Argentina showed again just how tight the battle for third in the WorldSBK title will be. The championship battle gets the attention but don't underestimate how much the scrap for third can be worth
Three riders, one prize. The fight for the bronze medal of the 2019 WorldSBK campaign will go down to the wire in Qatar. Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark and Toprak Razgatlioglu are split by just six points, and while the Turk is the form man, don't rule anything out in the desert.
All three riders - a British Superbike champion, a WorldSSP champion and a WorldSBK race winner - are consumed by a need to be the best. They want to win. Fighting for third isn't where they want to be, but it has to be their target for 2019. The future will almost certainly hold title challenges but for now it's about doing the best possible and beating each other.
The WorldSBK grid is stacked. It's not enough to be doing a good job, you have to do a great job on every lap of every day to be able to fight at the front. These riders can be upset with a top five finish because they expect more from themselves. When you talk to engineers inside the paddock, however, they'll point to the consistency needed to be a leading rider. This is a world championship and the gap between it and other series can be huge. In WorldSBK to be at the front you have to maximise everything.
"I've really enjoyed being teammates with Michael [van der Mark]," commented Alex Lowes after the race. "I can admit that he's made me a better rider because we're so closely matched. I'm sure he'd say the same thing about me. Our pace is always the same in a race - he beat me by a second here and I beat him by a second - it's about making a good start and getting a good opening five laps because that can be the difference.
"We've got a really good relationship. He's a nice guy but that doesn't matter when we're on track. We're out to beat each other and then shake hands afterwards. I'll be working really hard between now and Qatar to be ready and I'll be thinking about it every day. He'll be doing the same. Toprak too.
"It's been a great year. Toprak obviously has scored a lot of points lately but myself and Michael are very close and have scored almost the same points in the last few rounds. Hopefully we'll have a good three way fight in Qatar. Whoever gets third deserves it."
Slow and fast
The layout of the Argentine circuit didn't play to the strengths of the Yamaha. It struggles to accelerate out of slower corners, but Qatar is a very different circuit with one corner flowing into the next and faster corners leading on to the straights. It should be very well balanced between Kawasaki and Yamaha at the final round.
"It's going to be exciting," said Van der Mark. "Toprak was really strong this weekend but I expect Qatar to be a little better for our bike. Hopefully we won't have to think about being in front of Toprak but rather we can be at the front of the field. I love the circuit itself. On the straights in San Juan we suffered a bit but I think we can make up for that in Qatar in the fast corners. "
For Razgatlioglu, the challenge will be to continue his remarkable run of being on the podium at every round since Imola in May. The Puccetti Kawasaki star has been a revelation this year. His speed was never in doubt but now he is as consistent as anyone in the series. At the start of the campaign the goal was to wrap up the Independent Riders crown. That goal was achieved in Argentina, but now the target shifts to finishing third.
"Coming into the season I thought a top five was possible but now I want to finish third," said the Turkish rider. The races weren't easy in Argentina but three podiums is a good weekend and now we can focus on Qatar. That's my goal now."
The added dynamic within this scrap is that Razgatlioglu will replace Lowes at Yamaha for 2020 as teammate for Van der Mark. Three years of closely-matched riders look set to continue for the boys in blue for 2020.
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