Doha, Qatar – The final round of the World Superbike series, under floodlights at the Losail International circuit had it all: elbow-bashing racing, incredibly close finishes, a fiery inferno and a superb gesture of team spirit by the newly-crowned 2016 World Superbike champion.
Ducati Team’s Welsh wizard, Chaz Davies, dominated both Superbike races, but it was Jonathan Rea who clinched the championship in Race 1 by finishing second while Kawasaki team-mate and title rival Tom Sykes could manage no better than fourth despite a late charge. Jonathan Rea now joins the ranks Carl Fogarty, Fred Merkel and Doug Polen as one of only four riders to have successfully defended a World Superbike title.
Davies got off to a flying start, leading into the first corner with Nicky Hayden (Honda) outbraking Rea into Turn 1 for second. Rea was quick to fight back and retook second, with his sights set on Davies.
Sykes didn’t get a great start, after an uncharacteristically bad qualifying in fifth saw him only make up one place at the beginning of the race.
By lap three Sykes had been relegated to fifth by Sylvain Guintoli (Yamaha) and dropped back to fifth, his title chances melting away. Guintoli’s newfound pace didn’t falter as he pushed ahead to hunt down Hayden; by lap eight he was third, settling in for Yamaha’s maiden podium finish.
Sykes found pace a little too late in the race, overtaking the Kentucky Kid in the closing laps to take fourth, with Hayden fifth. Ducati privateer Xavi Fores finished sixth, ahead of Alex Lowes (Yamaha), Jordi Torres (BMW) andd Michael van der Mark (Honda) with Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia) completing the top 10.
The final race of the series had it all, with Ducati dominating proceedings, a Kawasaki flaming inferno and an admirable show of team spirit by the current World Champion, as Davies shattered the competition from beginning to end, even after the race was restarted.
Rea and Davies dragged each other off the start into the first corner, fighting for the lead. Davies got ahead but Rea was quick to retake control at the front.
Savadori and Lowes ran wide into the first corner together, while Hayden had to start the race from the pit lane after an early evening engine change exceeded his season’s allocation.
Entering the first corner of the second lap, Rea ran off the track and Davies dived through into the lead, lapping faster than anybody out there. Rea rejoined in 13th, and immediately set about charging back to the front.
Sykes then made a dash to catch Guintoli, who’d been promoted to second by Rea’s off –track excursion after Rea ran off.
Leon Haslam (Kawasaki) had moved up from 16th on the grid to fifth when his Pedercini team-mate Saeed Al Sulaiti’s ZX-10R caught fir, and the race was red-flagged while marshals cleaned up oil spilled from Al Sulaiti’s bike.
After fifteen minutes, the race restarted for a ten-lap dash to decide the final victor of 2016. Davies and Sykes shot to the front maintaining their first and second positions, while Rea set a new lap record in his charge to the front.
Before long the Kawasaki Team riders were battling for second, pushing and passing each other at every opportunity until, on the final lap, Rea showed real team spirit, slowing right down to let Sykes- who had fallen three seconds behind- catch up and take second, thus securing second overall in the championship.
Guintoli brought his Yamaha home fourth ahead of Haslam, Torres, Hayden and Raffaele De Rosa (BMW) with Lowes rounding out the top 10.
The final World SuperSport race of the season was an edge-of-the-seat thriller that saw Kyle Smith (Honda) come out victorious over world champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) by just six thousandths of a second. Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta) finished third to secure second place in the world championship.
Pole-sitter Luke Stapleford (Triumph) and Sofuoglu took off side by side at lights out, but got caught up in the first corner as Alex Baldolini (Mv Agusta) shot away at the front.
Randy Krummenacher (Kawasaki) and Cluzel moved up to battle for second and were quickly joined by Smith, who had worked his way up from fifth on the grid, as they crossed the line together into the second lap. Smith had the quicker pace and by the end of the lap had overtaken Baldolini and begun to pull away.
Cluzel was able to maintain his pace in second but Krummenacher couldn’t and began to fall back through the order, fighting for fourth with PJ Jacobsen (Honda).
Sofuoglu, down in fifth, was briefly balked by other riders but it didn’t take him long to begin his charge to the front.
With three laps to go, the Turkish rider hunted down Smith who was over a second in front. Smith didn’t let the Kawasaki rider get away and retook his lead with two laps to go, initiating the beginning of an epic shootout for the win as the lead alternated. Both riders crossed the line side by side with Smith taking the win by just 0.006s.
Jacobsen won the battle with Krummenacher for fourth, while the Swiss rider took fifth in the race and third overall in the championship. Ayrton Badovini (Honda) finished sixth, ahead of Zulfahmi Khairuddin (Kawasaki), Honda’s Christoffer Bergman and Massimo Roccoli (MV Agusta), while Baldolini rounded out the top 10.