MotorLand Aragon heralds the return of WorldSBK for the first of two compelling back-to-back rounds.
With a large portion of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship season taking place on European soil, the first venture out west is always a good indication of how a championship may unfold. Riders find their feet, teams have a good few months of development time behind them, and gaps in the standings can be opened… or closed.
Since 2013, the medieval town of Alcañiz has hosted the first race on the continent, MotorLand Aragon proving to be a true land of opportunity for title contenders, pretenders, rookies, veterans and starlets alike. But fortune favours those who seek it, and several riders will arrive at the Motocard Aragon Round aching for a potential season-defining moment.
The first opportunity lies in the hands of the man who right now lays down the law of the land in World Superbike. Álvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) returns home on a six-race-strong winning streak, having picked up two debut hat-tricks in Australia and Thailand. The rookie’s explosive run of form has shown no sign of abating: consecutive wins seven, eight and nine would push him on par with Neil Hodgson for the best start to a WorldSBK season, and there’s no better place to achieve that than at home. Top-10 finishes in MotoGP™ in Aragon for four different manufacturers would seem to spell out a promising fate for Bautista’s first homecoming.
It feels odd to be mentioning history-making opportunities and not be referring to one of Jonathan Rea’s (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) latest exploits, but that has been the nature so far of the 2019 season.
But as they say, opportunity knocks at every man’s door, and the Northern Irishman has built much of his success on remaining cold and calculating through the toughest of times. MotorLand Aragon is not one of the four-time champion’s favourite tracks – in fact it’s one of just two on the 2019 calendar where he hasn’t achieved a double – but his focus will stay intact; Rea will be ready to pounce should the chance arise, as will teammate Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who took pole position last time out in Aragon (2015).
Finding opportunity in adversity is what separates the greats from the rest, and few have suffered more setbacks in recent months than Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati). Come Race 1 it will have been nearly a year since the Welshman’s last race win, which happened precisely at the Alcañiz circuit. Davies has built up a treasure trove of performances in Aragon, with seven hard-fought race wins and an additional three podiums. Can he conjure up some more MotorLand magic and add an eighth this weekend? It may arrive a bit early for the Brit in his personal adaptation to the V4 R, but expect him to make several steps forward on his own road to redemption.
There was a certain sense of dèja-vu in Thailand as Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) crossed the line in Race 2 in third and fourth, respectively, for the third time in a row; the same applies to independent standings runaways Marco Melandri and Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) in sixth and seventh. All four Yamaha riders have performed impeccably since Round One – in particular the Englishman, who has brought his superb pre-season form into the new season – but how much margin for growth is there? The first European showdown of the year could be an ideal moment to make that final step towards the top of the rostrum.
Another manufacturer looking for the final piece to the puzzle is BMW, although Tom Sykes and Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) should find it in the form of an engine upgrade scheduled for later in the season. In the meantime, both men can look to the past to find inspiration: the former World Champion secured a dominant double here in 2014, while his partner emerged victorious last season from Spain on the road to the 2018 STK1000 title.
Perseverance will be key for the BMW riders and much of the same can be said for the Moriwaki Althea Honda Team. Still recovering from a blameless crash in Thailand, at the moment Leon Camier will simply aiming to be on the grid in Spain. If the combative 32-year-old gets the go-ahead to race, expect him to keep on pushing the Fireblade to its limits, as the HRC-backed outfit continues seeking answers and finding its grove in 2019.
The European leg of the 2019 season kicks off at MotorLand Aragon this Friday, April 5th, with the first free practice sessions on Spanish soil! Qualifying on Saturday morning will be followed by Race 1 at 14:00LT (GMT+2), with the Tissot Superpole Race and Race 2 to follow on Sunday.
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