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#ESPWorldSBK: Purebred passion

If one were asked to briefly describe the city of Jerez, three concepts would immediately come to mind: horses, sherry, and two-wheel racing. Few places on Earth are more motorbike-crazy than this southern Spanish town, so with the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship making its way back to the Circuito de Jerez – Ángel Nieto after a one-year absence a passionate reception from the local fans is expected, in particular for one man. Álvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) heads into a home round for the second time this season as the man to beat – what has changed since then is that he is no longer unbeaten.

Imola, four weeks ago, was in many ways a throwback to the last few years of WorldSBK before the Spaniard flipped the script this season. The two men trading barbs at the top of the timesheets, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), have endured no shortage of frustrating moments so far this season after years upon years of one-upmanship – but the page may have turned at last. Rea showed imperious form around the sleek Italian track, winning both races, breaking the lap record in Race 1 and overcoming his previously invincible rival by a combined 14.6 seconds. The four-time champion has tasted blood for the first time this year and is all the more dangerous for it.

Meanwhile, anyone browsing through a stats sheet may be led to believe that Davies’ weekend was little better than the four prior, nine points a desperately low tally for one of Ducati’s favourite tracks. The Welshman has been at odds with the new V4 R since the start of the year, and while the battle in Italy was arguably lost, the war may have at last fallen in his favour. Only a mechanical failure and the cancellation of Race 2 kept Davies from taking a hat-trick of podiums at Imola, and perhaps even a first race win since April 2018. From Aragon last year to Jerez 2019, the drought will surely soon be behind him.

From the championship leader’s perspective, the Italian Round was more of an outlier than a change of fortunes. Imola is as old-school as they come: rough and testy for newcomers, a delight for the veterans; and while he fell into the former group in Italy – and still performed above expectations – Jerez is a completely different story. There may not be a track on the calendar where Bautista has ridden more miles or with a wider variety of bikes, even making his WorldSBK debut there back in November. More to the point, on his very first day onboard the V4 R he finished barely a couple of tenths of a second behind Rea. There will be no such warnings this weekend.

Another anomaly at Imola was the lack of YZF-R1s on the rostrum in both races. Illness and an unshackled Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) kept Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) off the podium, respectively; yet it still turned out to be the Japanese manufacturer’s best weekend at Imola in many years. A top-3 return could be on the cards for Jerez, even with the number of potential frontrunners increasing every round.

That leads us to perhaps the biggest story emerging from Team Blue this round: the long-awaited return of one of WorldSBK’s most beloved squads, Ten Kate Racing. The Dutch squad, world champions in both WorldSBK and WorldSSP alongside Honda, have partnered with Yamaha for this new chapter, recruiting Loris Baz for the ride. After last week’s soaked out Misano shakedown, the French racer and Ten Kate are ready to put their savoir-faire into action.

If race pace was the one factor taken into consideration to judge a rider’s merits, few were more brilliant in Italy than Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team). Yet wherever the Yorkshireman went misfortune followed, technical and tyre issues leading to a meagre return of two points over the weekend. Silver lining? The S1000 RR looks like a rocket in the making, particularly in his hands. A first podium cannot be too far off for the increasingly competitive BMW Motorrad project – but will it arrive in Jerez?

Elsewhere down the field, Yuki Takahashi replaces the injured Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Racing) to form an all-Japanese alliance with Ryuichi Kiyonari. Tommy Bridewell will once again be filling in for Eugene Laverty (Team Goeleven), after his outstanding, last-minute replacement job in Italy, while ‘Tati’ Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) is set to return from his scaphoid injury after a two-month absence.

The Acerbis Spanish Round kicks off at 10:30 local time (GMT+2) on Friday, June 7th with Free Practice 1, FP2 following at 15:00. The Tissot Superpole kicks off the action on Saturday 8th at 11:00, with lights out for Race 1 at 14:00; before a double serving of racing on Sunday 9th: the Tissot Superpole Race at 11:00 and Race 2 to close the weekend off at 14:00.