The most unexpected Champions: A story of last-ditch victories

Thursday, 15 October 2020 07:39 GMT

Before the final duel for the WorldSBK title between Jonathan Rea and Scott Redding, we recall some moments in which the rider who was not favourite ended up taking the crown...

The final round of the 2020 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship will see a certainly uneven battle between the outstanding leader in the general classification, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), and Scott Redding (ARUBA.IT Racing - Ducati), who arrives with a deficit of 59 points and with the monumental mission of winning all three races of the Estoril Round if he wants to have a chance to achieve the 2020 crown in the final round.

The British rookie was able to neutralise the first ‘match point’ of the five-time World Champion at Magny-Cours, with the providential collaboration of his teammate Chaz Davies, but what chance does he have of preventing Rea's sixth crown with a similar disadvantage? Having ruled out an undesirable calamity for the Kawasaki rider - who has already rushed to explain after Race 2 in France that he would keep his dirt bike in the garage until after the Round - Redding is left with only the heroic feat. Take a look at other moments in history when fate balanced the scales...

Even for the biggest names it can go wrong: It did not happen in this paddock, but it is possibly the race that any fan of two-wheel racing remembers. That final duel between Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden in 2006. The American arrived in Valencia with eight points fewer than his rival, but ended up being proclaimed MotoGP™ World Champion when the Italian crashed on the fifth lap, riding alone, in which it was surely his only notable mistake of that season… That's where the legend of the Kentucky Kid began, and the rest is history.

The belief in one's own possibilities is a crucial factor, as Sylvain Guintoli demonstrated in the 2014 WorldSBK final. The Frenchman, riding an Aprilia, arrived at the Losail Circuit 12 points behind Tom Sykes, who raced with Kawasaki. In the first round he reduced to three points the difference to the Brit, who was third. In the final race, Guintoli achieved another resounding victory that turned the situation around: He took, by six points, a title that only a few weeks earlier seemed destined for another; Sykes was third again and between them was a certain Jonathan Rea, who closed his time at Honda with that "little gift" to which he was to be his teammate for the next four years.

But how many have done it before in WorldSBK? There Redding can see the statistics with a glass half full or half empty: In the premier class, the rider who reached the last Round at a disadvantage has won six times. The one in 2014 is the last, and the 12 points recovered by Guintoli also represent the biggest comeback in a final round.

In this millennium, only two other riders came back at the last gasp. In 2009, Texan Ben Spies hit the Algarve track with 10 points fewer than Noriyuki Haga, and emerged champion with a margin of six points to complete a spectacular final stretch of the season. In 2004, James Toseland took the title at Magny-Cours coming from Imola with a deficit of four points over Regis Laconi. The Briton ended up winning the Championship with a margin of nine points.

The first two WorldSBK campaigns, in 1988 and 1989, had a late-breaking champion: Fred Merkel. The American arrived at the last Round of the inaugural edition, in Manfeild, with 3.5 points fewer than Fabrizio Pirovano, but ended up crowning himself and inaugurating the record of the Championship. He won his second title the following year, and also coming from behind to the last Round, three points fewer than the Belgian Stephane Mertens, who he ended up beating by seven points, again on the New Zealand track.

Carl Fogarty had a single comeback on the road to his four world titles. It was in 1998, and twice, as both Troy Corser (six) and Aaron Slight (5.5) were ahead of him in terms of points when they left Assen. A phenomenal double by 'Foggy' at Sugo balanced the situation and gave him his penultimate crown by four points.

Sometimes regularity is enough. Deviating from the premier class, there are championships that remain in memory for their uniqueness, and the Supersport World Championship in 2001 was particularly notable in this regard. Andrew Pitt reached the last race, at Imola, with 11 points fewer than Paolo Casoli, who had won the previous race at Assen. However, the Italian crashed in the final duel and Pitt took the title by a two-point margin… having not won a single race during the year, but still reaping a remarkable podium total.

And sometimes it is not enough... Still in the same category, five years later there was another notable duel, and another last-minute champion. Australian Kevin Curtain (Yamaha) led the 2006 championship with an 18-point advantage over Sebastien Charpentier, so the chances of the Frenchman on the Ten Kate Honda were minimal. He needed Curtain to go down in the final race, at Magny-Cours… and that is what happened just 15 minutes after the start. For Curtain, the curtain fell suddenly and the nine podiums that he had added throughout the year were of no use to him, since the title eluded him by seven points.

Nothing for granted, ever. Racing for the Ducati Junior Team, Tati Mercado reached the last round of the 2016 FIM Superstock 1000 Cup, at the Jerez circuit, with a seven-point advantage over his great rival of that course, Raffaele De Rosa, who was riding a BMW. He had a certain margin to manage the situation, but on race day, the Argentine's bike had a mechanical failure and stopped on the reconnaissance lap. There was no way to restart the Panigale R and take it to the grid, and the duel ended before it started. To Mercado's despair, the title went to De Rosa, who needed fifth position to be crowned Champion.

Can Redding write his name on the list of drivers who seized the last chance and ended up tasting glory? In favour, his blind determination and the fact that in 2020 he already got close to the treble, in Jerez. He needs to have his best round of the season and for Rea to fail. Against: Everything else. No one has ever overcome a gap like the one in front of him, and no one has beaten Rea from behind in his other previous title battles. But you must get to Estoril. After all, if everything went according to plan, if everything was written in advance, we would be talking about something else, not the Superbike World Championship.

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