Vierge and Lecuona finished fifth and sixth, with more to come on Sunday
It was a mighty opening race day for Team HRC at the Circuito Estoril, as the 2022 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship’s third round proved to be explosive. Whilst the battle raged at the front, it was a sublime ride for Xavi Vierge (Team HRC), who pipped his teammate Iker Lecuona for a first top five of his WorldSBK career. The two were stuck together throughout most of Free Practice and indeed most of the race, with it going down to the closing stages, when they’d end up separated by 0.108s.
On the opening lap, Lecuona held his starting position of seventh whilst teammate elevated himself into eighth, starting from 11th in the middle of the fourth row. Both riders gave chase to a high-flying Scott Redding (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team), who held fifth for 13 laps, before he couldn’t resist the Honda charge any further. Lecuona was the first to clear the British rider before a lap later, Vierge managed to get into sixth behind his teammate. Then, it was a battle between the Honda pairing, with Vierge attacking Lecuona on the final lap to take a first top five of the season, whilst Lecuona was once again in the top six.
Talking about the battle, Vierge said: “I am really happy! This morning, the Superpole was not easy for us, we are still struggling to take profit with the SCQ tyre, but we worked well. We knew we had good pace for the race, made a good start and kept pushing until the final laps and overtake some people. For sure, this is really positive for us. I can get to Iker and study him! I saw the point I could get to pass him, and I tried to in the final lap. For Iker, it’s good for him to be there inside the top five and top six.”
Talking about what more he needs to find for performance on Sunday, Vierge stated that rear grip would be key: “We need to improve a bit on the exit of the corner; we had a very good feeling with the front, but it is really important at this track that, if we want to close the gap to the top guys, to find a little bit on the exit of the corner. We will work really hard this evening to do it.”
For Lecuona, he was happy with sixth despite a drop in front tyre performance at the end of the race: “In general, it’s a very good race. I am happy with P6 but it’s true that in the last five laps I struggled a lot with the front tyre. All the race, I had a good pace; Xavi was behind me by about a second and I could stay with Scott Redding all the race. That was my plan and to try and save some tyre to attack. I watched the gap with Andrea Locatelli, and we didn’t recover a lot, so I preferred to stay behind.
“I went to overtake Redding in the last seven laps,” continued Lecuona. “His front tyre dropped and mine dropped a bit later. I can stay in P6, but I saved a lot of crashes during the race. I am happy with P6 and for Xavi; everything happened on the last lap, and I could do nothing! It’s a positive to have Xavi in front as we have more data. We know very well what we need to improve for tomorrow, so that’s the plan!”
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