The next instalment of one of the fiercest rivalries is set to play out at the iconic Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, where surprises are often just around the corner
The 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship has reached fever pitch and ahead of the Hyundai N Catalunya Round, there’s plenty left to give as the ninth round of the season at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya beckons. The raging title battle between Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) hit a new level at Magny-Cours, following a protest from Kawasaki over Toprak’s Tissot Superpole Race win for a track limits infringement on the last lap. Rivals on track and now with the teams in an intense rivalry off it, this could well be yet another classic weekend for what is becoming one of WorldSBK’s greatest rivalries.
HEATED AT THE FRONT: Razgatlioglu vs Rea, Catalunya edition
Sporting a slender seven-point advantage coming into the Catalunya weekend, Toprak Razgatlioglu managed to break the deadlock at Magny-Cours, having been level on points with Rea after Navarra. A combative Toprak fought off everything Rea threw at him on-track at Magny-Cours, with the two embroiled in a spectacular final lap in the Tissot Superpole Race and a relentless start to Race 2 where neither gave in. Last year at Catalunya, it was a weekend to forget for Razgatlioglu, as he was ruled unfit after a Sunday morning Warm-Up crash. Teammate Andrea Locatelli is in form and has finished his last 12 races inside the top five; he heads to the place he took the 2020 WorldSSP title.
Right behind Razgatlioglu, Jonathan Rea heads to KRT’s home round, with the workshop a stone’s throw from the track. Rea took victory in the Tissot Superpole Race at Magny-Cours, his first win since Assen in Race 2, but knows he’s going to need full-race points if he is to halt Toprak. Rea’s pushing to retain his crown for a seventh straight year, although after eight rounds, he trails in the standings but heads to a track where he won at in 2020. On the other side of the garage, teammate Alex Lowes aims to bounce back after crashing from third at Magny-Cours in both Race 1 and Race 2. Ninth, seventh and eighth were Lowes’ Catalunya results in 2020; he’ll hope 2021 is better.
RESURGENCE REQUIRED: can Redding get back in contention again?
Third in the Championship but a distant 72 points back, Scott Redding (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) will need a strong Catalunya and a touch of misfortune for his title rivals if he’s to have a realistic chance of the title. Second place at Catalunya in Race 1 last season and with Ducati winning in Race 2, the potential is there for Redding to have a strong weekend at a track he knows well. Teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi was a race leader at the track in 2020 before he was forced to retire from the lead battle in Race 2. The Italian had a mixed Magny-Cours with a fourth and seventh in Race 1 and 2 respectively; he’ll go in search of a podium – his first since Assen’s Superpole Race.
SURPRISE IN STORE: BMW and Honda in the fight
The battle of the BMWs is once again strong, with Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) and teammate Michael van der Mark having contrasting weekends at Magny-Cours. Sykes was on the front row but couldn’t capitalise on it, whilst van der Mark was on the third row and did crack the top five in Race 1. Now separated by just five points in the Championship, both arrive at a circuit where BMW had their best round of 2020, with a double top seven finish in Race 2. Sykes was fifth whilst fast in testing at the circuit, whereas van der Mark won the Superpole Race in 2020 and took second in Race 2. A prosperous weekend may well lie ahead.
There was a significant turning point for Honda at Magny-Cours, with both riders running well inside the top ten for most of the weekend. Leon Haslam (Team HRC) took his best Superpole result of the season and backed it up with two top ten race performances, whilst Alvaro Bautista (Team HRC) took two sixth-places and a seventh, of which in Race 1 and the Superpole Race, meant coming from 14th on the grid. The potential is there for Honda, and it was demonstrated well at the 2020 Catalan Round too, with Bautista leading the Superpole Race briefly before a crash. Positives results in testing and coming from a private test at Jerez where they were testing development parts for 2022, Team HRC could be a feature at the front in Barcelona.
THE INDEPENDENT BATTLE: tightening at the top
The Independent battle continues into Catalunya, with Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) hoping he can rekindle some magic at the track of which he took a first podium at back in 2020’s Race 2. The American rider has been somewhat subdued in the last few meetings but could well be on the pace in Montmelo. Chaz Davies (Team GoEleven) was back inside the top five at Magny-Cours and is heading to a track where he was a winner at in 2020, whilst Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) hopes to continue his top ten competitivity. Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) aims for a return to the top ten after a 13th place at home, whereas Kohta Nozane can finally return to a circuit he’s familiar with, having tested at the track at the start of the year. 47 points cover Gerloff to Bassani, whilst just nine split Mahias and Nozane.
Having been declared unfit at Magny-Cours, Isaac Viñales (ORELAC Racing VerdNatura) is back in action at Catalunya, whilst Christophe Ponsson (Gil Motor Sport – Yamaha) comes off the back of a strong French Round and hopes to build on that in Spain. Jonas Folger (Bonovo MGM Racing) is next up and wants to be back in the point-scoring positions at a circuit he was fastest rookie at back in testing at the start of 2021 and where he made his WorldSBK debut at in 2020. Leandro Mercado (MIE Racing Honda Team) will make his first WorldSBK appearance at Catalunya and Loris Cresson (OUTDO TPR Team Pedercini Racing) has points in his sights. He has a new teammate in Lachlan Epis alongside him, the Australian making his WorldSBK debut. Tito Rabat and the Barni Racing Team have split by mutual agreement, with Samuele Cavalieri replacing him for the rest of the season.