The World Superbike championship is to undergo a radical shake up. Today, the Superbike Commission, WSBK’s rule-making body, announced two major changes aimed at improving the health of the series.
The first change is the most noticeable. As predicted when the 2016 WSBK Calendar was published, World Superbike races are to be held on both Saturdays and Sundays, with Race 1 being held on Saturday, Race 2 on Sunday. This means that Superpole has now been moved to Saturday morning, rather than the afternoon.
The move, the Superbike Commission says, is to provide a fuller experience for fans at a WSBK weekend. The move has been made after consultation with the teams, TV broadcasters, and with circuit owners, which produced positive feedback.
There is nowhere left to hide. On Sunday, it is time for the men and women of Grand Prix racing to stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, and lend their eyes a terrible aspect.
Much is at stake: a Moto3 title that really should have been wrapped up by now; a MotoGP title rendered complicated by the impetuosity of youth and old age; and just sheer thirst for glory in Moto2.
Glory is what is at stake in all three classes, what young men and women dedicate their lives and sacrifice their bodies and their time to chasing. Sweet victory is there for the lucky few, the bitter draught of defeat for the rest.
It looked like the cards had already been dealt ahead of Sunday’s race when the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected Valentino Rossi’s request to have his three penalty points suspended.
Then Rossi came out swinging on Friday and Saturday, not his usual eight or ninth times, and a struggle to make it through to Q2, but strong pace from the outset and competitive times.
“I’ve been impressed with how fast he’s going,” Nicky Hayden said of Rossi after qualifying today. “He’s looked very solid. We know he’s a nine-time champion because he’s fast on Sunday, but he’s come out of the gate, might not be breaking track records, but compared to a normal Friday, Saturday, he’s looking strong.”
Then came qualifying. Rossi had earned passage to Q2 by right, and had told us on Friday he would be treating qualifying the same as he had every weekend, pushing hard for a fast lap. Rossi seemed to have the upper hand going into Q2, especially as Jorge Lorenzo was clearly suffering with nerves.
He forgot to take off a tear off in the pits, then spent long seconds trying to sort it out with his assistant, before finally leaving the pits in a bit of a fluster. Not a good omen, we all thought.
Marc Marquez had to settle for 2nd on the grid for tomorrow’s race.
Jorge Lorenzo broke the pole record with a time of 1’30.011 to claim his first pole position at the Valencia Circuit.
Dani Pedrosa took the final place on the front row.
The atmosphere hangs heavy over the Sepang International Circuit, both literally and figuratively. The thick gray haze casts a pall over the circuit, dulling the light, restricting vision, cloying at the throats of everyone at the track, and in the region.
There is another oppressive weight over the proceedings, this time of expectation. There is the pressure of a MotoGP title battle going down to the wire, and a Moto3 championship that should have been wrapped up two races ago, before a new rival emerged on the scene.
Then there is the electric tension created by Valentino Rossi, when he decided to use the pre-event press conference to accuse Marc Márquez of helping Jorge Lorenzo at Phillip Island.
Since then, it has been impossible to view any action by either Rossi or Márquez with an objective eye. Rossi’s accusations, Márquez’ defense, and Lorenzo’s entry into the arena color everything that happens, on and off the track.
Dani Pedrosa claimed pole position for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
Marc Marquez returns to his pit box during during Q2. He will start from 2nd place for tomorrow’s race.
Valentino Rossi completes the front row. Much to the delight of the members of the Valentino Rossi fan club in the main grandstand.
Will championships be decided tomorrow? The Moto3 title could well be settled after the race, a lot of bleary-eyed British fans clinging to their cappuccinos in a desperate attempt to stay awake. It won’t take much: Danny Kent just has to finish ahead of Enea Bastianini and higher than seventh to be sure.
The MotoGP title is still too close to be settled at Phillip Island, but tomorrow’s race could well turn out to be pivotal. If Valentino Rossi finishes ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, the Italian will have one hand on the MotoGP crown.
If Lorenzo finishes ahead of Rossi, and especially if he can put some bodies between himself and his Movistar Yamaha teammate, then the pendulum might finally start to swing back Lorenzo’s way.
Marc Marquez will start from pole position for tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix.
A 2nd place start for Andrea Iannone on his ridiculous looking Ducati. What are the odds on Ducati picking up some sponsorship from a certain Austrian energy drink?
Jorge Lorenzo grabbed 3rd place on the grid with his final lap of qualifying.
Has Valentino Rossi finally mastered qualifying? The Italian has struggled since the format changed, from the extended hour of qualifying which started out as free practice and ended up as an all-out time attack, to the frenetic fifteen-minute dash for pole.
His biggest problem, he always explained, was getting up to speed from the start: leaving pit lane and going flat out from the very first meters. He had spent a lifetime slowly sidling up to a blistering lap, rather than getting the hammer down as soon as the lights changed.
The switch from an analog to a binary format had been hard to swallow. Millions of older fans sympathized, as they faced the same struggle in their own lives.
Lorenzo, on the other hand, has thrived in the new format, having learned the skill while doing battle with Casey Stoner. The Australian’s greatest legacy was his ability to go as fast as possible the moment he left the pit lane.
I was once told by Cristian Gabarrini, Stoner’s crew chief, that when they looked at his sector times, they would see that he had set his fastest sector times on his out lap. To beat Stoner, Lorenzo had to learn to emulate him.
The last two races have followed a familiar pattern. On Friday and Saturday, Jorge Lorenzo has laid down a scorching pace, which his rivals – and more importantly, his teammate and rival for the 2015 MotoGP title, Valentino Rossi – have been unable to follow.
Lorenzo’s name was penciled onto the winner’s trophy, and his grip on the MotoGP class looked secure.
Then on Sunday, everything changed. The weather gods intervened, rain lashed down at Silverstone, then started and stopped at Misano, throwing the race into disarray. Both times, Valentino Rossi handled the conditions better than Lorenzo, gaining big points in both races.
At Silverstone, Rossi won comfortably, while Jorge Lorenzo struggled home in fourth. At Misano, Rossi rode a tactically poor race, but still managed to come home in fifth. Lorenzo got caught out by the pace of Scott Redding, failing to understand that the Marc VDS rider had already been out for several laps and had his tires up to temperature and his brain up to speed.
The Movistar Yamaha rider tried to stay with Redding, and paid the price when he turned left after a long series of rights, crashing out and scoring zero points.
What do we have at Aragon? Another weekend where Lorenzo is dominating, Marc Márquez his only clear rival, with Dani Pedrosa there as a dark horse.
Valentino Rossi, meanwhile, is struggling with tire degradation, the performance of the tires dropping in the heat. Rossi could lose a big handful of points to Lorenzo on Sunday, if he is unable to match the pace of the top three.
He really needs a bit of a miracle, either in the shape of rain, or in the form of colder temperatures.