PREVIEW: Bautista’s first match point looms at Portimao but will he falter again?

Wednesday, 27 September 2023 05:07 GMT

The penultimate round is here, which means the title is on the line – but it’s not as simple as it seems

The ball is very firmly in Alvaro Bautista’s ( Racing – Ducati) court but title rival Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) is looking to break his serve and advantage. He aced his rival at the same track last year and this weekend certainly isn’t the time for faults. Now we’ve got the tennis puns, terms and comparisons out of the way, the Pirelli Portuguese Round from the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve is billed as a classic before it has begun. The two aforementioned heavyweights can both have a huge say in the outcome of the title race and Portimao has so often played a pivotal part, with the rollercoaster bringing big dips and rises.

TWO GREATS, ONE GOAL: Bautista vs Razgatlioglu ready for Chapter 11

Recent form suggests that 2021 World Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu has the momentum; he’s got what was a 98-point deficit down to 47, with points being taken out at each round since Imola. 12 months ago at Portimao, he won two races whilst Bautista won one, the points swing then only three across the weekend. Razgatlioglu will need more than that if he’s to have a realistic chance of title number two in 2023. To stay in title contention, he must be 61 points or less behind Bautista after Portimao, which means he could technically finish second to the Spaniard in all three races but that only delays the inevitable as the gap would go up to 60. Bautista winning with Toprak only third would put the Spaniard even further in the driving seat. Three wins with Bautista second however changes the ‘inevitable’ to the possible, as the gap would be 34. For Bautista, he can only be Champion on Sunday if results go his way.

POSSIBLE INTERFERENCES: could Rea have a say and what about the teammates?

Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) has a stellar record at Portimao, with some 13 wins to his name, more than four-times the number of the next-best, which is Toprak. Last year was the first time that Rea didn’t win a race with Kawasaki there but a solid Aragon and with the bike now in a good operating window, perhaps he’ll be amongst the battle between the two ahead of him. His teammate, Alex Lowes, should be back in action this weekend as long as he passes a medical check on Thursday. Elsewhere, Michael Ruben Rinaldi ( Racing – Ducati) hopes for more podiums and perhaps even a win, whereas Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) will be keen to help teammate Toprak if necessary and bounce back from an unlucky Race 2 retirement at Aragon, although he’ll have to do it the hard way with a back of the grid start for Race 1 after not adhering to the orange disk flag during the technical issue from Aragon.

They’re not the only ones with a point to prove; after a crash in Superpole left his Aragon weekend being an uphill struggle from last on the grid, Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) has his sights set on returning to the podium and thus the top six overall in the standings. He tested at Portimao at the very start of the year and has also been present before, so he’ll know how a Superbike should feel round the Portuguese venue. Don’t discount Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing), who hopes crew chief Simone Corsini will be back alongside him this weekend. Aragon was difficult for ‘El Bocia’ but he’s eager to get in the podium scrap again.

HONDA VS BMW: who will feature stronger in Portugal?

Aragon welcomed Honda back to something of a competitive force, with Iker Lecuona (Team HRC) enjoying a top six Superpole performance and two sixth place finishes on Sunday, whilst teammate Xavi Vierge leapfrogged the absent Lowes in the standings with a strong final race day. Lecuona struggled at Portimao last year; the Valencia didn’t score a top ten, whilst his #97 counterpart was able to take two P8s in the full races. Testing earlier in the year will have helped but can they carry on their Aragon momentum?

For BMW, Aragon has never been easy but it was once again Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) who was the best for the German manufacturer; the American is now just eight points away from lead BMW in the standings, Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team). The #45 was injured before Aragon after an incident at home, so will hope he’s in better shape for the rollercoaster. His teammate, Michael van der Mark, enjoyed his best results since coming back from injury and aims for a first top ten since his home round at Assen. He gave BMW their most recent win in WorldSBK at Portimao two years ago. Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) completes the BMW contingency; he was on the Portimao rostrum in 2021 for Ducati as a substitute rider and he’ll need a strong round this weekend too, with his future hanging in the balance.

OTHER BIG NAMES: Aegerter and Gardner aiming for resurgence

Portimao wasn’t the happiest of hunting ground for Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) back in WorldSSP and after battling through Aragon following his hefty crash at Magny-Cours, a return to the top ten will be on his agenda. Teammate Remy Gardner has been the stronger of the two in recent rounds and hopes to continue his charge to the top ten overall in the standings this weekend. Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven) confirmed that he’s riding for his WorldSBK career and with six top ten finishes on the spin, he’s in decent form to market himself in the best way. Brad Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) hasn’t scored points since his return at Magny-Cours but hopes that Portimao – where he tested at earlier in the year – will offer a reprieve.

Lorenzo Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha) took a podium in WorldSSP at Portimao in 2022 but points are the aim this year in World Superbike; meanwhile, Hafizh Syahrin (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team) and teammate Eric Granado target a solid Portuguese Round. Granado, like Czech rider Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing MOVISIO), chases a first points-scoring ride of 2023, whilst Tito Rabat (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) and Isaac Vinales (TPR Team Pedercini Racing) both aim to add to their one point of 2023. Gabriele Ruiu (Bmax Racing) is back in action and hopes for a stronger outing.

TWO ROUNDS LEFT: get the Portimao Official Programme for FREE, enjoy the full highlights of Aragon here and watch the penultimate round in style for just €9.99 with the WorldSBK VideoPass!