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#ImolaWorldSBK Preview: Fortune Favours the Brave

Imola WSBK_042516

Italy is a country steeped in both motorsport history and modern glory, with a passion for motorcycling on another level to many other nations. Two wheeled heroes and motorcycle manufacturers from one of the cultural capitals of Europe make up a gallery that tells its own story, and the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari is a showpiece that crowns the exhibit.

Imola. The word is enough, for most, to conjure a photo album of people, places, moments and memories. Snaking around the Parco delle Acque Minerali, the mythical ribbon of tarmac kisses the Santerno river on the right at Tamburello before curving around Tosa as the echoes of the Ayrton Senna grandstand fade into the peace of the park; the undulating layout lined by trees on the ride home round Rivazza. The secrets of Imola are revealed only to the brave.

Jonathan Rea is the most successful rider at Imola, alongside Carlos Checa, and arrives in Emilia-Romagna as a fan of the track and the winner of the last four races held at the circuit. As the only rider in 2016 to have been on the podium in every race, the reigning Champion comes from a double win at Assen to take on the track on which he first won in 2011, before he was the benchmark. No one would bet against a strong Rea, least of all the men who are trying to figure out how to beat him.

Tom Sykes shares the record for most podiums at Imola with Noriyuki Haga, however. On a track that separates those who dare from those who fear, Sykes is a consistently frontrunning challenger at the Italian track and is the only rider to have started from pole more than once: three times. With good form in 2016, the number 66 Kawasaki is sure to put up a fight.

The Ducati factory in Borgo Panigale is the closest to Imola, and the Italian manufacturer from just outside Bologna will want to put on a good show so close to home, and on the 90th Anniversary of the marque. Chaz Davies pulled out a bigger gap in his battle with Tom Sykes to take P2 in the Championship standings after the Yorkshireman failed to score in Race 1 at Assen, and Davies professes to be happy with the bike and with the base setup the Italian squad have found. The bike is certainly closing in on being a favourite for race wins every Round and updates such as the new exhaust rolled out at the start of the European season have proved successful. After not finishing either race in 2015 however, Davies will want to turn back the clock a year further to when he was on the podium twice as he tries to gain some momentum in his title bid. Last season, Imola also saw the return of second rider Davide Giugliano, as the Italian came back from a difficult period of injury following a crash in pre-season. The Ducati rider came back in style, too, and started from pole despite still struggling with fitness. With home motivation for both Davies and Giugliano, they will equally be strong competitors.

After the double podium joy for Honda at the TT Circuit Assen, where Nicky Hayden took his first podium in WorldSBK, the strong line up of the 2006 MotoGP World Champion and the 2014 WorldSSP Champion face down a different challenge in Imola. Hayden, a veteran of Assen, has never raced at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari and van der Mark, now a consistent podium challenger, had a difficult rookie weekend at the track last season. The Honda, however, took pole, fastest laps and the double win in 2014, and development has seen the bike keep improving. There is no doubt that both riders are also keen to keep improving and learning, with their sights set further than only getting on the podium.

Aprilia and MV Agusta both scored their best results of the season so far last time out at Assen, with rookie Lorenzo Savadori taking a career best P4 in Race 2 for the Noale factory, 24 hours after Leon Camier brought the MV Agusta 1000 F4 home in the same position in Race 1. Aprilia lost out on the skills of Alex de Angelis at the Dutch track too, as the San Marinese rider suffered an injury to his hand but is hoping to be back at his closest track to home. Imola will see both Aprilia and MV Agusta put everything into some more big hauls of points.

Yamaha, with the new YZF R1, will be keen to find out where they lie in the shuffled pack at the Italian track. With Lowes and Guintoli well knowing how to score points at Imola, the race will be on to keep the Japanese factory’s roll of front row starts going. Milwaukee BMW, with Josh Brookes having appeared at the track once paired with Imola novice Karel Abraham, will want to quickly unlock the potential of their S1000RR around the 4.936km circuit, and Althea BMW will have the added incentive of racing at home. Both Althea riders have participated in previous race weekends at Imola, with Reiterberger taking two top six finishes in STK1000 and Torres taking his first WorldSBK podium in his rookie year. In addition, Pedercini rider Sylvain Barrier is hoping to race at Imola after being sidelined following a crash in Aragon, with the Frenchman wanting to get back on the bike as quickly as possible and race in his team’s home race.

At Imola, fortune favours the brave. WorldSBK will be back at the Italian track from the 29th April to the 1st May, to let loose the best production motorcycle racing Championship in the World. Make sure you catch every second on, and follow @WorldSBK on social media to keep ahead of the apex.