The short, quick run to regularity
With such a short season in 2020 I reckon consistency will be key to winning the title more than ever. There will be little opportunity to have a bad weekend or DNF’s if any rider has serious pretentions for taking the crown. In recent years Jonathan Rea has had an almost metronomic consistency in winning and finishing on the podium. If we see that over the next couple of races the title fight could be over before we know it.
We have, however, been lucky enough to have two pretty topsy-turvy weekends in Jerez and Portimao to get us back underway in the 2020 season.
Jerez was never a comfortably happy hunting ground for Rea and the Kawasaki team. They have recorded some of their most memorable moments at the Andalucian track but wins have been hard to come by. It was the same this time round as Scott Redding underlined his class and stamped his authority on the championship. Rea still won the short Superpole race but Redding was hot on his heels and may well have bagged a hat-trick of wins if he hadn’t been caught up in a bit of a ding dong with Razgatlioglu in that ten-lapper.
Fast forward a week and it was Rea that dominated in Portimao with Redding struggling a bit for form and only managing a podium place in race two. The title battle swung from one to the other over those events and it would appear that the pre-season speculation of a two-horse race is proving to be the case.
Both Razgatlioglu and Lowes, who were winners in Australia, were there or thereabouts in Spain and Portugal but both fell in race two at the Algarve circuit with Lowes notching up a DNF and Toprak finishing back in eighth. It has dropped them of the pace a bit in the title chase and with only five races remaining they will need to bag a few wins to gain ground.
As we get ready for a double header of race weekends at Motorland Aragon we are pretty nicely poised with Rea and Redding separated by just four points. Razgatlioglu and Lowes are 30 points or so behind but a DNF for the front-runners will bring them right back into contention.
Probably the most notable thing about those first races however was the heat. Saturday in Jerez saw the thermometer reach 40˚C. I can’t imagine what it was like to push yourself to the max in a 20 lap race but WorldSBK have introduced an amended schedule for these events to give the support classes more races and it meant I was out of the press office more or less from 9am until after 5pm. It was truly exhausting and probably the worst I have felt at a race meeting in the near 30 years I have been covering motorsport. I have been out in a snow-storm, at night, in temperatures well below freezing, covering rally stages and in torrential rain on several occasions but I have never worked in heat like that and felt as uncomfortable as I did. I always thought the heat and humidity in Japan at the Suzuka 8Hr in July was bad but it was nothing like the weekend in Jerez. Heading to Portimao where the temperature was 32˚C with a bit of a breeze was bizarrely a welcomed relief.
It has been a pretty intense return to work as after the Portimao race I drove across Spain to Motorland where a few of the teams were testing. It seemed like a good idea back in July when I was organizing my travel but after 1300kms and 12 and half hours driving my backside has a different story to tell. I was glad to have a couple of days to ride my push bike and recover before getting into the test.
There has been a little bit of back and forth in the rider market for 2021 with BMW announcing they have signed Michael VD Mark. Who will partner him is still subject to intense speculation with some suggesting that neither Sykes nor Laverty will stay. There is obviously a vacant seat at Yamaha that will be of interest to many, but the smart money is on Loris Baz to move from the Ten Kate team to the factory squad. Ten Kate have shown in the last few races this year that they have got to grips with the R1 and even if Baz moved sideways a seat on their bike would be no bad thing.
I chatted with a couple of riders and a rider manager over the course of those first re-scheduled races and it would seem that BMW have a substantial budget to back their challenge for a WorldSBK title. In past weeks they have announced that they are looking to back a satellite team to join SMR on the grid to give a bit of credence to that theory. It will be interesting to see what teams are in the running to fill that role and a couple of those currently competing in the Supersport championship have been mentioned. It may be a way for Jochan Kiefer to return to racing. He had fairly well advanced plans to run a Yamaha team in WorldSSP in 2020 but fell short in securing a sufficient sponsorship budget. That could be understandable with there being so many Yamahas on the Supersport grid and the reduced exposure the support class gets. Would a factory backed satellite project with BMW in WorldSBK be a better option for a German team however? Time will tell but a couple of extra BMW seats on the grid will give a few more options in the rider market.
The rest of 2020 WorldSBK calendar has finally been set with the scheduled fixture in Misano binned in favour of a final race weekend in Estoril, Portugal in mid-October. I haven’t been to Estoril since the MotoGP race in 2008 but it was always a venue I liked. The weather on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean might be a bit more unsettled than the Adriatic coast but as race tracks go I am much happier to be heading there than to Misano to end the season.
It’s only a month and a half away and after such a long wait to get the season restarted it seems odd that it’s going to be over so quickly.
By Graeme Brown @GeeBeeImages
Photos by GeeBee Images/BMW