Imola 2019 in WorldSBK at the Tissot Sprint Race recorded by us in the Curva Tosa – just passed Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki ZX-10RR) from previous leader Chaz Davies (Ducati). Behind him his teammate Alvaro Bautista and Leon Haslam on the second factory Kawasaki, followed by Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark (both Yamaha).

Long overdue – further slight throttling of the Ducati

When Jonathan Rea dominated the WorldSBK on the Kawasaki ZX-10RR, the FIM stewards throttled his machine very early on. We remember one case when this happened in one step at about 500 rpm. This suddenly made the Northern Irishman and his teammate Tom Sykes a good deal less competitive, with Rea being stronger than everyone else in terms of driving at the time. On the Ducati Panigale V4R introduced in 2019, Alvaro Bautista won every race in which he finished in 2023 from the start of the season to Assen. Although he owed his superiority primarily to the drastic horsepower superiority of his Ducati, the FIM ordered a reduction in their maximum speed by a ridiculous 250 rpm at the time. The Spaniard continued to win the following three laps almost at will and now it was in front of Imola for the second alibi-like “mini-step” with another 250 rpm less. How absolutely ineffective this second intervention is was already shown in FP1 in Imola on Friday morning. No less than 4 Ducatis were among the 6 fastest and two of them were even driven by private pilots Panigale V4R.

Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki) photographed by us at the driver presentation in the paddock in 2019 – in contrast to 4 years ago, the best Superbike pilot of all time should have little to smile about this season. Due to the completely nonsensical scheduling of the seventh round in Imola in the middle of summer, the Northern Irishman only has a chance of winning in the sprint race on Sunday morning. As is so often the case, Bautista is the big favorite over the full distance in this sweltering heat, favored by its light weight and power-to-weight ratio.

Hardly any impact on the World Championship to be expected

On racetracks like Aragon, Portimão and San Juan (Argentina), this should hardly slow down the factory Ducati of the feather-light Bautista. The first reduction before Barcelona hit the Ducati private pilots in particular, which cannot be in the interest of the sport at all. Even though Kawasaki can increase the speed by another 250 rpm by redeeming so-called concession points, fans of Johnny Rea and Bautista’s opponents shouldn’t cheer too soon. The Spanish midget will continue to dominate on Ducati’s MotoGP Replica. Above all, the second title in a row can hardly be taken away from him anyway. Without introducing a minimum weight for driver and machine, the reigning world champion will continue to outperform his opponents in terms of acceleration and top speed. Actually, the manufacturers’ association had already decided on such a regulation, but the bosses of FIM and Dorna overturned it completely arbitrarily and absolutely dictatorially. Carmelo Ezpeleta as CEO of Dorna and Jorge Viegas as FIM President clearly want Ducati to continue to dominate. The fact that they are risking the exit of factories such as BMW, Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha with their behavior shows how little they care about the future of the WSBK.

Jonathan Rea 2011 with starting number 4 on Honda – this season the Northern Irishman won a race in Imola with race 1 for the first time in his long career more than today, will even use their increase in maximum speed, which is currently 500 rpm. Which means his team will wait another three laps before they have a faster bike.

A new face announced for 2024 – Sam Lowes

We owe it to the former beer baron Marc van der Straten that his team, one of the most successful Moto2 teams, will also compete in WorldSBK next season. This gives Sam Lowes, an absolute top pilot, the opportunity to compete on a Ducati Panigale V4R with his twin brother Alex on his Kawasaki ZX-10RR. As the 2013 WorldSSP 600 World Champion, Samuel Deane Lowes, as his full name is, is far from an unknown in the paddock. Despite the fact that he, like his brother Alex, is known as a so-called gravel bed expert thanks to his frequent falls, some of his future opponents will have to dress warmly. Thanks to van der Straten, who lives in Switzerland, that Sam’s dream is now coming true and that the WSBK is getting a new and strong team.

Sam Lowes in the Marc VDS Moto2 garage – with the Lincoln-born twin brother of Kawasaki factory rider Alex, WorldSBK gets another much-welcomed blood refresher. The fact that he can even switch to the prototype world championship with a team that is new to the Superbike World Championship and at the same time with people he is familiar with from Moto2 is an absolute stroke of luck for Sam and his fans.

Friday – the only day with moderate temperatures

The organizers as well as those responsible at Dorna and FIM do not seem to be entirely sane because of the setting of the date. Scheduling a World Championship race in Imola in the middle of summer is almost criminal. A few days after Friday, forecasts are close and even over 40 degrees Celsius for the small town in the Po Valley. In the knowledge that with Alvaro Bautista on the Ducati near the Italian plant, the world championship leader in particular is best able to cope with the horrendous heat, this apparently hardly bothered those responsible. Also the fact that not only the drivers and their team members but also the spectators have to endure this blistering heat. In any case, Friday was the only day with moderate temperatures and in the morning in the first free practice session it was only 28 degrees Celsius. The asphalt was already 42 degrees hot.

WorldSBK 2011 with “Pocket Rocket” Leon Haslam (BMW, No. 91) at Misano chasing Superbike icon and crowd favorite Noriyuki “Nitro Nori” Haga (Aprilia), the best WSBK rider who never became a World Champion in his career. Instead of the injured Michael van der Mark and replacement Tom Sykes, the Englishman will be back for BMW at Imola. Haslam is also currently competing in the British Championship (BSB) on an M-1000RR.

Many falls already on the first day

Especially on Friday afternoon there were several red flags and the second free practice session was interrupted. There were also numerous surprises at the end, most notably with US boy Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) in third fastest and Johnny Rea in just ninth best time ahead of Toprak Razgatlioglu, who even lost 0.788s to Ducati factory rider Michael Ruben Rinaldi’s best time. In addition to Philipp Oettl (GoEleven Ducati) in P13, Remy Gardner and his GTR Yamaha teammate Dominique Aegerter, who was only nineteenth, as well as the two HRC Honda factory riders Iker Lecuona with Px and Xavi Vierge as x-th, remained well below expectations. Unless there is a huge surprise on Saturday, Alvaro Bautista will again drive away from the competition in the sweltering heat of Emilia Romagna. With the exception of the sprint race on Sunday morning, a continuation of the WSBK boredom must also be expected for the other races.

Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) caused a moment of shock after colliding with teammate Loris Baz just after the start of FP2, followed by a first red flag stop. Luckily, the Texan, like the Frenchman, was uninjured. In the end, Gerloff even provided a surprising highlight for the blue and white with the third best time of the day.

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© WorldSBK).