One of the early season WorldSBK mysteries was solved at Imola. Why was long-time rider Chaz Davies not performing at – or even really near - the same dominant level as new boy Alvaro Bautista on a new Ducati V4R that is the hottest property in the paddock already.
The answer appears to be exactly as Davies had said all along, he was not comfortable enough on the bike to show his best, and of course he had lost lots of track time over the winter to injury and illness.
After at test at Imola between the previous round at Assen and race weekend in Italy, Davies got him and his bike on the same kind of footing, and it showed at Imola.
Superpole win, new lap record by some distance in the sprint race and second place that could have been a fight for the win but for one early mistake while leading.
Even a race one technical breakdown was not enough to say Imola was anything but a really positive and important event for Davies, even if Rea’s two breakthrough wins grabbed the bigger headlines.
It was even a bit of role-reversal in the Ducati team this weekend, with Bautista – relatively - struggling and Davies holding a narrow upper hand.
Davies had the pace to have at least a good chance to challenge Rea more closely for the wins, but in the ten-lapper the first lap told as much as the last one.
“OK, I made the mistake into the first lap of the race but we had – I do not want to say a wet set up – but a modified dry set-up – and with the short time on the grid we did have time to change back to the full dry set-up,” Davies told bikesportnews.com.
“It was the first time I had really tested the bike on hard braking and it surprised me a little bit in the reaction. I let Johnny past and Alvaro past and I had to recover. Then after that my pace was good, new lap record and everything.
“The track conditions were far from perfect. Johnny and me were pushing hard and in the end of that race there is no sense to take extra risk. In the end it is maybe two points more but if you make a mistake you pay a big penalty because you start race three from P10, I think.
You have to evaluate the risk and reward and for me, when I saw Johnny pushing with two laps to go, and I had one second, I said, ‘well…” First you have to get there and then you have to pass, and I that race it would be difficult to do. So I made that decision and I was hoping and praying for a third dry race.”
Davies was keen on a dry third race, but not on a potential wet one.
“It is a massive shame because I am the first person that wants to race here at Imola,” he said. “But it is just not safe, in the wet. Unfortunately. The track has the restrictions that they have and it is not a normal track; we are in the middle of a city.
“It is just unfortunate that the walls of the track dictate the cancellation today because it was not so much the water on the track; it was the safety concerns of the walls and everything like that. You have to do what is right for everybody not for individual gain or loss or whatever.
“I think it was the right decision but I am quite disappointed that a lot of people were sat there getting wet, wanting to see a second race. I feel lucky that we even got the sprint race. That is the positive but the negative is that I would have loved a full-length dry race, another one. But we unfortunately we were very unlucky. What is going on with the weather in Italy? In May! Come on!
Davies now knows that the combination of his recent Imola test and his real race performance should be significant pluses for the rest of his season.
In recent races I have gone home from every race seeing some light at the end of the tunnel; a little bit of improvement. That is better, this is better. But I have never gone home convinced of a complete change of page.
“It is like; we have made an improvement, but is it enough? I have never been so confident about that. But, going home from here I am really, really confident that we have made a big change,” said Davies. “Of course the next tracks are different and we have got different characteristics. But I really feel like this bike now has improved for me so much this weekend.”
Davies will now test with several other top teams at Misano between 29 and 30 of May, before the next round at Jerez, between 7 and 9 June.