The reigning Champion hit his teammate under braking for Turn 5 with the #21 forced to retire, which also impacted his Race 2 starting position
The Tissot Superpole Race for the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship provided plenty of drama and nowhere more than inside the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati box. Both Alvaro Bautista and Michael Ruben Rinaldi led at points during the 10-lap race as they went in search of glory, but there would’ve been plenty of hearts in mouths inside the box on Lap 5 when the #1 hit the back of his teammate, with Rinaldi coming off his bike and retiring while Bautista continued and finished second.
The #1 surged into the lead when the lights went out but was seemingly lacking pace in the opening few laps, which allowed both teammate Rinaldi and race winner Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) to stay directly behind his Panigale V4 R. On Lap 2 at Turn 5, Razgatlioglu stormed from third to first in one fell swoop as he passed both Ducatis under braking into the Adelaide hairpin, before Rinaldi overtook his teammate at Turn 11 for second on the same lap.
On Lap 3, Rinaldi moved into the lead as he overtook the #54 at Turn 6 and he remained there for a couple of laps before the 2021 Champion made his move at Turn 5 on Lap 5. However, with Bautista following the Turkish star, the #1 was unable to stop his machine in time and ran into the back of his teammate, causing Rinaldi to crash and retire from the race. The Italian was taken to the medical centre for a check-up following the crash and subsequently declared fit, while Bautista was able to continue.
After initially dropping down the order, Bautista recovered to take second at the flag. This gave him a good starting spot for Race 2, and he used it to propel himself into the lead before a red flag interrupted proceedings. In the restarted race, Bautista set off from first on the grid and was able to resist early pressure from rivals Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and Razgatlioglu to claim his first win of the weekend.
Giving his view on the incident and apologising to his teammate, Bautista said: “We had a really good battle with Toprak and my teammate, Michael, but we had an incident at Turn 5. We arrived altogether and, with the slipstream, I couldn’t stop the bike. The slipstream absorbed me, and I tried to avoid the impact, but Toprak went inside, and Michael had to pick up the bike and, for that reason, I found him in my way. It was unintentional and I’m sorry for Michael because he was really strong, and I think he could’ve fought for the win in the Superpole Race and also in Race 2.”
The contact with Bautista compounded what’s been a difficult season for Rinaldi with the Italian experiencing difficult weekends throughout 2023; some of his own making and others not. However, the #21 had been showing strong pace throughout the French Round as he looks to secure a seat in WorldSBK next year following the news that Nicolo Bulega (Aruba.it WorldSSP Team) would join Bautista in the factory Ducati team next season.
Explaining the crash from his perspective, Rinaldi said: “We showed great speed this weekend and we were fighting for the victory until the Superpole Race. What happened in the crash with Alvaro happened. I was first and then Toprak overtook me like he did on Saturday. I was doing my line and I just got hit on my back wheel and I crashed. When I was crashing, I saw that it was Alvaro so from my point of view, I did my line, and I was in front. It wasn’t my fault, and, for him, you are there battling, and mistakes can happen.”
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