German rider comes out on top of sensational WorldSSP fight
Making the switch over into the FIM Supersport World Championship from prototype machines can always be a risk, but Sandro Cortese (Kallio Racing) made it look effortless in 2018 to be crowned World Champion. Bringing his experience, pure speed, racing talent and tenacious fighting spirit, the German rider has ensured fans were entertained to the very last lap and took the title in sensational style in Qatar.
Heading over the Phillip Island for his WorldSSP debut in February, Cortese was recharged and ready for the fight after a difficult winter. Taking to his YZF-R6 for only the second time in the official test, he finished top four overall ahead of the start of the season. And what followed in the Yamaha Finance Australian Round was sensational from Cortese, fighting with the experienced front runners for the podium which boiled down to a breath-taking final lap as he took a podium position, and the fastest lap of the race from Federico Caricasulo (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team). Cortese had already arrived in round one.
Heading west to Thailand for round two, this was a new track for the 28 year old so a true test of his skills with his new bike. Facing the heat as well as the circuit, he took home a fourth position finish from a fourth place grid start. An impressive effort for a rookie in the ever competitive class. But he was now preparing for tracks he was familiar with and was full of motivation. MotorLand Aragon marked the start of the European season, and for Cortese this marked the start of his championship charge. Coming out and dominating the field in northern Spain, he took pole position and the race win in only his third race, crossing the line 1.4s ahead of his rivals. But as the championship headed straight to TT Circuit Assen, Cortese struggled to match his pace around a track he is so familiar with. Starting from pole position, he couldn’t emulate this into a podium, after a slow start off the line meant he suffered in the 18 lap battle.
Dusting himself off heading to the historic Imola circuit, the rookie was only seven points off the top of the standings and the battle in WorldSSP was as tense as ever. A new track for the German, Imola is notoriously tight, twisty and technical and it was set to be a hard task for a newbie. But Cortese showed a true champions attitude, starting from ninth on the grid and fought to secure a top four finish around a circuit which is difficult to overtake. But it was a return to the top in the UK, as he set to take on Donington Park for the first time since 2009 when he was racing in the 125cc World Championship.
Sunny skies welcomed the paddock at Donington Park, and sunny smiles were met off it from Cortese and his team. Securing third on the grid as he continued to get used to the Superpole format of a 15 minute ‘dash’, he was a man determined out on track. Crossing the line 1.3s ahead of his main title rival Jules Cluzel (NRT), it was clear that when all the packages came together, Cortese was unstoppable. His grand performance in Great Britain meant he now led the world championship standings for the first time, with an advantage of seven points over Cluzel.
There were now two new tracks ahead of him, putting him in a strong position to extend his championship lead. In the humid conditions at Automotodrom Brno, the German was unable to convert his pole position into a win; but secured second as he was unable to catch Cluzel to the line. In the final race before the summer break, Misano proved a tough track for Cortese and his Yamaha but he could convert a fifth on the grid to third in the race, taking home another trophy and as a result a five point championship lead into the break.
Returning ready to fight in Portugal, tests throughout the summer helped him to understand the rollercoaster nature of the track. But drama struck in the opening laps as a hot-headed Cortese was unable to make a move up the inside of Cluzel stick, and the pair crashed out as a result. Not giving up, the German put on a sensational fightback as he was able to get back on his bike and take a fifth position finish, salvaging 11 points and keeping a hold of his lead in the standings. Another new track of Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours followed, and for Cortese it was time to start thinking of the title. Unable to catch Cluzel on his home turf, he secured a second position finish meaning he now had the first opportunity to take the title in Argentina, heading with an 11 point advantage.
With all riders on even ground at Circuito San Juan Villicum, it was a welcomed change for the Yamaha rider. But despite putting his all into the race, he was unable to stop Cluzel and the fight went down to Qatar. All the German had to do in Qatar was finish in the top two to take the title, which was done with his usual tenacious battling out on track, to crown him 2018 FIM Supersport World Champion.
Only the second German to ever win the WorldSSP title, the story of Cortese’s sensational season has been consistency and will go down in history as the first man to win the Moto3™ and WorldSSP crown.
You can congratulate Cortese on social media using #CorteseChamp, and enjoy the highlights of his 2018 rookie season all with the WorldSBK VideoPass.