PREVIEW: the battle of Barcelona awaits with another plot-twist in prospect for WorldSBK

Monday, 19 September 2022 05:38 GMT

With the battle raging and plenty of fallout amongst the title contenders, Barcelona will be pivotal

The 2022 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship erupted once again last time out at Magny-Cours and now, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya awaits, often unpredictable as the last two years showed. With the hot topic coming into the round the fallout between Alvaro Bautista ( Racing – Ducati) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) from Magny-Cours’ Race 2 clash, both will be keen to get back on the top step as their battle looks set to resume once again. With three different winners each year we’ve visited and great variety on the rostrum, Barcelona could bring another surprise in what has been an incredible 2022 season.

BOUNCING BACK: Bautista keen to win, Razgatlioglu in form

After a crazy Magny-Cours, Championship leader Alvaro Bautista’s lead is down to 30 points but comes to a circuit where he and the Ducati Panigale V4 R should work well on paper. Thankfully, races are decided on track and not on paper, but still, Bautista’s good record in Barcelona is great – 2006 125cc Grand Prix and the 2009 250cc Grand Prix winner, he took his first top five in MotoGP™ there as a rookie in 2010. He took Aprilia to their first top ten since returning to MotoGP™ in 2015 at the track, whilst his last four GPs there saw him inside the top ten. Last year in WorldSBK, he was third for Honda in the Tissot Superpole Race, whilst Ducati locked out the podium in Race 1 and won Race 2. Is he the favourite, and will he and Jonathan Rea reignite their boiling rivalry? After a best result of 2022 with second in Race 2 at Magny-Cours, teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi is keen to repeat his victory of 2021, his last win to-date.

Second in the Championship standings and a big beneficiary of the Race 2 clash at the front, Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) may be in for a tougher round this weekend. Despite a crash and a fightback to 11th in Race 1 at Magny-Cours, a win in the Superpole Race and in Race 2 whilst his rivals fought and fell out sees the reigning World Champion just 30 points behind Bautista. However, Razgatlioglu’s never won in Barcelona; he was second twice in 2021. In 2020, he crashed in Warm-Up, putting him out of Sunday action and in this year’s summer test, a big highside left him needing hospital treatment for an injured elbow. Will he add Barcelona to his list of winning venues? Teammate Andrea Locatelli is in search of a strong round after a tricky Magny-Cours; he won the WorldSSP title in Barcelona back in 2020 and is just one point behind fourth overall.

HARD TO READ: can Rea and Kawasaki conquer Catalunya and close in on the Championship lead?

With his longest win drought in a decade, Jonathan Rea is the only multiple race winner at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with two wins to his name. His clash with Bautista at Magny-Cours hit the headlines but Rea made it clear that whilst apologetic, they’re ‘not the best of friends’ and that ‘racing is hard’, so how will it playout this weekend? Last year in Race 2, Rea struggled a lot with braking into Turn 1 and Turn 10, but he worked on that throughout the year and in the summer test, so could be back to winning ways this weekend; he needs to be, as he’s 47 points behind Bautista. Three fourth places last time out, Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) hopes consistency carries into Montmelo, where he was fourth in 2021 but yet to take a podium.

BMW AND HONDA: Redding in good form, Lecuona set to be a revelation at home

Tied on points with Lowes after achieving a third podium of 2022 in three rounds, Scott Redding (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) is closing in on fourth overall. The British rider has been in great form recently, since the BMW M1000RR has sported a new swingarm, and with extensive work on electronics in the Barcelona summer test, Redding comes to round eight confident of strong points and with crucial data. On the other side of the garage, Michael van der Mark had a difficult comeback at Magny-Cours, with a 12th in Race 1 being his only points and a crash in Race 2. However, like Redding, he tested in Barcelona back in August and despite it being a test of getting back up to speed, the familiarity and base setting for van der Mark will be closer to something of a normal feeling. Race winners in 2020 at the track, both BMW riders aim for strong weekends.

For Barcelona, there’s plenty of hype surrounding Honda, with Iker Lecuona (Team HRC) and teammate Xavi Vierge ready for their home round. Lecuona has been mighty in testing in Barcelona on several occasions, topping the timesheets sporadically and generally being impressive, particularly over one lap pace. After what was one of the more difficult rounds of the year in France, Lecuona is now ninth in the Championship – just 27 points off fourth – and behind the BMW of Redding for the first time, so he’s going to be pushing hard at home. Could we expect a genuine podium charge from the Valencian? In terms of home riders, they don’t come much more local than Xavi Vierge, who was born in Barcelona. A true home circuit and with plenty of testing experience at, is Vierge, like teammate Lecuona, in contention for a rostrum, his first in WorldSBK?

INDEPENDENTS: Bassani closing on fourth overall, a surprise elsewhere?

Two mightily impressive podiums in dry, full-length races at Magny-Cours sprung Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) into the spotlight and even further clear of his Independent rivals. The humorous Italian is an incredible sixth overall in the Championship, 16 points behind Rinaldi and is the only rider to have achieved top ten results in the last ten races and scored points in all as he comes into Barcelona, where last year’s wet Race 1 saw him take a first ever podium. The next Independent is Garrett Gerloff (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), with the American taking a top five of the season last time out and returning to the circuit which gave him a first podium in 2020. With his future secured for 2023 and seeing him move to the Bonovo Action BMW outfit, he’s one point ahead of the team’s current rider Loris Baz, who took a podium in Barcelona in the Superpole Race back in 2020. A strong weekend for Philipp Oettl (Team Goeleven) in France will spur him on for more top ten performances in Barcelona, whilst Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) is 14th.

Following points at Magny-Cours, this will be Luca Bernardi’s (BARNI Spark Racing Team) first time at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for racing. Roberto Tamburini (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) is next up, still in search of a first top ten of 2022, whilst he’s just ahead of Eugene Laverty (Bonovo Action BMW), whose last top seven came in Barcelona in 2020’s Race 2. Fighting for his future and to partner the newly-signed Remy Gardner, Kohta Nozane (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) knows the importance of this round, where he was top Yamaha in Race 1 in 2021. Just missing out on points in Race 2 at Magny-Cours, Christophe Ponsson (Gil Motor Sport-Yamaha) returns to Barcelona, where he took a career-first top ten finish in 2021. Hafizh Syahrin (MIE Racing Honda Team) and teammate Leandro Mercado aim for points, whilst Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) continues his quest for his first points in WorldSBK. Oscar Gutierrez (TPR Team Pedercini Racing) returns, this time to a track where he made his WorldSBK test debut at in summer.  

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