Photography by Gold & Goose
Marco Melandri scored his second victory of the season in World Superbike race one in Portimao, Portugal. It was decided by a hair over Sylvain Guintoli in the fourth closest finish in series history. Pole winner Tom Sykes was third, battling for the lead until the final couple of laps.
Series contender Eugene Laverty took a hit in the points when his Aprilia expired; while the second for Guintoli doubled his points lead on Sykes from four to eight.
After the race Melandri revealed none of the anger that seemed to propel him to the front after the aggressive pass by Sykes.
“When Tom passed me I went off (the track),” said Melandri, who gave BMW its first WSBK win at Portimao. “When he took the line I still wasn’t decided and I did not see him. When I came back I was without any plan, just do my best lap by lap, corner by corner to try to get to those guys in front of me. The last lap when I pass Sylvain, I knew he was going to try back because he was very consistently strong, but he passed me in a very difficult turn and he went wide. At the end I was struggling for the last corner, so it was scary for the straight, but fortunately I did my second win of the season and I just want to say thanks to my team, to BMW and my sponsors.”
At the start of race one Sykes led the pack into the first turn with Melandri and Laverty falling in line behind. On lap two Laverty probed the Melandri’s BMW in several places, taking second temporarily on the front straight, but being repassed by Sykes into turn one. Laverty finally found his way around Melandri on lap four and set off for Sykes. Like he had with Melandri, Laverty made several tests of Sykes, showing him a wheel here and there, before making a draft move on the front straight by the Kawasaki and made it stick to take over the lead.
Davide Giugliano crashed out of sixth place on lap six. Leon Haslam, making his second attempt to come back from a broken leg, ran in the top ten early, but pulled out of the race after nine laps.
Up front the top five riders Laverty, Sykes, Melandri Guintoli and Rea ran together.
There was no luck for the Irish in race one as Rea and Laverty both experienced mechanical DNFs. First on lap nine it was Rea dropping out of the lead group with an issue on his Honda. Three laps later Laverty’s Aprilia had a puff of smoke; he looked down and pulled off the track, parking the bike on a guardrail.
That left Melandri, Sykes and Guintoli batting for the lead, and battle it was.
On lap 17 Sykes drafted past Melandri into one, but then took a wide entry into the turn forcing Melandri wide and off the track. At first the Italian dropped off the lead pace of Sykes and Guintoli, but he rode with anger and rapidly caught back up.
There were no niceties on lap 19 when Guintoli got a great drive out of the last turn and drafted by Sykes, then Melandri stuck it on the inside of Sykes in a tight set of corners with no regard to take second.
In the closing laps it was a great dice between Guintoli and Melandri with Sykes seemingly conceding, possibly with tire issues.
“We struggled a little bit all race for traction,” explained Sykes, who scored his eighth consecutive podium. “It was a great race. Quite slow speed, but lots of overtaking. I enjoyed the race, but I felt we had some limitations. I feel we can put these right in race two hopefully.”
On the final lap Melandri blocked passed Guintoli into turn one. Guintoli got his Aprilia briefly back into the lead, but ran wide in turn five and that appeared to be the race. But coming back from what appeared to be too wide of a gap, Guintoli had the perfect drive out of the last turn and zipped right onto the rear wheel of Melandri and pulled out at the finish line, but came up just short.
“At the start I tried to save the tire a little bit,” Guintoli said. “In the end it was a really great battle with Tom and Marco. I was a bit disappointed for losing the win because it was so close. I feel like at this race I showed a different spirit than I did at the other races. I fought to the end, I made some mistakes when I tried to pass, but I came back strong in the last corner. I’m happy overall, just a shame for the victory. It was very entertaining and we’ve just got to carry on.”
The gap of 0.007 was the fourth closest finish in World Superbike history.
Sykes was four seconds back from the leaders. Leon Camier turned in one of his better performances taking a lonely fourth on the Crescent Suzuki. The second factory Kawasaki of Loris Baz rounded out the top five, followed by former AMA road racer Chaz Davies in sixth on his BMW.
Portimao – FIM Superbike World Championship – Race 1
1. Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBK) BMW S1000 RR 38’12.447
2. Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia Racing Team) Aprilia RSV4 Factory 38’12.454
3. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) Kawasaki ZX-10R 38’16.671
4. Leon Camier (Fixi Crescent Suzuki) Suzuki GSX-R1000 38’21.926
5. Loris Baz (Kawasaki Racing Team) Kawasaki ZX-10R 38’24.504
6. Chaz Davies (BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBK) BMW S1000 RR 38’29.057
7. Michel Fabrizio (Red Devils Roma) Aprilia RSV4 Factory 38’33.797
8. Jules Cluzel (Fixi Crescent Suzuki) Suzuki GSX-R1000 38’34.784
9. Carlos Checa (Team Ducati Alstare) Ducati 1199 Panigale R 38’36.109
10. Federico Sandi (Team Pedercini) Kawasaki ZX-10R 39’39.442
11. Vittorio Iannuzzo (Grillini Dentalmatic SBK) BMW S1000 RR 39’39.566
12. Ivan Clementi (HTM Racing) BMW S1000 RR 39’41.543
13. Max Neukirchner (MR-Racing) Ducati 1199 Panigale R 38’36.153
RT. Ayrton Badovini (Team Ducati Alstare) Ducati 1199 Panigale R 33’35.596
RT. Eugene Laverty (Aprilia Racing Team) Aprilia RSV4 Factory 19’02.014
RT. Leon Haslam (Pata Honda World Superbike) Honda CBR1000RR 16’03.234
RT. Jonathan Rea (Pata Honda World Superbike) Honda CBR1000RR 13’51.476
RT. Alexander Lundh (Team Pedercini) Kawasaki ZX-10R 10’48.699
RT. Davide Giugliano (Althea Racing) Aprilia RSV4 Factory 8’43.052