2013 WSBK Portimao: Marco Melandri triumphs in race 1, Eugene Laverty dominates race 2
The spectacular Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portugal, with its fast and blind corners and roller coaster elevations hosted the sixth round of the 2013 World Superbike championship this past weekend, that saw two different winners stand on the top step of the two podiums.
Saturday’s Superpole saw Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes score his fifth consecutive pole position and break another lap record and edging out Aprilia's Eugene Laverty by 0.001s!
The two riders along with outsider Jonathan Rea, were highly tipped for a victory, but as usual fate and the complex technical circuit had another thing in store, as luck, mechanical issues and tires ended up playing important part in changing the final results.
Sykes arrived in Portugal on high, brimming with confidence after taking a stunning and dominate double victory at Donington Park just two weeks before, and after heading the Portimão timesheets in two free practices and during the warm-up session.
In race one the Kawasaki rider lined up in pole postion and when the lights went off took the holeshot, with Laverty, Marco Melandri ,Sylvain Guintoli and Rea on his tail.
For almost seven laps it looked like the Kawasaki rider was tatically controlling the race pace and saving his tires, as Melandri, Guintoli and Rea trailed further back, but Laverty running in a close second, upped his pace and overtook Sykes on lap seven and took the lead.
The lead group dropped to four riders, when Rea slowed and then pulled out with mechanical issues on lap nine, and then disaster struck Laverty just three laps later, as white smoke began billowing out of his Aprilia RSV4 along the home straight, forcing him to retire.
With Laverty out of contention, Melandri would leap from third to first at the expense of Sykes, with Guintoli - after his team mate’s incident - chipping away at the almost three second gap that separated him from the front runners.
On lap 17 of 22 lapper, Sykes made his move and forcibly dived down the inside of Melandri, running the Italian wide, who was forced to ease off on the brakes, sit up and run into the gravel pit, leaving the door open for a hard charging Guintoli.
Melandri suddenly found himself in third and almost two seconds adrift from Sykes and Guintoli, but just two laps later he was back on the tail of his rivals, as the Kawasaki rider began to lose speed which Guintoli immediately took advantage of, as did Melandri just a few corners later.
Guintoli and Melandri would swap the lead on lap 20, but at the end of penultimate lap, Melandri overtook the Aprilia rider, who tried to respond, only to run wide and let his rival through again.
In the last corner Guintoli was back on Melandri’s tail and with a strong drive tried to slipstream him on the straight, but the Frenchman fell short by just 0.007 seconds at the wire, and gave the BMW rider his second victory of the season, with Sykes occupying the third spot.
Race 2 was a completely different story and much less exciting, even if it was also packed with misfortune and drama.
Eugene Laverty bounced back after his disappointment in race one to take a completely dominant victory, - his fourth of the season – and race uncontested from lights-to-flag, after his key rivals suffered several mishaps.
Sykes bad luck started at turn one on the sighting lap, before the riders even lined up on the grid.
The Kawasaki rider crashed out after hitting a kerb, banging up his machine. His crew made a heroic attempt in repairing the damage, but Sykes was forced to start from the pit lane and 10 seconds after the rest of the field.
He’d would later return to his pit twice with issues, before re-joining seven laps down but he would then go on to break the lap record while passing several riders, but he wasn't classified because he needed to complete 75% of the race distance.
Race 1 winner Marco Melandri received what could only be called a faulty tire, and from the second lap onwards the Italian who was then running in third, began struggling and fading, picked off like a wounded animal by nine riders to finish in a lowly twelfth.
Jonathan Rea took a third place podium, but he had to concede the second spot to Sylvain Guintolion lap 16, after his tires started to go off, and his electronics kicked cutting into his power, and slowing him down, but still comfortably safe from the rest of the field.
While two other riders notched up victories, Aprilia’s Sylvain Guintoli - who has only one race win so far this season - has been highly consistent since the start of the championship, as he gained another forty points this weekend and further stretch his lead in the standings.