History on Rea’s side as Imola loomsThe fifth event of the WorldSBK season takes the series to Imola for the Acerbis Italian Round. In the Province of Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region, the circuit named in honour of Enzo and Dino Ferrari has been on the World Superbike calendar since 2001, with the exceptions of 2007 and 2008 when the series raced at Vallelunga. The current 4.936km layout features 22 corners of which 13 are left-handers. The flowing nature of the layout, the many elevation changes and the lack of long straights make Imola one of the most demanding and technical tracks in the world.
Imola has hosted a total of 23 races to date, with only the second encounter of 2005 having been called off due to adverse conditions. Furthermore, since 2002, no less than seven events out of 11 have thrown up double victories; Colin Edwards did it first on the historic day when he beat Troy Bayliss to a second world title, whereas the latest was taken by current series leader Jonathan Rea in 2014.
Surely facts like this generate only further confidence for the Kawasaki Racing Team rider, who has already picked up two doubles since the start of 2015: Buriram and Assen. Having collected a massive 95% of the maximum championship points on offer so far this season, few would bet against the Northern Irish Kawasaki rider.
There could be a lot for the Italians to shout about this weekend. Aprilia has achieved no less than 11 podiums at the track and at least one of the marque’s bikes has always finished in the top five of every Imola race since the start of 2009. The manufacturer’s leading representative in the current standings is Leon Haslam, who is the closest challenger to Rea and took a victory in Australia, while rookie team-mate Jordi Torres is yet to finish lower than in sixth position every time he sees the chequered flag.
Perhaps the biggest stories will be the World Superbike comebacks of two famous names. Davide Giugliano finally returns, having been ruled out of action when he injured his back in a pre-season testing crash at Phillip Island. Since then, his Aruba.it Racing-Ducati SBK Team has returned to winning ways with Chaz Davies, who is third in the championship standings. Last year, Giugliano started on the front row at Imola, having finished on the podium after leading Race 1 in 2013. Elsewhere, Michel Fabrizio is also likely to boost attendance figures as he reappears on the grid, subbing for Nico Terol at the Althea Racing Team. The 30-year-old from Rome has been a regular on the grid since 2006 and will ride alongside fellow countryman Matteo Baiocco ahead of Terol’s suspected return at Donington Park. The grid’s other Italian is Ayrton Badovini, who believes his season ‘will begin’ at Imola, where in the Superstock 1000 class he won in 2010; this was his ninth victory out of ten races in what proved to be a truly dominant title-winning campaign.
Behind the championship top three of Rea, Haslam and Davies, 2013 title winner Tom Sykes is looking to get his championship fight back on track, having struggled with a major lack of rear-end traction last time out at Assen. Such struggles were not a problem for Pata Honda World Superbike Team’s Michael van der Mark, who made history by becoming the first Dutchman to clinch a World Superbike podium finish; he immediately doubled the tally by clinching another podium in Race 2. He now sits just five points in arrears of World Champion team-mate Sylvain Guintoli, while the championship top ten is completed by Barni Racing Team’s Leandro Mercado. At Voltcom Crescent Suzuki, Alex Lowes and Randy de Puniet move into their third round since switching to a Magneti Marelli electronics package. They will continue to juggle their race setup work with bike development, with the ongoing testing ban meaning the British-based team is having to use practice sessions to continue expanding its bike capabilities. Although it may be a steep mountain to climb, signs of progress were visible in The Netherlands two weekends ago, not least as Lowes qualified on the second row of the grid and went on to finish Race 2 in ninth place.
Several riders will reach landmark race start numbers in Italy. Ayrton Badovini will make his 130th World Superbike start in Race 2 and Davide Giugliano’s return will begin with his 80th race in the opening encounter. As for championship leader Jonathan Rea, Imola’s second race will see him become the 24th rider to start 150 races in WorldSBK’s premier class. He debuted on the Algarve in 2008; since then, Rea has amassed 21 race wins, 50 podium finishes, 13 Superpoles and 13 fastest laps. He also carries the sixth-largest lead after the opening eight races of a season in the series’ history, with a 50-point cushion over Haslam. Nine rounds and a maximum total of 450 points remain between now and the Qatar finale on 18 October...