Photography by Gold & Goose
MONTEREY, CA, JULY 13 – Pre-race this was supposed to be Tom Sykes vs. Sylvain Guintoli vs. Chaz Davies. After all, those three had dominated the proceedings heading into the first of two World Superbike races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Apparently, Marco Melandri didn’t get that memo.
Melandri and his Aprilia stormed off the start from the second row, followed Sykes for half a lap (until the Brit had a moment in the Corkscrew and dropped from first to third), and then led the rest of the way. Easy peasy.
Well, not entirely. Melandri was hounded for 15 of the 25 laps by his factory Aprilia teammate Sylvain Guintoli, with Sykes with the pair early on until losing touch on the 11th lap. On the 16th lap, Melandri led by over a second for the first time and he continued to pump out quick lap times. When he threw down two laps in the 1:23s on the 18th and 19th lap, he was free. At the finish, he slowed to salute his crew on the run to the flag and ended up winning by .905 of a second after leading the final lap by 2.6 seconds.
“That’s a first time for me,” Melandri said of leading every lap. “As always I struggle a lot with qualifying tire so second row for me was okay. I had an awesome start today and was second in the first corner and I was trying to follow Tom [Sykes] because normally he try to pull away in the beginning. Luckily he made a mistake and I went a bit too wide also in the Corkscrew, but not like him so I could pass him. At the beginning I felt I was not too fast because my lap time was not as fast as I expect. But in the middle of the race, I didn’t drop down three of four laps I could start to breath a little bit. I hope to get a good start again in race two and do my best. It would be a dream to get a double here in a America because it is a great country.”
Guintoli was second, gaining some points on championship leader Sykes, but not enough to cause the Brit to sweat. Sykes leads Guintoli, 300-261, heading into this afternoon’s second race here on the Monterey Peninsula.
Sykes ended up a lonely third, 6.6 seconds behind the celebrating Melandri and a similar distance ahead of Ducati’s Davide Guigliano, the Italian barely besting the Red Devils Roma Aprilia of Toni Elias with the Spaniard passing him in turn 11 on the final lap only to run wide and lose the spot.
Behind those two came Pata Honda’s Jonathan Rea, some three seconds ahead of his teammate Leon Haslam. Rea was forced to make up ground after an off-track excursion in turn three on the sixth lap cost him spots.
Voltcom Crescent Suzuki’s Alex Lowes ended up eighth after a high-speed crash in morning warm-up. Lowe’s teammate Eugene Laverty failed to finish after also running off track in turn two on the eighth lap.
Loris Baz finished a lowly ninth on the second factory Kawasaki, the lanky Spaniard still coming to grips with the track in his debut at Laguna Seca. David Salom rounded out the top 10 on his EVO class Kawasaki.
The top American finisher was EBR’s Geoff May in 19th place – the last rider to escape being lapped by Melandri. GEICO Honda’s Chris Ulrich finished a lap behind in 20th while Larry Pegram and Aaron Yates failed to finish on their EBRs.
Ducati’s Davies, one of the pre-race favorites heading into the race after qualifying third, had a bad crash on the second lap while running fourth, the Welshman highsiding in turn six. He managed to gingerly walk away from the incident.
World Superbike Race One
1. Marco Melandri (Aprilia)
2. Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia)
3. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki)
4. Davide Giugliano (Ducati)
5. Toni Elias (Aprilia)
6. Jonathan Rea (Honda)
7. Leon Haslam (Honda)
8. Alex Lowes (Suzuki)
9. Loris Baz (Kawasaki)
10. David Salom (Kawasaki)