Imola is a track where the best truly prove their mettle, a launchpad for title wins. In the inaugural FIM Supersport 300 World Championship round at Autodromo Internazionale Enzo d Dino Ferrari di Imola, Marc García and Alfonso Coppola had their first true showdown: they entered Imola as two decent prospects and exited as championship contenders. Imola was their springboard to eventual success. Two races into the 2018 season, we’ve had two winners, five riders on the podium, and all the top positions settled by tenths of a second. Everyone on the WorldSSP300 grid will travel to Italy eager to prove a point.
Heading into Imola as the championship leader for the second year running*, Scott Deroue (Motoport Kawasaki) might not have won the two opening races as he did in 2017, but he’s shown a consistency that could prove to be vital by autumn. Last year at Imola, Deroue could only qualify in 21st place after the Superpole 1, finishing the race 11th. Will he find the pace this year to battle for a first win of the season?
The rider to make his mark at Assen was Luca Grunwald (Freudenberg KTM WorldSSP Team), taking advantage of the last-lap chaos to grab his first WorldSSP300 victory. The German crept up quietly throughout the weekend and kept his cool when push came to shove. It remains to be seen if he can he repeat the feat at Imola.
While neither rider has made it onto the podium yet, DS Junior Team are the only squad so far to have had both their riders in the top 10 in 2018. Both Ana Carrasco (DS Junior Team) and Dorren Loureiro (DS Junior Team) are proving to be dependable in both qualifying and race conditions, which bodes well for the season ahead. Loureiro also recorded the fastest lap here last year.
Koen Meuffels (KTM Fortron Junior Team) relinquished his leadership at Assen in dramatic fashion, falling to the floor on the final turn of the final lap after leading long stretches of the race. He’s now fourth in the standings, but just 11 points off the lead, and given the wild nature of the competition will be looking to jump straight back to the top.
Another rider who came agonisingly close to the finish line at Assen only to suffer a last lap crash was Mika Pérez (Kawasaki ParkinGO Team). The Spaniard has started both 2018 races from pole position, and took his maiden WorldSSP300 Superpole at Imola last year. He could only finish the race in 10th then – a lesson to be learnt for the weekend.
With the successes of his fellow Dutchmen, Glenn van Straalen’s (KTM Fortron Racing Team) performances so far might have flown slightly under the radar. This could play in his favour: van Straalen has proven to be reliable, and sitting just 7 points off leader Deroue, he could look to strike before the other title contenders notice.
For Tom Edwards (Nutec-Benjan-Kawasaki), his WorldSSP300 baptism of fire has been as rough and heartbreaking as they come. The Australian has spent every lap of 2018 in the top 10 and in contention for the win, yet in both races he went to the floor in the final turns. Nonetheless, the 16-year-old has shown insulting pace for his age. Will it be third time lucky at Imola?
*Results from MOTUL Dutch Round pending decision from FIM following technical investigation