WorldSBK Donington: Race preview

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Picture: GeeBee Images

The historic home of WorldSBK, Donington Park welcomes the action this weekend back to where it all began, on a cold Sunday in 1988.

The 2022 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship arrives at Donington Park for round five of the season and the Prosecco DOC UK Round. The 35th season of World Superbike action is proving to be one of the best yet and with a three-way fight for the title clear, other stars aim to have a say at a round that has previously seen shocks and surprises. Could this be one of the key turning points in 2022, or will we see the usual suspects continue to knock spots off each other?

12 podiums from 12 races in 2022 and leading the championship by 36 points, Aruba.it Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista has undertaken a more measured approach in 2022 compared to 2019 and it seems to be working. The Spaniard has won six races and is the only rider in the championship to have finished on the podium in every race he’s finished. However, Donington Park has been far from a happy hunting ground for Ducati in recent years. No win since 2011, the Panigale V4 R has only had one third place – courtesy of Bautista in 2019’s race two and no top two finish since 2016, will Bautista change all of that? Teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi had a successful test at Misano during the break and will look to back-up his findings and step back on the rostrum, whilst Ducati chase their 1000th podium place in WorldSBK; they currently have 998.

Chasing down Bautista and heading home to rule the roost, Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea will be keen to continue his success at Donington Park. A sole win last year and a triple in 2019, Rea’s got amazing form at his home venue. He’s been testing for the Suzuka 8-Hour race during the gap since Misano and will hope that he can hit the ground running at a circuit which saw him relinquish the championship lead last season after a race two crash. This time, he’s chasing it from Bautista at a circuit where Rea certainly seems to have the upper hand. On the other side of the garage, Alex Lowes hopes to dazzle at home after a third place in race one in 2021; Kawasaki as a manufacturer are one podium away from 500 in WorldSBK – will they manage it?

Looking to build on a first victory from the last round at Misano, Pata Yamaha’s Toprak Razgatlioglu hopes that Donington Park lives up to be the happy hunting ground of years gone by. Along with San Juan, the Derby venue is one of just two circuits where Razgatlioglu has taken a podium at least once every year he’s raced there. In 2018, he took a first rostrum whilst in 2019, he battled for victory in race two with Jonathan Rea. The Turk’s opening lap of race one in 2021, however, will go down as one of WorldSBK’s finest moments as he cruised to two wins and the championship lead. Does more success await? Teammate Andrea Locatelli will aim to consolidate his top five placing with a strong ride this weekend, where he had a best of ninth in the Superpole race.

In what has been a very strong opening four rounds, a challenge lies ahead for Team HRC’s Iker Lecuona. The Spanish rookie has never raced at Donington Park and only completed a track day at the circuit prior to the round. One of just two riders to finish every race – the other being compatriot Bautista – Lecuona is nine points from Locatelli in the battle for fourth.

Honda only has one round of experience with their current bike at Donington Park, with a best of fourth thanks to Leon Haslam in the last season’s Superpole Race, but they’ll hope a pre-round test at Misano can give them a boost going to the UK. Hoping to be fighting fit, Xavi Vierge will also have to get his head around the quirky circuit layout during the round.

Scott Redding has also enjoyed a Donington track day in between rounds with the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team. One of Redding’s career highlights came at the British circuit back in 2008, when he became the then-youngest Grand Prix winner in the 125cc World Championship Grand Prix, aged just 15. Since then, wins in BSB but no podiums in WorldSBK have come at the circuit, with a best of fourth in race two last year. Ilya Mikhalchik will once again be present in the place of double Donington Park winner Michael van der Mark who is still recovering from injury; the Ukrainian has scored points in WorldSSP and STK1000 at Donington Park before.

The Independent battle is led by Motocorsa’s Axel Bassani. Donington Park has historically been a tricky circuit for him, despite being top Ducati in race one last year. Eighth overall and just seven points behind Lowes, he’s 23 ahead of Bonovo Action BMW’s Loris Baz, who aims to return to the top six at a track he knows well, having fought for victory in 2014.

11 points further back is GYTR GRT Yamaha’s Garrett Gerloff who returns to the scene of his last WorldSBK podium,12 months ago, when he was second in race two. Philipp Oettl (Team Goeleven) will race at Donington Park for the first time, whilst Eugene Laverty (Bonovo Action BMW) has a podium to his name at his home track; both complete the top five in the Independent standings.

Yamaha Motoxracing’s Roberto Tamburini is next up in 15th place overall, with the Italian just marginally ahead of Sammarinese rider Luca Bernardi on the Barni Spark Ducati, who’s made steps of late. Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) will hope to be passed fit after being ruled out of Misano, whilst Kohta Nozane (GYTR GRT Yamaha) makes a racing debut at the track he missed through injury in 2021. Christophe Ponsson (Gil Motor Sport-Yamaha), like Mahias, hopes to be fit after being ruled out in Italy, whilst the target for MIE Racing Honda Team duo Leandro Mercado and Hafizh Syahrin is points. Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) is another rider hoping to be passed fit, whilst home-hero Leon Haslam returns with the TPR Team Pedercini Racing Kawasaki outfit.

Two wildcards to keep an eye on: the long-awaited debut of reigning BSB Champion Tarran Mackenzie on the McAMS Yamaha and the return of FHO Racing’s Peter Hickman on a BMW M1000RR.