This weekend in Qatar all eyes will be on the battle for third in the 2019 WorldSBK title chase as only one man can join Jonathan Rea and Álvaro Bautista on the end-season podium . And for all three this would be their best-ever result in the championship.
Six points separate a rider leaving Yamaha from the man replacing him next year, and in-between sits their current and future teammate, respectively. Alex Lowes (Yamaha) has accumulated 305 points, team-mate Michael van der Mark 304, and Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) 299.
All three have shown different strengths on their way here. Lowes is winless in 2019 yet has proven to be one of the most consistent men in the paddock.
“It’s the final race weekend of the season and my last appearance for the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK team this weekend in Qatar, a track I really like,” said Lowes.
“My goal is to enjoy the weekend with a team with whom I’ve formed a really strong bond and in which I’ve made some really good friends. I head to Qatar determined to finish my time with the team on a high and to fight for third place in the championship.
The track is really flowing and the triple right-hand corners are probably my favourite sections on the whole of the WorldSBK calendar. The fact that we race under floodlights, which is a unique experience, makes it a pretty cool end to the season and I can’t wait to get there and kick off the weekend.”
Razgatlioglu suffered early on in the year, yet since June he has arguably been the strongest of the three and a serious threat to the two championship frontrunners. Van der Mark is tougher to define: a championship contender in some places, behind his teammate in others.
“It’s going to be a very exciting season finale, that’s for sure. Just six points separate me, Alex and Toprak in the fight for third place in the championship standings, which means the goal this weekend has to be to fight for the podium in all three races,” said van der Mark.
“I’m pretty confident we can do that in Qatar, as it’s one of my favourite tracks and one that is well suited to our Yamaha R1. I’m looking forward to the weekend ahead, as it should be a fantastic end to the year.”
The Dutchman could point fingers at that unfortunate highside which took him out of the Misano weekend and left him in pain for the next two. Yet would the battle have been sewn up already?
The other two could look at similar instances of misfortune: Lowes’ incredibly disappointing Jerez weekend, followed by his own crash while leading at Misano; Razgatlioglu’s tumble at Magny-Cours when potentially on-course for a treble, or the amount of rainy occasions which have frustrated the inexperienced Turk.
The only truth is that all three have proven to be deserving, yet only one will walk away with the prize. Ultimately it all boils down to who can perform the best at the Losail International Circuit. The Englishman has two podium finishes in Qatar, but momentum is on Puccetti’s side.
Van der Mark, meanwhile, is the only one who can claim to know what it takes to finish third in a World Championship. Experience, consistency, youth: one will prevail in Losail. But it will take all three races to find out which one.