This year’s final WorldSBK battle for the third in 2019 overall championship top three went all the way to the last round and the last race, but it appeared from relatively early in the Losail weekend that Alex Lowes had it all covered, barring major misfortune or somebody else’s errors.
When he got swamped by some riders in the final long race of the weekend, it got a bit more tricky, for a while at least. Lowes would eventually out-perform his biggest rival and Yamaha team-mate Michael van der Mark in every race in Qatar, but he had to absorb some pressure in the very last race of the year first.
“I tried to go with the front guys but on the end of the first flying lap Michael passed me and then three or four guys passed me,” Lowes told bikesportnews.com. “So I knew straight away, ‘OK the first three are gone,’ so I tried to manage the race the best I could.
“I sat in the group quite comfortably then I saw the gap close from behind, maybe Toprak and Leon, and I thought I needed to get past Michael and get a bit of clear track, because I did not want to get caught up in anything. At the end luckily I had a little bit more pace.
“It is great to get third in the championship, the last three or four rounds have been really tight but this weekend I have managed to do a real good job and be up there fighting for the podium. Great end to the year. It is a little bit bitter-sweet leaving Yamaha. I have really enjoyed working with the team and guys and we have a great relationship. I have really enjoyed this year. I am proud to be third and I am going to enjoy a drink with the guys tonight before moving on to the next challenge.”
Third was as much as anybody expected from Lowes, or even some other riders, and he delivered on that promise when it mattered. As VDM seemed not to settle into his final weekend, and Toprak Razgatlioglu had a tough time and a no score with a tech problem in the sprint race, Lowes clicked into top gear with a third, third and fourth place combo that served him up a bonus as well as the satisfaction of finishing up where you hoped to be.
At the start of this year the target was the top three, and we have managed to do that,” said Lowes. “I had one bad weekend in Jerez, but apart from that, it has been a really solid second part of the year. It is a strange feeling because I have a great relationship with Yamaha, and my guys on my side of the garage, who worked tirelessly to help me improve but in racing you change and next year it is going to be different for us.”
The team-mate bond inside the Pata Yamaha team has been relatively close, helped by partnering each other at the Suzuka Eight-Hours race. Lowes explained why this may be, saying, “Michael and I have been close for three years. I feel quite lucky having a twin brother (Sam) that races.
“We have always been really competitive but then whatever we are trying to compete at, we have to get on, because we love each other. I feel like that helps me having good relationships with a team-mate but still giving it everything on the track.
“Michael is quite similar and to be honest and he has a lot more relaxed attitude off the bike and in the garage and that has sort of helped me a lot as well. I have understood some things from him and I am sure I have helped him a lot in some of the ways I work. It has been a great partnership. I have really enjoyed it and we are friends as well as team-mates. On the track obviously it is nice to end, leaving the team, and end up on top and beating him.”
But there must be residual hurt for Lowes, being expelled from the team while VDM stays, when you seemed happy enough there? So how deep did it go winning that final fight, even for Lowes racing future, to take third place and not VDM - or the rider who will replace him at Yamaha, Toprak Razgatlioglu?
“I do not realty think it about it that deeply,” said Lowes. “I have not done bad out of not being there next year. In racing sometimes you lose your ride, people come in situations change, sponsors change, people change. I do not really take it personally.
“I know I have done a good job this year and yes, finishing third and proving to them that I am good enough to be on the bike is nice but obviously I have a new challenge next year where I need to do even better. It is not like I am feeling, ‘oh I have shown them this or shown them that…’ I have not really got that relationship with them - I have a good relationship with them, good respect and happy to look back with plenty of good memories from working together. Happy to leave the door open for the future.”