The thrill of Estoril: WorldSBK’s fierce tussle arrives in Portugal
The 2022 season readies for an intense third round as rivalries are set to reignite in the title fight
Dramatic from the start, talking points aplenty and one of the Championship’s fiercest rivalries, the 2022 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship’s opening two rounds have already seen plenty of action. It’s almost certain to continue as the Estoril Round from the Circuito Estoril in Portugal welcomes WorldSBK, the third round of a titanic season. Championship leader Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) leads the way with an 18-point lead over Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), whilst reigning Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) is 45 behind heading to a circuit where’s he’s the most successful out of anyone on the grid.
DUCATI IN CONTROL: Bautista heads the standings
It’s been a sublime return to Ducati so far for Bautista, with three victories going his way and yet to finish off the podium. At Assen, when Razgatlioglu and Rea crashed, he avoided the chaos and picked up the pieces, retaking the lead in the Championship with a gap of 18 points. However, Bautista arrives to Estoril, a circuit he has historically gone well at in the MotoGP™ World Championship paddock, on a Ducati for the first time. A blank canvas and no reference to 2019 may be useful as he has no comparison, but it may well take him longer to come to the fore compared to the others. Teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi chases a first podium of 2021, something he needs to assert himself as a contender early on in the year.
RAZGATLIOGLU VS REA: what can we expect in Estoril?
A mixed Motul Dutch Round sees Jonathan Rea eager to return to the top step at Estoril; two wins but a costly DNF at Assen mean he is in an unfamiliar position after two rounds. However, he was a double race winner at Estoril in 2021, notably coming from behind in Race 2. With gains in the braking areas made over winter, expect to see Rea right at the front once again at Estoril, as he goes in search of retaking the Championship lead. With his rivalry with Razgatlioglu at one of the hottest since it began, Estoril will showcase a true duel between them. Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) has only finished in three out of the six races at Estoril, with a best of fourth last year, as he aims for his first podium of the year and at the circuit.
Toprak Razgatlioglu’s start to 2022 hasn’t been quite the domination he ended 2021 with. The reigning World Champion is third in the standings and 45 points adrift of Championship leader Bautista, following his clash with Rea at Assen. However, the Turk didn’t start winning until round three last year at Misano, although he was never this far behind. Razgatlioglu is one of the favourites at Estoril, with two wins back in 2020 and a podium in all six of his starts, he’s the form rider at the track. A first win must come soon with a sizeable gap already. Teammate Andrea Locatelli heads to Estoril after a career-best second place at Assen in Race 2, and he’ll likewise have his eyes on the podium prize again in Portugal – an outside bet to bridge the gap to the titanic trio?
LECUONA FLIES HIGH FOR HONDA: a new challenge in Portugal
In one of the biggest success stories of the year so far, Spanish rookie Iker Lecuona (Team HRC) arrives to Estoril coming from his first podium in WorldSBK, with the 22-year-old taking third in Race 2 at Assen. Profiting from the clash in front but still with solid top five pace right from the green flag on Friday, Lecuona’s been a revelation. The last rookie to take his first two podiums with Honda in consecutive fashion was Michael van der Mark with third in both Assen races in 2015, a tough ask for Lecuona to repeat as he’s never been to Estoril. For teammate Xavi Vierge, he aims to be 100% fit after fractured ribs have kept him out of the top fight during the opening two rounds.
STEP BY STEP: BMW’s Assen gains bring hope for Estoril
In the BMW camp, a step was made last time out for Scott Redding (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team), as he took the manufacturer to the top five for the first time this season in Race 2. Redding was a race winner at Estoril last year aboard Ducati machinery and will hope that a more positive Assen carries momentum into Portugal for Round 3. On the other side of the garage, Michael van der Mark will be a fitter than he was at Assen, when he made his return after missing the opening round at Aragon due to a fractured leg. Van der Mark took a heroic eighth at Assen and was in the top six in Race 2 at Estoril last year. Could BMW’s season really kick into gear in Portugal?
BATTLE FOR INDEPENDENT SUPREMACY: Bassani and Baz lead the way
As for the Independents, Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) charge to the podium fight at Assen sees him lead the way in seventh overall on the combined standings. Two 11th place finishes at Estoril last year, he’s hoping to be inside the top ten; he’s only five points ahead of Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) in the standings. Baz was sixth twice at Assen and he’ll be keen to break into the top five for the first time this season. Next up, Garrett Gerloff (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), twice a podium finisher at Estoril in 2020 and a podium contender last year. He’ll be keen to return to the rostrum scrap again. Philipp Oettl (Team Goeleven) is next after his seventh place in Assen’s Race 1, whilst Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) follows, after his first top ten of the year.
Eugene Laverty (Bonovo Action BMW) hopes to be back to full fitness after missing Assen races after a Friday crash, whilst Roberto Tamburini (Motoxracing Yamaha WorldSBK Team) and Christophe Ponsson (Gil Motor Sport – Yamaha) both fly the Yamaha flag in their quest for a first top ten of the year. Luca Bernardi (BARNI Spark Racing Team) was back in the points at Assen and took his first World Championship podium at Estoril last year in WorldSSP, a happy hunting ground for the Sammarinese, whilst Argentine rider Leandro Mercado (MIE Racing Honda Team) aims for more points. Kohta Nozane (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), Hafizh Syahrin (MIE Racing Honda Team) and Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) all aim for first points of 2022. Nozane suffered a fifth metatarsal bone fracture on his right foot following a Lap 1-Turn 1 crash with Baz at Assen in Race 2. Isaac Viñales (TPR Team Pedercini Racing) will be aboard the Pedercini Kawasaki this weekend as he returns to WorldSBK.