It was a weekend of contrasts in Germany. Four weathers in a race weekend is usually something associated with Phillip Island, but with 30°C temperatures having welcomed the WorldSBK paddock from their summer break, the heat gradually transitioned to a downpour on a cold and windy Sunday.
With Chaz Davies and Jonathan Rea claiming the spoils in the races there was little reason to think that this was a standout weekend, but in many ways the German round of WorldSBK could prove pivotal when the season concludes.
Rea romps to commanding title lead
Jonathan Rea may have only claimed 25 points last weekend but with Tom Sykes crashing in Race 2 and only able to finish 13th Rea still managed to extend his championship lead. The reigning world champion endured a difficult weekend in Germany but it's a sign of how strong he is that his “off-weekend” still could easily have netted him at least 41points.
Rea crashed out of third position on Saturday after suffering from gearbox problems while chasing Sykes and looking strong enough to overtake his teammate. Entering turn 10 and backshifting through the gears, Rea found a false neutral and when the bike eventually found a gear it was too late. The sudden change of gear caused a highside and Rea's first crash in a race for Kawasaki.
The problem has been prevalent all season - at Donington Park Rea ran wide on multiple occasions in his home round due to the problem - but he has still managed to win races and lead the championship. That lead was drastically reduced after Race 1 with Sykes finishing second and taking a 20 point chunk out of Rea's lead.
In the space of 24 hours the title race looked to be heating up before Rea's domination of Race 2 poured cold water on Sykes' title hopes. This season has been much more of a struggle for the 29-year-old but still he is the title favorite.
“It was quite stressful on the grid for Sunday's race because we arrived to the grid in the dry and then it started to rain,” said Rea after his victory. “With the delay we decided to switch to a full wet setup because there was so much standing water on the track. Given the conditions this is what won the race for us because I had a bike that I felt very comfortable with.
“I was excited and nervous during the race because it's so easy to make a mistake in these conditions and having lost 45 points to Tom in the previous two races it was important to capitalize on having a strong bike.
“We were boxed into a corner and it's important to come out fighting when that happens and gain as many points as you can. That's what we did in Race 2 so I'm very grateful to my team because they had a lot of work to do overnight to make sure that everything was in place for this race.”
While it seems almost unthinkable now to remember Rea on the Ten Kate Honda, his Race 2 victory saw him edge closer to Nori Haga for third in the all-time WorldSBK winners list. Central to that success has been the relationship between Rea and his crew chief Pere Riba. The Spaniard, a former World Supersport race winner and 500GP racer, has become more than an engineer for Rea their friendship has been focal to their successes.
“Johnny is the best, it's that simple,” said Riba. “The way he rides a bike and how he works with the team is superb. He is very special and the relationship that we all share is also very special. I'm lucky to work with him but I'd still say that he is the best even if I wasn't working with Johnny. On Saturday Chaz was the best and it's easy to see that. He won so well and rode fantastically but this year Johnny has once again shown how strong he can be and this is with a bike that has given him problems.
“We were to blame for his retirement in Laguna Seca [with an engine problem] and it was our fault that he crashed here. It's easy for a rider to get down when these things happen, but he stayed strong and was rewarded with the win on Sunday. It was a great ride and it's very difficult to do what he did. In the wet you need to concentrate so much because on any lap and on any corner you can make a mistake and crash.”
Down and out for Sykes?
Tom Sykes was thrown a lifeline on Saturday but 24 hours later his title hopes took a huge hit when he crashed in the early stages of Race 2.
The 2013 world champion finished second to Chaz Davies in race one and hauled back 20 points on Rea in the standings and was 26 points behind his teammate but with lots of momentum behind him Sunday's race could really have tilted the title fight in his favor.
"The crash was just a mistake on my behalf," said Sykes after Race 2. "The bike wasn't working well but it was consistent and I made mistake and crashed. That's racing and anything is possible and things turn on their head so fast. Dry weather racing is where riders take the best from the package whereas in the wet a lot more can happen.
“I feel that in the wet Jonathan was thrown a little bit more of a lifeline and no doubt he had a great feeling but in the dry he wasn't as strong. I think we can be strong in the dry for the rest of the season but if it is wet again there's another direction we can go in. You've got to take the rough with the smooth in racing.”
Having remounted and scored points on Sunday Sykes faces a 47 point deficit to Rea and with time running out there is now only 150 points up for grabs. The championship may not be decided until the final round in Qatar but it's certainly advantage Rea at this point and while Sykes can look for positives in recent rounds it would take a brave person to bet against Rea for the championship.
“We're now 47 points behind Johnny but the gap has been coming down considerably and that's very positive. It was interesting this weekend because we didn't have a lot of information and data for coming here, and Jonathan wasn't very strong in the dry and they were chasing the setup. In the wet he rode very well and no-one could touch him, but it's unfortunate for me because I don't have a great feeling with the bike right now but I know that I can ride well in the wet and win races in the wet. Right now we're at a bit of a flat line in these conditions and we need to find a solution very fast."
Davies finds his mojo
Too little, too late was the feeling from Chaz Davies after the weekend. The Welshman has found his confidence in the Ducati once again after changes to the bike transformed it back to the dominant package we saw earlier in the season.
A new seat unit and fuel tank has allowed Davies to feel at home on the bike once again but also left him somewhat disappointed not to have found the solution earlier in the season when the championship was still a realistic proposition.
Crashes at Donington Park, Misano and Laguna Seca robbed him of points and have left Davies targeting wins and second place in the championship but this was a year that promised so much more for the former World Supersport champion.
Speaking after his Race 1 success, by a ten second margin, Davies said:
“I knew that we were going to be there or thereabouts to win the race but that margin of victory, I never expected that,” said Davies. "We've made some changes to the bike in the summer tests and it's back to feeling like my bike again. I've a lot of confidence in it once again and it felt so good on Saturday. It's a bit late for us to have found these improvements but it's better to find it than to be looking for it. I think that we've hit the sweet spot again with the setup and we can try and win as many races as possible now before the season is done.”
Rain on Sunday curtailed his chances of completing the “Gentleman's Set” of pole and both wins and fastest laps but having seen Sykes crash in the early stages Davies went into damage limitation mode and now sits 51 points behind the Kawasaki rider in the fight for second in the standings.
“I was a bit bummed that it rained on Sunday. It was looking good for us in the dry on Saturday and it felt great to get back to winning ways. The rain came at the worse possible time and we didn't really know how to play it but pretty soon it became clear we'd need full wets. I could see early in the race, when Tom crashed, that I didn't have a lot of grip and I really changed my approach to just making sure that I finished the race. I can still finish second in the championship and I approached the race where, within reason, I wouldn't take many risks. I'm really happy with the pace in the dry but we've got some work to improve in the wet.”
Hayden on the podium and on the RC213V
Nicky Hayden will deputize for Jack Miller at this weekend's Aragon Grand Prix but on Sunday the American's only thoughts were of missed opportunities. A podium in Race 1 had given Hayden plenty of encouragement in his fight for fourth overall in the championship standings but an incident-packed second race left him scratching his head and clearly bemused.
“I'm sure that there's some positives to be had from this weekend - coming here and getting a front row and a podium for instance - but I'm too disappointed with myself to look for positives just yet,” said Hayden after the second race. “I'm a competitive guy and this wasn't enough for me. I've got lessons to be learned from this weekend.”
Those lessons will have centered on running in the wet, and while Hayden will rightfully feel that more was possible from this weekend, the positives of once again finishing on the podium and closing in on fourth in the standings are clear. When he finished the opening race his first thoughts were of how Davide Giugliano, then fourth in the standings, had done.
Hayden, like all racers, is results-driven and focused on the task at hand and the future. Rarely do racers think of the past. The sole role of experience is to make you better and Hayden's lack of experience in the wet at the Lausitzring was very costly. But in characteristic style the 2006 MotoGP world champion did not shirk his responsibility for this.
“Conditions were obviously difficult on Sunday but I'm very disappointed with how I rode in the rain. On Saturday I made a very silly mistake in practice in the wet conditions and crashed early in the session. This meant that we had no data for setting the bike up in the wet but also that I had no data for myself about this track in the wet.
“This is very important because there's so many different types of pavement here. I couldn't heat the tires, but once I started to feel better I started to push more but when Alex crashed in front of me I picked the bike up and had to run wide and that cost me 15s and let the tires cool. All in all though, I take full responsibility for this performance and it wasn't good enough from me.”
While Hayden's performances weren't good enough for his own standards his team boss, Ronald ten Kate, once again raved about Hayden's ability and hardworking nature. Speaking to British television the Dutch team boss said that the Kentucky rider was “the hardest worker we've had at this team.” With Ten Kate having won ten championships in the Superbike and Supersport categories it was high praise indeed for Hayden.
There are three rounds remaining and Hayden still has work to do if he is to match his goal of top four in the championship. Competing with his teammate, Michael van der Mark, and Giugliano he'll need all that hard working nature if he is pull it off.
Should van der Mark have been allowed to rejoin?
Should he stay or should he go? That was the question asked following Michael van der Mark's incredible performance on Sunday. The Dutchman crashed heavily in Race 2 and severely damaged his Honda. With the screen ripped off his Fireblade and cracks in the fuel tank he remounted and rejoined the race to eventually finish eighth and claim crucial points that kept him ahead of Nicky Hayden in the championship standings.
While van der Mark was able to rejoin and set competitive lap times, his final lap was under one second shy of his fastest overall lap, there were calls from some journalists – especially those with experience of British Superbikes - who opined that the damage to his bike was such that implementing the crash rules from the BSB championship should be considered by the world championship.
In BSB a rule was implemented in 2012 that stated that if a rider crashes they were not allowed to rejoin. This was to ensure that damaged bikes are not allowed back into races where they could potentially cause further crashes but in 2014 the rule was modified to allow for some instances where riders could return to action. The sentiment of the argument against rejoining races is perfectly sound and centers on ensuring safety for all competitors. It is however one that isn't shared by all and brings up the question of whether or not some regulations are necessary.
Does a rule such as this “one strike and you're out” sanitize racing or sterilize racing? One of the most impressive feats in racing is when riders overcome adversity. Crashing and still scoring points is a feat in itself and one we saw Van der Mark and Sykes both achieve on Sunday. It is also one that Scott Redding famously achieved in Misano last year when the British rider crashed not but twice en route to a MotoGP podium.
Marc Marquez, as ever, is also a rider that features in many spectacular crash stories and his Estoril 2010 rejoin is one of the most compelling moments of his already storied career. Marquez, then racing for the Ajo squad in 125GP, crashed on the out lap of a restarted race and suffered tremendous damage to his bike.
Getting back to the pits in time to have minimal repairs completed and still having work done to his bike on the grid it was a race against time to take the start. The Ajo team managed to make the start after the entire team, and even some rival mechanics lent a hand. Marquez went on to win the race and those crucial points helped him to his first world championship.
These are just two examples of the excitement that can come from remounting and rejoining. No-one wants to see riders injured and safety compromised unnecessarily but by its very nature motorcycle racing is a dangerous and spectacular sport. It is also a sport that would be lessened by such a rule change.
Camier continues to impress
Leon Camier's future may still be uncertain but his standing in the WorldSBK paddock certainly is not. The towering Englishman continues to outperform expectations on the MV Augusta and two fourth place finishes at the weekend have shown once again how sterling a job he is doing with a brace of top five finishes.
Camier, who has been a factory Aprilia and Suzuki rider in the past, might be riding with his third factory in the championship but he is also riding better than ever. In the past top ten finishes were as rare as hens' teeth for MV, but this year Camier has been a constant force in the top ten and currently sits eighth in the standings. The Italian bike has morphed into one of the best chassis on the grid but horsepower has been the constant shortcoming, and this reared its head again last weekend in race on when Camier finished fifth.
“We've got to be happy with fifth and it was great to be so fast at the end and to be able to catch Sykes and Hayden,” said Camier. “To have podium pace in the dry was really good but we're lacking in a few areas and need to find some more power over the winter if we're going to be able to fight for the podium in the dry.”
Having had the pace to bridge the gap to the top five any further progress was made impossible for Camier as the MV simply couldn't get past on the straights. Overtaking was difficult at the Lausitzring but having to settle, and be disappointed, for two top five finishes shows how much progress has been made this year.
“I'm feeling mixed emotions right now,” said Camier. “I'm happy with the result but really felt we could have finished on the podium. It was so easy to make mistakes today and I made a few where the rear would come around on corner entry. On the second to last lap I ran off the track which didn't help and I lost ground to Fores. I had been catching him, but that lost time meant that I couldn't attack him on the last lap when he looked to be struggling a little bit.
“This is the first weekend where I felt we had a bike that could challenge for the podium so I'm disappointed in myself for not doing it but the guys made a good step with the electronics for the race in the wet conditions and this gives me confidence for the remaining races of the season.”
It looks highly likely that MV will remain in WorldSBK for 2017 and Camier will race for them but given the financial struggles of the manufacturer their plans are still to be confirmed. Camier was however confident of this being resolved in the coming weeks.
Fairy tales can happen in Germany!
The last twelve months have been incredibly traumatic for Alex de Angelis, The San Marino rider suffered a horrendous crash at last year's Japanese Grand Prix and almost succumbed to his injuries in the aftermath. That day, in damp conditions, he crashed into a guardrail and suffered tremendous injuries.
On Sunday in wet conditions he overcame the odds and claimed his first career WorldSBK podium and his first podium of any kind since the 2012 Moto2 season. It was an incredible feat and one made even more impressive by the speed and consistency that he showed. This was a podium earned rather than gifted.
De Angelis shot through the field on the opening lap and made up an incredible 13 positions to be running in the lead group and right behind his IODA Aprilia teammate, Lorenzo Savadori. The Italian was strong in wet and dry conditions but crashed out of both races from front running position.
While his teammate was cursing his luck, De Angelis was faultless and set consistent times to spend the majority of the race in second position. Afterwards the relief was clear for the former Grand Prix winner as he celebrated his feat of finishing on the podium and putting the road to recovery firmly behind himself.
“To finally be back on the podium is terrific,” said a delighted De Angelis. “I have pushed so hard this season but have had a lot of problems after the accident in Japan, so to get back on the podium after all that makes me double happy! The race was very difficult because the asphalt was really slippery. We had some wet running on Saturday but in the race it was very different and really bad conditions. I was lucky though that I understood it very quickly and could make a good start. I changed the electronics setting to use a lot of them in the race and this helped me.”
There was another newcomer to the podium on Sunday with Xavi Fores claiming a well deserved rostrum finish. The Barni Ducati rider had never stood on the podium in an international race despite experience in 125GP, Moto2, MotoGP, World Supersport and WorldSBK. The Spaniard is however a German IDM Superbike champion and one of the most consistent riders on the grid.
Having been strong throughout the season it has seemed like only a matter of time before his hard work would eventually be rewarded.
That reward came on Sunday and afterwards the always smiling Spaniard said:
“I had actually been looking for rain in the races because in FP3 I felt really good in the wet,” said Fores. “I felt strong on the bike in the wet but not so much in the dry because we had some problems on Friday and lost track time. This is a really important podium for me and the team and to get my first podium makes me really happy!”
Lost season for Milwaukee BMW
There was plenty of discussion in the paddock about the Milwaukee BMW team with the team having announced that they would switch to Aprilia machinery in 2017. With Josh Brookes and Karel Abraham being replaced by Eugene Laverty and almost certainly Lorenzo Savadori, there was a sense that the team has already begun focusing on next year and is just playing out the string for the remainder of 2016.
For Brookes this was obviously hard to swallow with the Australian saying, “I'm a racer and there's still three rounds remaining so there's still a lot that we can accomplish this year but we've got to work hard.”
That hard work didn't appear evident in Germany with the rain on Sunday offering brief respite with a top ten finish for Brookes, but overall this was another round that passed the team by. Paddock rumor was that the team has taken to selling their spare parts before the season is over and they lose most of their value.
Having jumped up to the world championship after their title success in last year's BSB campaign much was expected of the Shaun Muir squad but the team has failed to deliver this season.
That transition from BSB to WorldSBK is a big one and that gulf has been proven by the team's struggles. Whether it is changing your business practices to cater for the logistics of a global campaign rather than a national one, learning new tracks with no prior data or finding the right hotels to stay in a rookie campaign is consistently one that is spent learning.
It will be crucial for their hopes in 2017 that lessons have been learned and that the team make forward progress.
Terrific Tuuli tussles the Turk
Niki Tuuli gave World Supersport the shot in the arm it so richly needed by claiming an unbelievable podium as a one-round replacement rider. The Finn, racing for the Kallio squad, spent the entire weekend at the sharp end and qualified and finished in the top three.
Second position was richly deserved for Tuuli having been glued to the rear wheel of Kenan Sofuoglu throughout proceedings. His performance made plenty of people sit up and take notice of him and has firmly put him in the shop window but with Kallio Racing likely to race full-time in 2017 it's likely he'll stay where he is for next year.
Having raced in European Stock 600 last year and spending his time racing in his domestic series this year it was hugely encouraging for Tuuli to make the jump he did against world class opposition. It is so rare to see Sofuoglu stretched: this was his fifth win of the year, but the Turk was under a lot of pressure on Sunday. Sofuoglu is now on the verge of the title and should wrap up a fifth Supersport crown in France.
Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2016 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.