In what was one of the most intense sessions we’ve seen for a long time, it really was a magical return to time-attack mode at Imola
Home of ‘The Showdown’, a place for heroic home victories and where passion oozes through the park setting; the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari di Imola has a special ambience and vibe and this weekend is even more special. The 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is back in action at Imola this weekend and the Tissot Superpole session on Saturday morning was absolutely sensational. With a lap record of a 1’45.180 by Chaz Davies from 2019 not being troubled throughout the weekend thus far, would it be threatened in Superpole after four years?
STORY OF SUPERPOLE: Bassani, Ray, Razgatlioglu and Bautista put on a show
As the green flag waved at the end of pitlane, riders went straight out to get a solid banker lap in, with yellow flags and red flags in the mind of teams – especially after three red flags in the FP2 on Friday afternoon. As usual, Yamaha riders Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) and teammate Andrea Locatelli worked together and led the field out of the pits, with Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) and Brad Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) in tow. It was a fight from the start to just get out of pitlane, with Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) seemingly not happy about being crowded out. On his out-lap, there was drama for German rider Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven) who crashed at Turn 1 and nearly hit the back of Gabriele Ruiu (Bmax Racing).
As the first laps came in, Axel Bassani laid down the gauntlet and was a man on a mission with a 1’46.062, the fastest lap of the weekend straight off the bat. With only one previous front row from Argentina in 2021, he was looking to add to that but Razgatlioglu came through to pip it from him with ten minutes to go, whilst Locatelli was third. Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) got ahead of Locatelli after his second flying lap, whilst it was a stunning performance from Brad Ray who was inside the top five at the halfway point. Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) was up in sixth ahead of Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and teammate Alex Lowes, whilst Petrucci completed the top ten.
The session came alive in the final five minutes, with Yamaha working together again, this time with Locatelli leading Razgatlioglu, whilst Ray was following. However, stealing the headlines was Bassani, the #47 was on absolute stonking lap but encountered traffic at the Variante Alta; he weaved his way through the middle of Eric Granado (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team) and Isaac Vinales (TPR Team Pedercini Racing) in dramatic style, but chasing a career-first pole, he tucked the front at Rivazza. This caused yellow flags and Alvaro Bautista’s pole-bound lap was impacted; the #1 snatched top spot but later had his time deleted.
FRONT ROW: a different look to a new titanic IMOLA trio?
So, after it all settled down, Toprak Razgatlioglu was the polesitter for the first time at Imola and equalled the record of poles for a single rider with Yamaha, tied on 11 with Ben Spies. Making it a Yamaha 1-2 on the grid, Andrea Locatelli initially had his lap time cancelled, but it was done incorrectly and later reinstated. Having been fourth at one point and in the gravel at Rivazza, Bassani gained one position due to the drama around him to take a first front row since San Juan in 2021. With a strong race pace, a joint-career-best starting position and his usual tenacity, Bassani really could be in contention for a first win – and what better place to do it than his true home round.
POWER-PACKED ROW TWO: Brad Ray in majestic form on Imola debut, Bautista denied pole
The second row is a real blockbuster; Alvaro Bautista was originally scheduled for pole but the yellow flags meant that his time was cancelled, so he heads up row two in P4. Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) is in the middle of the second row on his Imola debut, is he a contender for a first podium? However, star of the show on the second row is WorldSBK rookie Brad Ray, who latched onto the factory Yamaha duo to propel himself to a phenomenal sixth place on his first time at Imola. Having had pace all weekend and usually strong in the start of races, Ray will be hoping to make a name for himself in Race 1.
HEAVYWEIGHT THIRD ROW: Rea vs Rinaldi the headline
It's a titanic third row too, with six-time World Champion and Imola’s most successful rider Jonathan Rea with work to do from P7, ahead of Michael Ruben Rinaldi, who was on a pole position lap until yellow flags came out at the final corner for Iker Lecuona (Team HRC). Rea could’ve ended up further down had it not been for yellow flags elsewhere, so is a beneficiary of the shaking out of deleted lap times. Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) took ninth and his first top ten on the grid since Mandalika. Home-hero Danilo Petrucci has to go from tenth, with a tough job ahead of him if he’s to mount the podium again like he achieved at Donington Park.
OUTSIDE THE TOP TEN: Lowes heads a raft of factory bikes
Alex Lowes was unfortunate as his last lap time took him to fifth, but it was deleted, leaving him down in P11, one place ahead of Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team). 13th place honours went to Xavi Vierge (Team HRC) as the Spaniard took top Honda placing, although it wasn’t without a crash at Acque Minerali late on. Leon Haslam’s (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) return saw him in 14th, and the ‘Pocket Rocket’ was just two hundredths clear of Free Practice revelation Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW). Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) was 16th, ahead of Iker Lecuona, who once again endured a torrid time of things as he crashed at the final corner on his final flying lap. Oettl got back out to take 18th, ahead of Lorenzo Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha) and Gabriele Ruiu.
Outside of the top 20, Tito Rabat (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) was ahead of stand-in rider Roberto Tamburini (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team), who was nonetheless ahead of full-time rider, Brazilian Eric Granado. Isaac Vinales and Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing MOVISIO) complete the order ahead of the opening race of the day.
Top six after WorldSBK Superpole at Imola, full results here:
1. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) 1’45.959s
2. Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) +0.058s
3. Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) +0.103s
4. Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) +0.186s
5. Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) +0.538s
6. Bradley Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) +0.636s
A breath-taking season is well underway, watch it all unfold with 50% off the WorldSBK VideoPass!