A massive opportunity for the six-time World Champion to take a maiden win of the year lies ahead, whilst there was drama all around him
17 different polesitters throughout the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship’s history at Donington Park and with two of them on the current grid, we were in for a treat in WorldSBK Superpole. The rain had been dispelled and on track, plenty of riders were looking to excel as the existing lap record was broken and the battle for pole position triggered. As the chequered flag flew in the British breeze, it was Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) who took a first pole of 2023.
STORY OF SUPERPOLE: less than a tenth of a second covers the top five
Eager to get on with the action, 36-year-old Rea led the field out of the pits, with Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) – like we’ve seen many times – right behind. Redding was faster than Rea but behind them, it was Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) who went top early on. Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) was next, ahead of Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), Tom Sykes (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK), all five covered by less than a tenth. This was the order after the opening five minutes, but Locatelli, Razgatlioglu and Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) didn’t waste any time in getting back on with for their second runs, seemingly attempting a three-run strategy.
MISTAKES APLENTY: the pressure mounts the lead stars
Razgatlioglu and Locatelli were on corking lap times for their second runs, nearly three tenths up halfway round their laps but ‘Loka’ ran off track at Coppice. Ahead of them on track, Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) went up to P7 whilst Razgatlioglu stormed to pole with a 1’26.410 with six minutes remaining. Sykes was also on a phenomenal lap at the halfway point of his lap, whilst fellow countryman Alex Lowes went second. Sykes went third and gave up four tenths of a second, whereas the Donington difficulties for Ducati continued for Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) who crashed at the final corner. Elsewhere, Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) went into the top ten.
Track conditions continued to improve as more Pirelli rubber was put down and Rea went fastest at home to set a new lap record, whilst Bautista and Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) lapped together on the track and were on the front row, but then Bautista crashed at Turn 8, just moments after Axel Bassani tumbled at Turn 12. Bautista remounted but Ducati’s Donington Park difficulties continued in Superpole.
FRONT ROW: Rea back to pole with a new lap record
After all of the drama all around, Jonathan Rea took his first pole position of 2023. The #65 is on pole at Donington Park for the third straight season and he’ll hope that Kawasaki can compete for victory for his home round. Despite his crash, Bautista took second and this arrived in Parc Ferme with his own electric scooter, a new style! However, grabbing headlines was Petrucci, with the rookie Italian storming to a first front row in WorldSBK as he edges ever close to the podium battle with each session. On hand to present the awards in Parc Ferme was Roger Burnett, the first ever WorldSBK polesitter from Donington Park 35 years ago.
SECOND ROW: Razgatlioglu looking to burst through
Toprak Razgatlioglu, despite his success at Donington Park, is still yet to take pole at the British circuit and will have to fight his way through from the head of the second row. He’s in good company however, with Alex Lowes eventually coming home in fifth and rookie Dominique Aegerter bursting up into P6 on his final flying lap, a strong end to the session for Aegerter, who has had a quiet weekend up to that point.
COMPLETING THE TOP TEN: a surprise looms from behind?
Seventh on the grid and leading the way from the third row is Locatelli, as he goes in search of a decent Donington Park weekend, whilst the track’s most successful WorldSBK rider ever, 2013 World Champion Tom Sykes will go from the middle of row three. The 37-year-old’s return to Donington Park in WorldSBK saw him as top BMW too. Rinaldi’s crash at Turn 12 didn’t scupper his Superpole entirely, as he got back out to take P9, whilst Garrett Gerloff completed the top ten, which didn’t feature any Hondas as the Japanese manufacturer struggled again in the UK.
ELSEWHERE: big names with big worries after qualifying down field
Outside of the top ten, Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven) took P11 ahead of Scott Redding, who faded towards the end and will have an uphill challenge if he’s to repeat his success of 12 months ago. Iker Lecuona (Team HRC) was top Honda in P13, ahead of Bassani, with two of the big names in the Championship struggling. Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) completed the fifth row, whilst Brad Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) took P16 having been as high as P10 before his lap time got deleted for yellow flags due to Bassani’s crash.
Xavi Vierge’s (Team HRC) Superpole struggles set in once more as he was only 17th, ahead of a disappointing Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team). Tito Rabat (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) and Hafizh Syahrin (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team) completed the top 20. Isaac Vinales (TPR Team Pedercini Racing) was 21st, with Lorenzo Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha) and Eric Granado (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team) close behind. Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing MOVISIO) sat the session out after a fast crash at Craner Curves in FP3.
Top six after WorldSBK Superpole, full results here:
1. Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) 1’26.041s
2. Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) +0.068s
3. Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) +0.164s
4. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) +0.369s
5. Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) +0.381s
6. Dominique Aegerter (GYRT GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) +0.461s
Watch all of the 2023 Superbike season take-shape round-by-round with the WorldSBK VideoPass!