WorldSBK Misano: Race preview

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Picture: GeeBee Images

Italian flair readies to host an unpredictable title fight, whilst home heroes look to take charge in WorldSBK at magical Misano.

The 2022 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship thunders into Italy for the fourth round of the season, the Pirelli Emilia-Romagna round at the Misano World Circuit “Marco Simoncelli”, a stone’s throw away from the picturesque Adriatic Sea.

Packed grandstands, a title fight as fierce as ever and a huge home contingency ready to put on a display, Misano is one of the most anticipated rounds on the calendar, with a special atmosphere always making a fever pitch feeling throughout the paddock. With the continuous fighting from the titanic trio but gains being made behind, Misano is ready to host yet another dramatic round, but who is going to come out on top?

Leading the championship into Ducati’s home event, Aruba.it’s Alvaro Bautista is sitting pretty with a 17-point lead over his nearest rival, Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea. After four wins so far in 2022 and never once finishing off the podium, Bautista heads to Misano where he won for Ducati back in 2019 and took a top six for Honda in 2021. He also took his first MotoGP podium at the circuit in 2012 after a last corner showdown with Andrea Dovizioso, whilst he has podiums and wins from his 250cc days too. Teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi always goes well at Misano and will be in the fight for victory, with the home-hero taking two wins last year as well as a second. Could the titanic trio about to become a fighting foursome?

With 17 points between him and the top of the standings, Rea is within striking distance of Bautista’s points lead, although Misano wasn’t the kindest to the Ulsterman in 2021. Three third places in 2021 and the start of front-end woes will hope to be a distant memory, as Rea aims for the top step at the track at which he won his first WorldSBK race at in 2009 and has gone on to win eight more. After winning two last lap fights at Estoril, Rea’s keen to continue fighting hard and taking victories in Italy. For KRT teammate Alex Lowes, Estoril was a solid round as he took a seventh, a sixth and a fourth - the fourth being his joint-best result of 2022. Three top six finishes at Misano in 2021 and two podiums for Yamaha before, can Lowes be a surprise?

Reigning World Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx) looked set for victory at Estoril but was beaten in two last lap fights: the first by the power of Bautista and Ducati in race one and then by his own front-end save on the final lap of the Superpole race. Still, the opening three rounds of the season all came at tracks where Toprak didn’t win at last year, whilst Misano was where it all began with victory in race two in 2021. Toprak’s always shone at the Italian venue, having been in a battle for victory with Rea back in 2019 and clinched the STK600 title at the track in 2015, but chases a first win of 2022 this weekend. Teammate Andrea Locatelli, is fourth in the standings with eight top five finishes and a podium. He only took three ninth places at Misano last year, whereas this season, he’ll have his sight on the podium on home soil.

It’s been a fantastic start to the season for Honda as Iker Lecuona and teammate Xavi Vierge battle hard on the edge of the podium places, now consolidating their top five running. Since Estoril, they’ve both been in Japan testing for August’s Suzuka 8 Hour with Team HRC boss Leon Camier in attendance, but now their mind will be focussed on WorldSBK. In contrast to Estoril, both riders have plenty of experience at Misano; Lecuona’s best MotoGP finish was 14th in 2020 and unfortunately, he’s not finished another race at the circuit since. For Vierge, he’s had four top ten finishes in Moto2 at the track, with a best of fourth also coming two years ago. Lecuona is one of just two riders to finish in the top ten in every race this year - the other is Bautista - whilst Vierge comes to Misano off the back of a career-best fifth in Estoril’s race one. Can Honda conquer in Italy?

There seemed to be a breakthrough last time out for BMW, with Scott Redding having a consistent ride to seventh in the opening race before a set-up change on Sunday cost the Brit what would’ve been a very strong weekend. Nonetheless, he took points in the last four races and heads to a circuit where he tested at with the factory outfit in preseason. Redding is definitely seeing some hard work pay off and hopes that continues for Misano, a track where he took a hat-trick of fourth place finishes in 2021 for Ducati. However, he’s historically been good at Misano, having taken a career-first MotoGP podium there in 2015, as well as a seventh in 2017. On the other side of the garage, with Michael van der Mark out through injury, Ukrainian super-sub Ilya Mikhalchik will be back, having scored a top ten at Aragon and fresh from his EWC success at Spa.

The battle of the Independents is fierce with Motocorsa’s Axel Bassani leading; he had a stellar Misano in 2021 when three top seven finishes, with a best of sixth, really put him in the spotlight. Five points further back is Loris Baz on the Bonovo Action BMW, who had a tricky Estoril which yielded just one top ten finish, whilst GYTR GRT Yamaha’s Garrett Gerloff is next up, although his Misano presence is to be confirmed after his Estoril FP3 crash which ruled him out with injury. GoEleven’s Philipp Oettl and Puccetti’s Lucas Mahias were both also declared unfit after crashes at Estoril, with Mahias still out and replaced by Tito Rabat this weekend. Bonovo’s Eugene Laverty sits 15th overall and the next Independent, chasing a top ten.

Round four will be as near to a home-round as it gets for Sammarinese star Luca Bernardi (Barni Racing), with the rookie one to watch, especially having scored points in three of the last four races. After missing Estoril, Roberto Tamburini hopes to be back on the Yamaha Motoxracing for his home round, whilst Christophe Ponsson (Gil Motor Sport-Yamaha) aims for a return to the points after missing out last time. Scoring his first points of the season in Portugal, Kohta Nozane (GYTR GRT Yamaha) aims for more this weekend, whilst Leandro Mercado (MIE Honda) hopes for a return to the top 15. Teammate Hafizh Syahrin continues his search for his first points, as does Oliver Konig (Orelac VerdNatura). One wildcard to note is Gabriele Ruiu (Bmax Racing), who makes his third appearance of 2022 while home-hero Alessandro Delbianco will make a return to WorldSBK for TPR Team Pedercini.