Round 2: ThaiWorldSBK: Chance For Change in Chang?A few hours North-East of the capital city of Bangkok, Chang International Circuit in Buriram is the newest venue on the World Superbike calendar. The world-class track first hosted the WorldSBK paddock in 2015; the inaugural event in the partnership seeing eventual Champion Jonathan Rea take his first double win of the season on his way to the 2016 crown.
Last time out in Phillip Island, the first Round of the season saw reigning Rea come out on top in two incredible last lap battles, the first of which saw the Kawasaki rider take victory in the final corner. As WorldSBK heads to Thailand, the question will undoubtedly be asked as to how to depose Rea in Buriram. Untouchably at home on the new track last year, Rea will be looking to roll his momentum through to Thailand as those who wish to depose him start to plan their assault.
With a full 50 points from two races, Rea will surely be happy with his start to the year. Taking a perfect double and seeing his biggest rival from last season fail to score in Race 2 in Phillip Island means the Northern Irishman has reason to breathe easier. But with the chasing pack not so far away, Rea will not be looking to be complacent.
Honda rider Michael Van Der Mark is the first challenger as it stands after Phillip Island. The ex-rookie, who already had 3 podiums from his maiden season under his belt and further added to his tally in both races in Australia, sits 14 points behind Rea on 36, and led laps on the Island in a great display of his intentions in 2016.
After the Flying Dutchman come the Ducati duo of Davies and Giugliano, with the Italian Ducati rider never having ridden at Chang due to missing the Round through injury last year. Davies, who crashed out in Thailand in 2015, has nevertheless shown good pace in Buriram and counts on a further-improved Panigale R with which to take on Rea’s ominous Thai form. After a crash on the final lap of Race 2 in Australia, Davies will want to start chipping into the Northern Irishman’s early lead.
Then there’s the trio of Champions: 2014 WorldSBK Champion Sylvain Guintoli will be looking to build on a positive first race weekend of the season, and 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden will be counting on making another step forward after an Australian Round of quick adjustments and learning, his improvement from Saturday to Sunday at Phillip Island showing just what can be achieved overnight. And Tom Sykes, 2013 WorldSBK Champion and Jonathan Rea’s Kawasaki teammate, now leaves a track that doesn’t suit him to make a fresh start to the season on the more standard layout of Chang International Circuit. Fastest in much of testing, Sykes’ Australia was neither his full hand nor the ace up his sleeve.
By topping Friday in Phillip Island, the new Yamaha YZF R1 joined the paddock with a bang in Australia, but the bike is as yet not quite ready to dominate the Championship as is surely the intention of the returning Japanese manufacturer. With updates and modifications already coming, it looks set to progress quickly and take on the podium finishers of Kawasaki, Ducati and Honda. The new Kawasaki Ninja looks able to fight for the crown this year once again and the Panigale R is now a proven race winner, only losing out on adding to its tally of victories in Australia on the final corner of Race 1 and the last lap of Race 2, and the Honda similarly achieved two podiums in its first two outings this year.
After Free Practice on Friday decides entry to Tissot-Superpole 2 the following day, the lights will go out for Race 1 at 4pm local time (9am GMT) on Saturday before Race 2 gets underway 24 hours later.