WorldSBK commentator Steve English previews the front runners ahead of pivotal Round five
For almost 2000 years Imola has been a hive of activity. The city was known for it's arts and crafts from the Roman era, and this weekend it'll be race craft that makes the difference in the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship.
In recent years it has been Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati) that has made Imola his personal playground with four consecutive victories, but despite that recent run of form it still Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) who holds the serve in the battle to be the Master of Imola, with five victories. Rea last tasted the victory Prosecco at this historic venue in 2015, but the championship leader will know this is a pivotal round.
Last time out in The Netherlands it was Davies who was on the back foot, and the Welshman will know it is imperative to reverse the deficit to Rea. In Assen the Ducati rider conceded 18 points to his rival, and Davies now trails by 30 points in the standings. Whilst both riders have shown themselves to be the class of the field again in 2018, nothing can be taken for granted.
After the performances from Yamaha last time out, it will certainly add another factor to the weekend that if either rider slips up that they could be heavily punished. Pole position for Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) and a double podium for Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) showed how much the R1 has improved this year. Both Yamaha riders will certainly feel that their time is coming and that a first WorldSBK victory is around the corner.
It’s a corner needs to come soon for both Crescent riders, with the WorldSBK rider market starting to whisper. Rumours are starting around the paddock about who goes where for 2019, and that's why it was also imperative for Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) to have claimed the victory at the Dutch round of WorldSBK. The Englishman has had a few tough seasons, but has shown good speed so far in 2018. Bad luck has cost him more points than most, but building momentum in the coming races will be key because Sykes, like many riders, is in a contract year.
Eugene Laverty will aim to be back on his Milwaukee Aprilia this weekend, and while Imola is not a favourite circuit for the Irishman - with a solitary podium to his name - he's clearly motivated to prove his fitness following the crash in Thailand. Rest and recuperation is tough for any rider and it's an especially bitter pill to swallow when progress had been made with your bike. Aprilia are on the cusp and one good result for Laverty could open the floodgates for the RSV4.
While all of the aforementioned riders are looking to the future and ensuring they're on the right bike for 2019, one rider doesn't need to be concerned. Leon Camier, in his first year with the Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team has led plenty of progress for the Honda Fireblade over this winter and early rounds. The Englishman will have a fitness test to prove himself before the start of the Imola weekend, but he'll be aiming to get back on the WorldSBK grid following injuries sustained at Aragon.
One rider who has suffered more than his fair share of injuries in recent years is Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing). The 33 year old Turk will bow out from the WorldSSP championship this weekend as a five times champion. King Kenan has had his detractors over the years for his hard charging and unforgiving riding style, but over the last few seasons has become the elder statesman of the Supersport class.
Bringing through new Turkish talent has become a project for him, and he has succeeded in bringing motorcycle racing to the masses in his homeland. The 43 times race winner has left an indelible mark on the Supersport record books, and will be aiming to go out on a high this weekend.
Follow all the intense Imola action this weekend as WorldSBK prepares for Round Five, all with the WorldSBK VideoPass.