2013 Moscow World Superbike Sunday Round Up: Tragedy Overshadows Racing

The loss of Andrea Antonelli cast a very long and very black shadow over the Moscow round of World Superbikes, In his second year in World Supersport, the popular 25 year old Italian was well thought of in the paddock, by friends and rivals alike. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

On track events are all overshadowed by the tragedy, yet we were introduced to a new aspect of World Superbike racing that serves to distract us from the depressing side of the sport. The wet conditions of the only World Superbike race run today gave us the first look at how flag-to-flag racing works. On days where rain is strong enough to normally stop a race, instead, riders have to race whatever the conditions, barring conditions deemed too dangerous. The single bike rule means that riders cannot, like they do in MotoGP, change bikes from one with a dry setup and tyres to one prepared for the wet. Instead, riders enter the pits, without crossing the boundary line to the garage that would signify they are no longer taking part in the active race, and change tyres and have their mechanics make a few suspension adjustments.

Today, Leon Camier and Michel Fabrizio judged that, as they were not fighting for podium places, they could take a gamble on an early change on lap eleven, when the track was still half dry and half wet. If the rain had started to increase at that point, they would have been in a position to push for the lead and gain a decent amount of time. For instance, Loris Baz, last man out on slicks, recorded a 2’11 lap on lap 21 while Camier, with wet tyres, banked a 1’57, which means that, if the conditions had shifted, Camier would have gained 14 or 15 seconds on the leaders, which would have put him in a podium place as he was just seven seconds behind Eugene Laverty in third place. If the skies had opened then, instead of much later, Camier and Fabrizio would have been hailed as geniuses.

Sylvain Guintoli and Max Neukirchner pitted in for new tyres at the end of his nineteenth lap. Guintoli being more risk adverse than usual due to his cycling injury, was in a lap before everyone but Baz came in and Neukirchner probably followed him out of prudence.

At the end of lap twenty, Everyone apart from Loris Baz that didn’t already have wet tyres pitted in. Marco Melandri and Chaz Davies pitted in together and left in the same order they entered, albeit a lot closer together than they were before changing tyres. Melandri had much better wet pace that allowed him to win, overtaking his teammate and romping off ahead.

The rider who gained the most from the tyre change was Ayrton Badovini. His Panigale was no longer hampered by a lack of power and the Italian’s loose style was able to exploit the bike to record the fastest wet tyre time, a 1’55.966, approached only by fellow Panigale rider Max Neukirchner. Neukirchner had the disadvantage of a ride-through penalty due to a pit-lane infraction in his tyre change, however.

When was the right time to change? Hindsight tells us that the end of lap twenty was the right time, but Loris Baz is an exemplary wet weather rider, and had the rain not got as bad as it did towards the end, he could have pushed for the win. As it was, he too was forced to change his tyres. Baz’s failure wasn’t in leaving it too late as much as not reading the signs that the weather was only getting worse. 

An unusual way for the Ducati Panigale to get its first podium, and not due to the ease at which the rear wheel could be changed on a single-sided swing-arm. Ayrton Badovini deserves the credit for his podium, but the bike and his team all had a part to play in beating the rain.

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The flag-to-flag system is sheer idiocy on wheels - even worse than the MotoGP system where at least the bike is set up for the wet. Anything flag-to-flag reeks of 'the TV contract must be satisfied at all costs', which also pretty much sums up why the Moscow Supersport race was sent out in completely unsuitable conditions for racing which led to this appalling tragedy.

RIP Andrea Antonelli - my thoughts are with his family, friends, team, fans (of which I am one) and also with Lorenzo Zanetti who was not at fault. Andrea was a good rider and pretty underrated - he will be much missed.

It's unbelievable that nobody was seriously injured in that race racing on slicks in a downpour. This one bike rule to save money has been put ahead of rider safety. If there was a second bike in pit lane with wets on nobody would have hesitated to switch and probably more than 11 riders would have finished the race. Racing is dangerous enough without making it worse just to save money.