The final European destination of the season could bring one more twist before WorldSBK goes overseas
The 2022 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship has arrived at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve for the ninth round of the season and the Pirelli Portuguese Round. 2022 has been up and down so far for all of the title contenders and the undulations of Portimao promise to replicate that further this weekend. Always a classic on the calendar and forever delivering spectacular racing, the final European round of the year is going to see a titanic battle royale at the front.
ON REPEAT: can Bautista do it again?
After his stunning hat-trick in Barcelona, Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) arrives to Portimao after one of the most important rounds of the season so far. In top form through the Catalunya Round, he sports a 59-point lead over his nearest rival and that will be crucial at Portimao, a track where he is perhaps less likely to be so dominant. A winner through sheer grit and determination back in 2019, Bautista knows Portimao could be the round his opponents strike back, although he’ll be looking to use the Ducati’s advantage on the home straight. Teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi is hitting form at the right time, with another podium in Barcelona, taking points off Bautista’s rivals. Rinaldi’s yet to stand on the Portimao podium in WorldSBK.
FIGHTING BACK: Razgatlioglu and Rea keen to get back on terms
It has to be the round where Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) leads the charge to slicing Bautista’s points gap. We’ve seen plenty of times throughout 2022 that points swings happen in big ways but with just four rounds to go, 59 points is a sizeable task. The reigning World Champion has won at Portimao in STK600, STK1000 and as of 2021, in WorldSBK, where he won a Race 1 thriller. Can he turn on the magic once again in 2022? His teammate, Andrea Locatelli, is a double WorldSSP winner at Portimao and took a podium in Race 2 in WorldSBK last year and needs to gain back vital points in the title race this weekend in the battle for fourth overall.
With 13 wins and 21 podiums and having made his WorldSBK debut at the track in 2008, Portimao holds a special in Jonathan Rea’s (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) heart. The Ulsterman is the most successful rider on the grid at the undulating Portuguese venue and he’s going to be hoping that he can build on those this weekend. Rea’s win drought extends back to World Superbike’s last visit to Portugal at Estoril, back at round three, but Rea was a winner at Portimao in 2021. He and Razgatlioglu, whilst fighting each other, will have to ‘work together’ to get the deficit to Bautista down. Teammate Alex Lowes was on the rostrum in Barcelona and aims to repeat it this weekend.
HONDA VS BMW: the race for fourth in the manufacturers’ standings tightens
Moving up into eighth overall in the Championship standings and off the back of a first career pole position in Barcelona, Iker Lecuona (Team HRC) will be hoping for a return to the top five in the races. A sixth place was his best result last time out, despite starting from pole, perhaps leaving Lecuona eager for more. He’s tested at Portimao earlier in the year and is a point-scorer from his MotoGP™ time at the circuit. After a fine top six in Race 2 in Barcelona and taking top Honda honours, Xavi Vierge hopes to boost Honda’s prospects further, with the Japanese manufacturer trailing BMW in the Manufacturers’ Championship standings by just five points.
Speaking of BMW, it was a disaster in Barcelona; no top ten in Superpole and a best of eighth place in the Tissot Superpole Race. They’ll want to return to some good form at a track they have happy memories at, winning with Michael van der Mark (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) in the wet last year. Scott Redding (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) goes well there too with a hat-trick of podiums in 2021, but it’ll be a new challenge for him with BMW. Van der Mark also likes Portimao, his most successful circuit, along with Assen in terms of his podium tally with seven. Sitting 58 points back from fourth, it’s a big weekend for Redding who is eighth in the title race, whilst van der Mark has only scored points on two occasions since returning, with three DNFs occurring.
INDEPENDENT STARS: Bassani continues to sparkle
In terms of Independent riders, Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) has clearly established that he’s in the podium battle and sits pretty in sixth overall, three points behind Locatelli in fifth and 35 behind Rinaldi in fourth. After a rostrum in Barcelona, Garrett Gerloff (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) will hope for more of the same at Portimao, as he’s just seven points behind the top ten in the standings, occupied by Vierge. Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) took two top ten results in Barcelona but returns to a circuit where he was on the podium at last year as a replacement rider. Philipp Oettl (Team Goeleven) is 22 points further back after a first top six in WorldSBK during the Superpole Race last time out. Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) is next up ahead of Roberto Tamburini (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team), who took a first top ten last time out.
Showing more prominently in Barcelona, Luca Bernardi (BARNI Spark Racing Team) aims for a return to the top ten, whilst Eugene Laverty (Bonovo Action BMW) will be having his last ‘home’ round, as he lives in the Algarve. Kohta Nozane (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) is 19th and will need a strong result to try and find a ride on the 2023 WorldSBK grid, having lost his seat due to the graduation of Dominique Aegerter. Christophe Ponsson (Gil Motor Sport-Yamaha) is 22nd, ahead of Hafizh Syahrin (MIE Racing Honda Team) who hopes to be back on track and his teammate Leandro Mercado, who put the bike inside the top ten in 2021 at the track; Leon Haslam (TPR Team Pedercini Racing), who was on the front row last year, is back on the Pedercini Kawasaki. There will be two wildcards on the grid with Jake Gagne (Fresh N Lean Progressive Yamaha Racing) headlining, the American was recently crowned MotoAmerica champion and he’ll return to the WorldSBK grid for the first time since 2018. Could he cause a surprise this weekend at a circuit which he has the benefit of knowing? He’ll be joined by Marvin Fritz (IXS – Yart – Yamaha), who returns to action.
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