An impressive pace from Axel Bassani, a late charge by Alex Lowes and a trio of red flags. Walking-wounded Michael Ruben Rinaldi shone at home, teammate Bautista struggled in P8
Day one of the Prometeon Italian Round is done for the 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship field at Imola as our return to the iconic Italian venue is well underway. There were three brief red flags but with all riders OK; firstly for an incident at the final corner for Gabriele Ruiu (Bmax Racing), secondly for Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) at the same place, whilst Tito Rabat (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) replicated the same incident as the #65. The session gave an important insight into the potential race pace. Going into tomorrow as the rider to beat is Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) who went top with his final flying lap. Day one saw none of the top four in the World Championship standings inside the top four.
HOME-HEROES ON TOP: Rinaldi and Ducati lead the way
There were plenty of reasons for smiles – both at the track and at the factory in Bologna – for Ducati; four ‘Bologna Bullets’ inside the top six in FP1 and a dominant display in FP2, with the best factory rider being Michael Ruben Rinaldi. Coming back from injury, Rinaldi rocketed to the top on his final flying lap right at the end of the session, as he seeks to silence critics at his second home round of the year. Alvaro Bautista was also fast right throughout the opening day of action, although in the end, he didn’t improve on his FP1 time. A solid first day from the #1, but it left the reigning World Champion and current Championship leader eighth on the combined times, with a little bit more work to do, given that he’s half a second from his teammate who led the way, and also only the third Ducati in the order.
NEW ORDER, TEAMMATES COLLIDE: Lowes P2, Gerloff P3 despite crash with Baz, Rea falls
At the factory Kawasaki outfit, there was drama for Jonathan Rea with his crash at the final corner, but he got back out for a good 15 laps in total. However, it was his teammate who stole the show on what has been a weekend where ‘Lowes’ was the name on everyone’s lips. This time, it was the Lowes of the Alex variety, as he launched in a fantastic time just before the third red flag to go top. However, a late charge elsewhere saw Lowes relegated to second position whilst Rea was seventh overall, but nonetheless it was a solid start in the high heat on Friday for the ZX-10RR riders.
There was early drama for Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) and teammate Loris Baz. Going down to Rivazza on their out-lap, Gerloff lost control of his M 1000 RR and couldn’t avoid the back of his teammate at the apex, leaving both tumbling through the gravel. Thankfully, both were relatively OK and soon got back out, with Baz going straight into the top ten on his first flying lap, whilst Gerloff went P12 on his return to the track. However, it was the American’s last lap time attack which really caused a stir, as he went third and like in FP1, was top BMW, albeit with the SCQ tyre. Baz finished in 12th.
BASS DROPPED: Bassani in mighty form on Imola WorldSBK debut, Petrucci a contender?
One of the major headlines on day one, Bassani’s sensational afternoon pace, with the charismatic Italian at what is his true home-round. Setting consistently fast lap times in FP2 and was the rider to beat for most of the session. It’s an impressive step by the rider from Feltre, who admits that he himself hasn’t normally been strong on a Friday. Finishing in fourth but with a strong race pace, if this is the form he can demonstrate on Friday, can Bassani be a contender for a long-awaited first win in WorldSBK? Also looking for a first win in WorldSBK after a maiden rostrum last time out, Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) took ninth overall but was a feature at times at the pointy end of the timing screens. Can he make it a perfect homecoming for himself and Marco Barnabo’s team?
STEPS NEEDED: Yamaha missing a bit, Locatelli ahead of Toprak
Andrea Locatelli was seventh in the morning and found a step in the second half of FP2, as he gets used to Imola for the first time in WorldSBK. He ended up as top Yamaha and was less than half a second from Rinaldi’s top time, whilst it was a strong opening day for teammate Toprak Razgatlioglu, who topped FP1 by just 0.003s. He was back on the pace in the afternoon session too, consistently up inside the top six but unable to improve his time from FP1. The 2021 World Champion will hope he can re-assert himself as top Yamaha come Saturday and Sunday race days.
REDDING COMPLETES TOP TEN, HONDA STRUGGLE AGAIN: big names further down
On his Imola debut, Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) was tenth and improved his time by nearly a second compared to FP1, even if overall lap times are slightly behind where they were, meaning the pace is still to drop further. He was one place ahead of fellow countryman Brad Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team), who was having a fine Imola debut and as high as fourth in the afternoon. Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven) took P13, one place higher than Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), but was just over a second and a half away from Rinaldi at the top.
Stealing headlines further down were Honda, as once again, they struggled to make any ground. Whilst lap times improved compared to the morning, their position left them down in 15th and 17th on the combined times, as Xavi Vierge (Team HRC) led the way. Teammate Iker Lecuona was 1.7s off the top time, with Leon Haslam (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) splitting the pair on his return as a replacement rider. The ‘Pocket Rocket’ – or perhaps for this weekend, ‘Pocket ROKiT’ – had a small technical issue but was OK in himself. Lorenzo Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha), Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) and Gabriele Ruiu (Bmax Racing) completed the top 20.
On his return to WorldSBK, Roberto Tamburini (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team) was 21st, ahead of Isaac Vinales (TPR Team Pedercini Racing) and his own teammate, Eric Granado, who suffered an off-track excursion at Turn 2. Tito Rabat and Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing MOVISIO) completed the order, with day one of WorldSBK’s return to Imola in the history books.
Top six after day one in WorldSBK at Imola, full results here:
1. Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) 1’47.128s
2. Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) +0.151s
3. Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) +0.326s
4. Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) +0.420s
5. Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) +0.464s
6. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) +0.533s
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