The Championship battle swinging one way and then another and new names mixing it with established stars…
The 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship has seen some of the greatest racing in the Championship’s history and as we come off the back of the first triple-header in 22 years, there’s plenty to digest. With the Championship battle being fought on a knife edge, new names coming into the mix and having the most podium finishers in the Championship for almost a decade, there’s stories everywhere you look. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) vs Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) may lead the way, but there’s plenty more to pull from Barcelona, Jerez and Portimao.
This is a Championship fight like never before
The 2021 WorldSBK title fight is something that we’ve never seen before; every corner of every lap, both Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea are going head-to-head, trying to get an advantage and trying to get one over the other. The hard riding started at Navarra in the Superpole Race, when both clashed in the opening stages, before things got turned up at Magny-Cours. However, in the triple header, we’ve seen the gloves really come off, with the thrilling Superpole Race battle at Catalunya, the Race 1 duel at Jerez and then, the almighty fighting in Race 1 and Race 2 at Portimao. However, now add into the mix some off-track words between the two, particularly regarding Toprak’s style and the situation of the Championship standings, and this year is one like no other. It’s like the best bits of 2002 and 1998 all rolled into one; a fantastic combination and an exciting show.
Misfortune is playing a big part
Whilst the battle is intense, we’ve seen numerous bits of bad luck for all three of the WorldSBK Championship contenders at some point during the triple-header. For Championship leader Razgatlioglu, a technical problem struck and took him out of the race lead in Race 1 at Catalunya, whilst in Race 1 at Portimao, Jonathan Rea crashed at Turn 15 and again in the Superpole Race. In Race 2, a front mudguard failure at the same corner saw Razgatlioglu tumble. Even for Scott Redding (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), who has managed to take a win in the eight races, he was caught up in a Lap 1 crash on the restart of the Tissot Superpole Race at Catalunya, leaving him to take avoiding action. However, with the hard battling and the misfortune playing a big part, the Championship is still close. Coming into the triple-header, the gap between Toprak and Rea was seven, whilst Redding was 72 back; now, Toprak leads by 24, but by only 54 from Redding. It’s anyone’s guess as to how it will unfold…
Fresh faces come to the fore
During the triple header, there’s been a whole host of names surge forward in WorldSBK – some that we’ve not seen shine so well, and others who have returned to some sort of form. The most notable was Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing), with the Italian leading Catalunya Race 1 until he was passed by Scott Redding – although he still took a first podium. Then, there’s the return of Loris Baz (Team GoEleven) at Jerez and Portimao, with the Frenchman finding some fantastic form in place of the injured Chaz Davies to take two podiums during the Motul Portuguese Round weekend. Then of course, there’s Portimao Superpole Race winner Michael van der Mark (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team), who ended BMW’s eight-year wait for victory. There’s also been a slight return to form for Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) who, despite being hard on himself and “frustrated”, has took seven top ten results in the last seven races – only he and Bassani have done this.
Honda are making huge gains
The difference between Team HRC at the start of the season compared to now isn’t quite light and day, but the improvements have been hugely noticeable in during the triple header. Opting for a private test at Jerez before the Hyundai N Catalunya Round, Alvaro Bautista (Team HRC) then went to Catalunya and was on the podium in the Superpole Race, whilst he was in the fight for another podium in Race 2, beating Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) and Jonathan Rea to sixth place. At Jerez, he was once again impressive and took a Race 2 podium, before he was battling for a podium in both Race 1 and Race 2 at Portimao – crashing at the last corner on the last lap in Race 1, before a penultimate lap crash with Baz took him out of Race 2. Teammate Leon Haslam is also in the mix and was on the front row at Portimao; Honda are now consistent contenders again.
The battle for fourth is spicy
Whilst the top three in the Championship are going at it, the next three are also locked in combat with the fourth-place fight seeing Michael Ruben Rinaldi take back control during the triple-header, having been sixth coming into it. A race win at Catalunya in Race 2 propelled him forwards, but after a tricky Portimao combined with fellow countryman Locatelli’s consistency sees both of them on 249 points. Then, in sixth place and still with a fighting chance of fourth overall, Michael van der Mark is on 211 after his Superpole Race victory and top six in Race 2 at Portimao. If the two Italians suffer any misfortune in Argentina or Indonesia, van der Mark may well be in the mix for a top four overall. The one outsider in the battle is Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who is seventh but hasn’t started the last four races due to injury.
The competition level is extraordinary in 2021…
Of the top 14 in the Championship standings, 13 riders have scored a podium – the only exception is Leon Haslam, but he was in a podium place when he crashed out during Portimao’s Superpole Race. The last time the top 12 in the end of season standings all took a podium was in 2012, whilst astonishingly, the record is the top 16 getting a podium from 1988. Who knows what is possible in the two overseas rounds at the end of the season, but one thing is for sure – we’re enjoying a vintage season of WorldSBK. In the last three rounds alone, there’s been nine riders on the podium, meaning we are in for an exciting season showdown in Argentina and Indonesia.
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