Imola, Italy – Jonathan Rea pulled off a superb World Superbike double in Round 4 of the World Superbike series, his first for four years, in a superb weekend for the Pata Honda team that saw Rea win Superpole on Saturday and lead every lap of both races on Sunday to take the championship lead, while rookie Lorenzo Zanetti and Assen winner Michael van der Mark delivered a 1-2 in the World Supersport race.
Meanwhile Sheridan Morais and David ‘McFlash’ McFadden (each on a Kawasaki) kept the South African flag flying with a hard-fought 17th overall, and seventh in the Evo Class, in Race 1 for Morais (although he ran into the gravel and was later forced to retire from Race 2) while McFadden put in a superb ride to seventh in Superstock 1000.
Superpole winner Rea took the lead right from the start, with the works Aprilias of Marco Melandri and Sylvain Guintoli in hot pursuit. At the end of lap one, however, factory Ducati rider Chaz Davies moved up to second and the two British riders set a pace nobody else could match – although a number of leading riders ran off the circuit trying!
By half distance Rea had moved clear of the chasing pack with a lead of almost two seconds. Behind him there was a four-way battle for second between Davies, reigning champion Tom Sykes (Kawasaki), Guintoli – who’d worked hard to get back on terms after an off-track excursion at the chicane on lap two - Loris Baz on the second works Kawasaki and Davies’ team-mate, local hero Davide Giugliano.
Sadly, Giugliano slid out of contention on lap 12, clearly annoyed after the front end of his Ducati went away from him.
But after 19 action-packed laps it was Rea who took his second consecutive race win (he won Race 2 at Assen on 26 April) ahead of Davies and Sykes.
Leon Camier’s BMW was the first Evo bike home, in 11th overall and comfortably ahead of David Salom and Luca Scassa, each on a Kawasaki.
Rea grabbed the hole shot again but, unlike Race 1, Guintoli and Giugliano - who also started from the front row - made equally impressive starts to ensure that they were in contention from the beginning.
The Race 2 pace was a lot faster than in the earlier encounter as Rea circulated at close to record pace from first flying lap.
Sykes started slowly but was soon up to fourth after displacing Melandri, who in turn had moved ahead of Race 1 podium finisher Davies.
As the race progressed Rea pulled out a lead of more than five seconds but behind him there was an intense four-way fight for second that went all the way to the line between Davies, Guintoli, Baz and Sykes, who finished in that order within 3.052 seconds.
But it was Rea all the way as the Honda rider took a monumental double win – and his third consecutive World Superbike race win, ahead of Davies, who hung on for his second podium of the day, and Guintoli, who fought hard to finish third.
It was Rea’s 13th World Superbike race win and his first double since Assen in 2010, and took the Honda rider to the top of the championship standings for the first time.
Giugliano put the disappointment of his Race 1 crash behind him with a solid sixth, but Niccolo Canepa (Ducati) picked up a mechanical gremlin in the closing laps when it looked certain he was heading for Evo honours, handing the second-tier accolade to Camier on the BMW for the second time on the day.
Lorenzo Zanetti’s first race win at world championship level – in front of his home crowd! - came after 17 thrilling laps, as the local youngster kept early leader, former champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) under constant pressure until the ZX-6R expired with just four laps to go.
After that is was all over bar the cheering as Zanetti - racing with a new helmet design in memory of the late Ayrton Senna - cruised home to a two-second win from team-mate Michael van der Mark and Kawasaki privateer Florian Marino.
Pole-sitter Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta) lost any hope of a podium finish after going farming twice – once on lap six and again on lap eight, and straggled home 15th.
Marino’s team-mate, American PJ Jacobsen, and veteran Roberto Rolfo (Kawasaki) were next home with Italian Fabio Menghi (Yamaha) making a late surge to claim sixth at the flag.
MV Agusta privateer Alex Baldolini, in contrast, had a day at the office he would rather forget. Forced to start from the back of the grid after a technical problem prevented him from setting a time in qualifying, he crashed on the opening lap but kept the bike running and got back in the race, only to retire as a result of damage sustained in his tumble.
Ondrej Jezek (Ducati) took the first win of his career after a determined ride to fend off similarly-mounted Fabio Massei.
Kawasaki rider Lorenzo Savadori moved to the front at the end of the opening lap and built up a commanding lead, only to be sidelined when his ZX-10R went sick.
That left Jezek and Massei to fight it out to the line – they were only 1.394 seconds apart at the flag – with Leandro Mercado on another Ducati a lonely third, 10 seconds in arrears.
Savadori’s team-mate Romain Lanusse was an equally lonely fourth, ahead of an intense battle for fifth between Josh Day (Honda), Balazs Nemeth (Kawasaki) and Capetonian McFadden that saw them finish in that order within just over two seconds at the end of an exciting 14 lap race.