Italian across the garage, as Marco Melandri is a championship contender. The Italian has history of securing race wins at Donington Park and would be looking to get his championship challenge back on track, after falling behind at recent rounds. Sitting sixth in the standings on eighty-four points, Melandri would be pushing for more podiums, as he hadn’t picked up one since a second and a third in rounds one and two. It was very clear looking at the top ten that there were a lot of potential race winners and the fight for the win in races one and two would be spectacular.
Giugliano on Pole in Treacherous Conditions.
Conditions at Donington Park took a nasty turn for the worse when Superpole got underway for the first session of qualifying, with ten riders taking part and two looking to progress to Superpole Two. A very slippery track is what the first riders faced, with several unfortunately hitting the deck in the fifteen minute session. One of the home riders to suffer a massive off in Superpole One ended up being EVO Competitor Leon Camier, with the BMW rider picking up an injury and on doctor’s orders, ending the weekend early. As Ayrton Badovini, Niccolo Canepa and Jeremy Guarnoni all joined Camier as fallers of Superpole One, it was Toni Elias on the Red Devils Roma Aprilia RSV4 who made it through to Superpole Two as the fastest rider from the ten with a time of 1:49.026s. Closest to Elias’s time in the fifteen minute session ended up being Ayrton Badovini, with the Alstare Bimota rider progressing 0.241 seconds down on Elias, even with his crash wrecking the Bimota BB3 during the session. With Badovini on the deck, it looked likely that Britain’s Christian Iddon would make it into Superpole Two, but the Brit couldn’t out pace his team mate and would start the races into thirteenth position. The rest of the grid from Superpole One would be made up with Claudio Corti (14th) Alessandro Andreozzi (15th) Canepa (16th) Salom (17th) Camier (18th) Foret (19th) and Guarnoni in 20th.
WSBK Superpole One, Donington Park – Saturday 24th May 2014
11. Toni Elias (ESP) Red Devils Roma Aprilia RSV4 = 1m 49.026s
12. Ayrton Badovini (ITA) Bimota Alstare BB3 = 1m 49.267s (EVO)
13. Christian Iddon (GBR) Bimota Alstare BB3 = 1m 49.541s (EVO)
14. Claudio Corti (ITA) MV Agusta RC F4RR = 1m 49.961s
15. Alessandro Andreozzi (ITA) Pedercini Kawasaki ZX-10R = 1m 50.509s (EVO)
16. Niccolo Canepa (ITA) Althea Ducati 1199 Panigale R = 1m 51.062s (EVO)
17. David Salom (ESP) Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R = 1m 53.656s (EVO)
18. Leon Camier (GBR) BMW Italia S1000RR = No Time (EVO)
19. Fabien Foret (FRA) MAHI Kawasaki ZX-10R = No Time (EVO)
20. Jeremy Guarnoni FRA MRS Kawasaki ZX-10R = No Time (EVO)
Conditions never improved for Superpole Two, as the fastest ten from Free Practice One, Two and Three joined Toni Elias out on circuit. Unfortunately for Badovini, his huge off resulted in the Bimota BB3 being unrepairable in time for the next session. As twelfth place was firstly secured, it was a question of who would be on pole, with Superpole Two including five Brits and plenty of riders capable of taking the honors for both races. The early pacesetter ended up being local lad Leon Haslam, with the PATA Honda coping better than the rest in what was dismal conditions. As confidence with conditions grew and the rain slightly backed off, one rider who was targeting his first WSBK pole was Voltcom Crescent Suzuki’s Alex Lowes. The 2013 BSB Champion started to excel in the conditions, but unfortunately for the Brit, so was the rest of the field. With Jonathan Rea pulling himself to the top of the time sheets and looking set for pole position, a crash at Melbourne Hairpin ended his session early. This gave Lowes some breathing space before Sylvain Guintoli upped his pace, but the Frenchmen suffered the same fate as Rea and ended on the deck. The second Aprilia RSV4 of Marco Melandri started to hit the front in the closing stages but it was the Ducati of Davide Giugliano that stole the show, snatching pole position by 0.106 seconds ahead of Leon Haslam, even with a crash in the final seconds. As Melandri completed the front row and knocked Lowes to fourth, the biggest struggler of Superpole Two ended up being 2013 Donington Park double winner Tom Sykes, with the Kawasaki rider making a set up error and finding himself on row three in seventh, behind team mate Loris Baz.
WSBK Superpole Two, Donington Park – Saturday 24th May 2014
1. Davide Giugliano (ITA) Ducati SBK 1199 Panigale R = 1m 44.903s
2. Leon Haslam (GBR) PATA Honda CBR1000RR = 1m 45.009s
3. Marco Melandri (ITA) Aprilia Racing RSV4 = 1m 45.111s
4. Alex Lowes (GBR) Voltcom Crescent Suzuki GSX-R1000 = 1m 45.258s
5. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Aprilia Racing RSV4 = 1m 45.839s
6. Loris Baz (FRA) Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R = 1m 46.058s
7. Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R = 1m 46.241s
8. Jonathan Rea (GBR) PATA Honda CBR1000RR = 1m 46.306s
9. Toni Elias (ESP) Red Devils Roma Aprilia RSV4 = 1m 46.326s
10. Eugene Laverty (IRL) Voltcom Crescent Suzuki GSX-R1000 = 1m 47.963s
11. Chaz Davies (GBR) Ducati SBK 1199 Panigale R = 1m 50.099s
12. Ayrton Badovini (ITA) Bimota Alstare BB3 = No Time (EVO)
Sykes Holds Off Baz for a Kawasaki 1-2
Weather for the Sunday followed a similar pattern to Saturday at Donington Park, as rain fell heavily during the mornings warm up session, completely soaking the International circuit. As riders anticipated another wet session for race one, conditions changed during the support races, allowing for a dry track as the sun shone. When the lights went and race one got underway, it was a blistering start from both the Aprilias, with Frenchmen Slyvain Guintoli grabbing the hole-shot ahead of Marco Melandri. As Alex Lowes pushed the Aprilias down the Craner Curves, the BSB Champion showed his abilities around the Leichershire circuit, taking Melandri and Guintoli into the Old Hairpin. With Lowes looking to break away onboard the Voltom Crescent Suzuki, the Kawasaki of Loris Baz chased hard from sixth on the grid, creating a three way fight between him, Lowes and Guintoli. Within the space of five laps, the top three position constantly changed, as Guintoli repassed Lowes, with Baz following through into second. The fifth lap saw a decisive move from Baz, seeing the Kawasaki take the lead from the Aprilia, as Guintoli started to lose ground.
In the opening few laps there had been plenty of action at the front, but within the rest of the pack there was tragedy for the British fans, as two of their riders fell within a few corners. The first to hit the deck ended up being the Bimota BB3 of Christian Iddon, with the former Supersport rider sliding off at the entrance to McLeans and ending in the gravel. As Iddon tried to recover the stricken bike to no-avail, Ireland’s Eugene Laverty high-sided at Fogerty Esses, in what could have been a career ending crash. After hitting the “sausage curve” at the exit of the chicane, the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki was sent flying and ended up bouncing off of Laverty’s helmet and neck. Luckily Eugene picked himself up from the crash and walked away unhurt, with an unfortunate DNF to his name at his home race. There were good things happening towards the front for the British fans though, as whilst Alex Lowes laid second in the race, three Brits were fighting over sixth place and looking to charge towards the front. The rider who was on the move at this stage was reigning champion Tom Sykes, who after a slow start was now challenging the PATA Hondas of Leon Halsam and Jonathan Rea and then looking to chase down Chaz Davies.
With Sykes the quicker of the four and lapping faster than race leading team mate Loris Baz, the man from Yorkshire moved ahead of his fellow countryman and set his on Italian Marco Melandri. On lap twelve, Sykes moved into forth with a pass at the Old Hairpin and set the fastest lap of the race. Sykes’s position then changed to third a few moments later as team mate Loris Baz was free of Davide Giugliano, who dropped the Ducati at the Fogerty Esses whilst challenging for the race lead. With Lowes rejected from second along the Dunlop Straight by Tom Sykes, this set up a thrilling contest between the Factory Kawasaki riders, as Baz wasn’t just going to move over and allow Sykes to take victory on home soil. Lap nineteen saw the battle heat up, with the two swapping places within only a few corners as each rider wouldn’t give an inch. On the penultimate lap, Tom Sykes made sure his Frenchmen team mate wouldn’t fight back, as after taking the lead into the Melbourne Hairpin, he wound on the throttle and broke away into a 0.9 seconds lead, which extended to 1.538 seconds come the flag.
With Alex Lowes completing the podium and his second in his WSBK career, Marco Melandri came home in a comfortable fourth for Aprilia Racing. The next big fight was over fifth, as Brits Chaz Davies and Jonathan Rea competed over the position. The Ducati of Davies was able to get the better of the Honda, whilst the fast starting Sylvain Guintoli split the Honda team mates in seventh. With Leon Haslam ending race one in eighth after starting on the front row, the fastest rider from Superpole One, Toni Elias, ended race one in ninth, 1.996 seconds down on the PATA Honda, riding for the Red Devils Roma team. Completing the top ten in race one was EVO Class winner David Salom, onboard the Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R after finishing ahead of fellow EVO rider Niccolo Canepa, who rides for Althea Racing Ducati.
WSBK Race One, Donington Park – 25th May 2014
1. Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R = 23 laps
2. Loris Baz (FRA) Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R = +1.538s
3. Alex Lowes (GBR) Voltcom Crescent Suzuki GSX-R1000 = +6.394s
4. Marco Melandri (ITA) Aprilia Racing RSV4 = +11.875s
5. Chaz Davies (GBR) Ducati SBK 1199 Panigale R = +14.514s
6. Jonathan Rea (GBR) PATA Honda CBR1000RR = +14.708
7. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Aprilia Racing RSV4 = +18.482s
8. Leon Haslam (GBR) PATA Honda CBR1000RR = +29.295s
9. Toni Elias (ESP) Red Devils Roma Aprilia RSV4 = +31.291s
10. David Salom (ESP) Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R = +46.953 (EVO)
Early Chaos Promotes Sykes To The Top.
The grid for race two was made up from the results in qualifying, meaning for race one winner Tom Sykes, he would have to pull out another superb ride if he wanted to complete the 2014 double and create history at Donington Park in WSBK. When the lights went out, it was a blistering start from Marco Melandri that promoted the Aprilia into the race lead, ahead of Davide Giugliano and Loris Baz. As the Kawasaki of Baz made a dive bomb for second, a collision with the Ducati split the whole field. The one to lose out in this incident was Britain’s Leon Haslam, as the PATA Honda rider yet again failed to gain from a front row start and fell from fourth to tenth. The break up in the pack allowed Sylvain Guintoli to join his team mate at the front for another Aprilia 1-2 start, which saw the Frenchmen move ahead of the Italian on lap two.
With the race order all close together in the early laps and Tom Sykes yet again moving up the order, another dive bomb style move from Loris Baz on lap five split the field for the second time. With Baz sitting behind the Aprilias, he set up a move on Melandri into the Melbourne Hairpin. As the Frenchmen dived the Italian, this caused Melandri to slow up and then be capitulated by Alex Lowes. The two hit the deck quite hard, rejoining towards the rear of the field, whilst Tom Sykes moved into third position. It only took a couple of seconds before the second Voltcom Crescent Suzuki hit the deck moments later, as Eugene Laverty dropped the front whilst tripping into the final corner. Laverty rejoined just behind Lowes and Melandri, throwing away a potential top ten finish.
Things calmed down over the next two laps, with the leading three creating a margin over Davide Giugliano, whilst Brits Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies were again fighting over fifth position. At the front Guintoli held a slender lead over Baz but on lap eleven, things changed with Baz snatching the lead at the Melbourne Hairpin, only to see his team mate pass him and Guintoli on the run into Goddards. With Sykes out front and looking well on the pace, Baz matched his team mate and both Kawasakis pulled clear of Guintoli. As everyone expected a repeat dual, similar to race one, Sykes made sure a win would be more comfortable and pulled out an advantage sooner rather than later.
As the race reached its closing stages Sykes had edged further away from Baz and had a 1.9 second lead with a few laps to go. With Guintoli well down on Baz but comfortably ahead of Giugliano, focus switched to the battle between Rea and Davies. The Ducati was able to get the better of the Honda before the Checkered Flag, securing another top five finish on home soil. Further down the order, a recovering Alex Lowes was clawing his way up the order, taking ninth on track from Christian Iddon, who wouldn’t score points as the Bimota BB3 doesn’t pass the championship’s homoglation rules. Until homoglation is achieved, Iddon and team mate Badovini won’t score points in WSBK 2014 but are able to race competitively with the opposition. For Lowes, after passing Iddon, he kept taking chunks out of Toni Elias’s lap times but couldn’t close enough on eighth position before the races end. For his team mate, Laverty himself recovered well from his crash, to end the race in thirteenth and in the points. Melandri on the other hand struggled after his off and would be classified in seventeenth place. Completing the top ten in race two was again David Salom, finishing behind Christian Iddon on track but being promoted with Iddon not scoring. In the EVO Class, Salom had again fended off the Ducati of Niccolo Canepa to secure the EVO Class double at Donington Park.
WSBK Race Two, Donington Park – 25th May 2014
1. Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R = 23 laps
2. Loris Baz (FRA) Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R = +3.678s
3. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Aprilia Racing RSV4 = +7.376s
4. Davide Giugliano (ITA) Ducati SBK 1199 Panigale R = +10.827s
5. Chaz Davies (GBR) Ducati SBK 1199 Panigale R = +15.140s
6. Jonathan Rea (GBR) PATA Honda CBR1000RR = +17.975s
7. Leon Haslam (GBR) PATA Honda CBR1000RR = +33.737s
8. Toni Elias (ESP) Red Devils Roma Aprilia RSV4 = +40.362s
9. Alex Lowes (GBR) Voltcom Crescent Suzuki GSX-R1000 = +41.465s
10. David Salom (ESP) Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R = +48.929s (EVO)
From seventh on the grid in both races, the Kawasaki rider had certainly broken a WSBK record, by wrapping up a double-double around Donington Park. With two monumental wins in 2013 for Tom Sykes, a return to Leicestershire saw the reigning champion secure the same achievement, with two stunning performances. His rides in tricky conditions and battles with Frenchmen team mate Loris Baz showed that Tom has restarted his Championship defence, especially after losing out to Jonathan Rea in the past three races. With the series now moving to Sepang, Malaysia on the 7th and 8th June, Sykes had regained the Championship lead by twenty-six points, ahead of Jonathan Rea. With Rea having a difficult weekend on board the PATA Honda, this has allowed Sykes to pull out a healthy margin in the championship ahead of round six, but for the Honda rider, he is now under pressure from Loris Baz. The Frenchmen showed at Donington Park that he can be a real championship contender onboard the Kawasaki ZX-10R and after securing two podiums, he is level on points with Jonathan Rea. The progress of Baz into third has rejected fellow countryman Sylvain Guintoli to fourth, with the Aprilia rider leading parts of races one and two on the RSV4. Guintoli has slipped to within eleven points of Loris Baz but does have an advantage of fifty-one points over team mate Marco Melandri, in what could be an exciting team mate battle.
WSBK Standings – Top Ten After Five Rounds
1. Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R = 185
2. Jonathan Rea (GBR) PATA Honda CBR1000RR = 159
3. Loris Baz (FRA) Kawasaki Racing ZX-10R = 159
4. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Aprilia Racing RSV4 = 148
5. Chaz Davies (GBR) Ducati SBK 1199 Panigale R = 109
6. Marco Melandri (ITA) Aprilia Racing RSV4 = 97
7. Davide Giugliano (ITA) Ducati SBK 1199 Panigale R = 82
8. Leon Haslam (GBR) PATA Honda CBR1000RR = 75
9. Alex Lowes (GBR) Voltcom Crescent Suzuki GSX-R1000 = 73
10. Eugene Laverty (IRL) Voltcom Crescent Suzuki GSX-R1000 = 65
For photos of the WSBK at Donington Park, please visit our Flickr album here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.