Jonathan Rea may have had a third consecutive double at the Portuguese round of WorldSBK, but that’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of action and intrigue as WorldSBK resumed following the summer break.
Portimão is one of the most exciting laps of the year for a WorldSBK rider. The Portuguese circuit is used extensively for winter testing, and last month’s official test also offered the majority of the field a chance to fine tune their settings for their return to action.
The circuit, nestled in the hills of the Algarve, is challenging for riders. There’s a bit of everything here, and getting your eye in and getting the most from the circuit takes time.
“Portimao is my favourite track in the world,” said an enthusiastic Eugene Laverty. “It’s something unique! I’ve done so many laps around this place over the years that I know this place like the back of my hand. At some tracks, you need the bike to work in a certain way to be fast because the rider is limited in what they can do – this place is the opposite!”
Jonathan Rea took another step towards retaining the World Superbike championship, after a dominant weekend at the Portuguese round of the series. In Race 2, the Northern Irishman took longer to hit the front, but the end result was the same: 25 points.
The victory saw Rea extend his title lead to 120 points over his Kawasaki teammate, Tom Sykes. With the Englishman sitting out this weekend due to injury, Rea’s path to the title was given an unexpected boost, but overall it was business as usual for the 30-year-old.
In claiming his 34th Kawasaki victory, Rea became the Japanese manufacturer’s most successful rider of all time, but it wasn’t plain sailing for Rea.
History was made in the FIM World Supersport 300 class this weekend in Portugal, as Ana Carrasco became the first woman ever to win a World Championship (solo) race.
Her victory didn’t come easy though, as three riders had a hand on the winner’s trophy, as they came down the front straight away for the final time.
Expertly gauging the draft to the finish line, Ana Carrasco put herself in front of Alfonoso Coppola (+0.053) and Marc Garcia (+0.062), narrowly beating the two Yamaha YZF-R3 riders with her Kawasaki Ninja 300.
Race 1 in Portimao may have produced a lights-to-flag victory for Jonathan Rea, but Saturday also produced plenty of drama.
Rea’s teammate, Tom Sykes, has been forced to sit out the weekend after fracturing a finger in a nasty crash during FP3. The 2013 WorldSBK champion highsided over the top of Jones’ Leap, was thrown from his Kawasaki, and left battered and bruised from the crash.
Having been given some strong pain medication, it was ruled that Sykes would be unfit for the rest of the weekend. The Englishman was in low spirits after the incident but should be back in full fitness in the year future.
Miguel Oliveira is one of the brightest minds in the Grand Prix paddock. A quiet, calm presence, the Portuguese rider is widely admired throughout the paddock. His modesty and his down-to-earth attitude mean that he does not garner a great deal of attention off track, nor does he seek it.
His performance on track does, though. Oliveira came very close to winning the 2015 Moto3 championship, staging a remarkable comeback that saw him recover from a 110-point deficit with six races to go to close to within 6 points of Danny Kent at Valencia.
At the Jerez Moto2 tests, Oliveira was similarly impressive, finishing regularly in the top three.
That success is in no small part due to his return to Aki Ajo’s Red Bull KTM Ajo Motorsport team. At Jerez, the Finnish team manager spoke glowingly of his return to the fold, and Oliveira returned the compliments.
We spoke to Oliveira at some length at Jerez, covering a vast range of subjects. Oliveira spoke of the KTM Moto2 bike, and of its development. He told us why he went endurance racing last year, and what he is doing to help develop young Portuguese talent.
And he talks about his other career, studying to be a dentist. That study, and his approach to it and to racing, gives a fascinating insight into a very intelligent and grounded young man.
Having missed the Jerez test, the MV Agusta squad had plenty of work to do in Portimão. Their sole rider, Leon Camier, had a tremendous 2016 campaign, but in the face of regulation changes, he faces the daunting task of trying to make the F4 into competitive package once again.
The Englishman had seven Top 5 finishes last year, and 15 Top 10s, and helped to change the perception of the Italian squad. Previously, MV Agusta had been consistent under-performers and tail-enders in WorldSBK, but their form last year gave plenty of hope of revived fortunes.
The ban of split throttle bodies, which allowed the cylinders to be opened independently when accelerating, hit the team hard in their initial tests and it appears that over the last two months little progress has been made on the issue.
Episode 45 of the Paddock Pass Podcast begins the 2017 racing season, and tackles the pre-season tests for MotoGP and World Superbike, which were at the Sepang, Jerez, and Portimão circuits.
In this show, Steve English, and David Emmett take us through the happenings on and off the track at these events, and discuss who is looking ready for the 2017 season, and who still has some work left to do before the green flag waves.
To start things off, first we get David’s account of the MotoGP testing at Sepang, where we got a quasi-glimpse of what to expect from MotoGP’s new riders, as well as how teams are dealing with the new ban on winglets.
Next, the show turns to the World Superbike paddock, where Steve gets us up to speed on what happened at both pre-season tests on the Iberian Peninsula. With a bevy of riders coming into WorldSBK as well as some shuffling of machinery, there’s no shortage of topics in World Superbike as well.
With the long wait over the winter now over, we should be bringing you shows regularly once again. Stay tuned for our next episode, from the MotoGP test at Phillip Island.
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