Brno, Czech Republic – The last time World Superbike racing came to Brno, Jonathan Rea was a promising 25-year-old with 10 race wins to his name. Six years later, already a triple world champion, he led a perfect Race 1 to take his sixth victory of the 2018 season and become the most successful rider in World Superbike history with 60 race wins, one more than the legendary Carl Fogarty.
And in Race 2 another personal milestone was reached as Alex Lowes beat factory Yamaha team-mate Michael van der Mark to post his first ever World Superbike race win, at the same circuit where he made his series debut in 2011.
The South African contingent had mixed fortunes at the Autodrom Brno; Sheridan Morais crashed out of seventh on lap six of the World Supersport race while Dorren Loureiro, Dino Iozzo and Sam Lochoff were classified 12th, 17th and 27th in a shortened Supersport 300 race.
Rea blitzed Superpole winner, Kawasaki factory team-mate Tom Sykes, to grab the hole shot but crashes for Jordi Torres (MV Agusta) on lap one and Junior Ducati Team rider Michael Ruben Rinaldi a lap later, brought out the red flags.
The second started was short-circuited by technical issues on the grid but, when the race (now reduced to 16 laps) finally got going properly, normal service was soon resumed as Sykes held his team-mate off at Turn 1, only for Rea to go to the front a couple of turns later. The defending world champion then up and ducked; the only rider lapping consistently under two minutes, he came home unchallenged to take his milestone 60th race win by an emphatic 5.381 seconds.
Sykes, meanwhile, was too busy fending off challenges from Ducati Team’s Marco Melandri and the factory Yamahas of Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark to chase after him. Melandri finally got the best of Sykes on lap four to finish second – his best result since Round 1. It was Melandri’s fifth World Superbike podium at Brno, and a great comeback after a disastrous Donington weekend. Sykes crossed the line third, two seconds further down.
The two Yamaha riders – who sometimes seem more intent on racing each other than their rivals – were next, with Van der Mark beating Lowes to fourth by little more than a second, while Eugene Laverty got the best of a three-way fight for sixth with Aprilia team-mate Lorenzo Savadori and Ducati Team leader Chaz Davies, who struggled home eighth. Honda’s Leon Camier, still not fully recovered from injury, acquitted himself well with a gritty ride to ninth, ahead of Turkish Kawasaki rider Toprak Razgatlioglu, the first privateer home in 10th.
Lowes took his first World Superbike win after a wild and unpredictable race that saw championship leader Rea crash out early on and ended in a Yamaha 1-2 and a sixth different race winner after six rounds and 12 races so far this season.
Van der Mark held his team-mate through the first corners, but Lowes went down the inside into Turn 1 at the start of lap two, while Melandri sliced his way through the field from eighth on the grid to third by lap two and passed Van der Mark for second a few turns later.
Then came three dramatic twists as Rea went down at Turn 12, apparently after bumping into team-mate Sykes; he couldn’t make it back on track and retired for the first time in the 2018 season.
Melandri then passed Lowes for the race lead but almost immediately ran wide into the gravel; he stayed on but dropped to the back of the field, where he would salvage a solitary point for 15th – and then Sykes crashed out on lap six, making this the first race in four seasons that neither Kawasaki rider would finish.
Davies in third was unable to match the Yamaha pair’s pace, but this time, unlike when he led at Donington, Lowes’ R1 didn’t drop back in the final third. Lowes made his World Superbike debut at Brno in 2011; seven years later, he finally became a race winner there. Van der Mark’s 20 points for second moved him up to third in the championship ahead of Sykes, while Davies - an excellent third at Brno considering the issues that have plagued his weekend on the Panigale - cut Rea’s lead to 65 points.
Laverty was fourth, his best result of the season so far, with Aprilia team-mate Savadori fifth, while Rinaldi came up from 11th on the grid to post a career-best sixth in only his 10 World Superbike race, finishing ahead of Camier, Ducati privateer Xavi Fores, Razgatlioglu and another Kawasaki privateer, Ramon Ramos, who rounded off the top 10.
Yamaha rivals Jules Cluzel and Sandro Cortese amped up the series again at Brno, with Cluzel taking a 0.148 second victory to move just two points ahead in the standings.
Cluzel struck first, taking advantage of a slow start from Cortese to move into first by Turn 1, with Randy Krummenacher, also on an R6, slotting into second - a position he would lose to Cortese, however, by the end of the first lap, with MV Agusta veteran Raffaele De Rosa relegating him to fourth a few turns later. On lap four Cortese cut ahead of Cluzel at Turn 11, but the Frenchman shot back two corners later, the riders almost colliding in a flashback to Cortese’s winning move at Donington, while De Rosa’s MV Agusta slowly reeled them in.
By lap 10, Cluzel was under huge pressure in the lead, with Cortese less than a tenth behind, but the championship leader, even with better pace, couldn’t find his moment to attack - or chose not to. He finally made his move at Turn 3 on the last lap but ran wide, allowing Cluzel to push in around the outside of Turn 4 as they bumped elbows and fairings again - but Cluzel held on to take his third win of the season.
De Rosa dropped back in the final laps to finish 3.368s off the pace in third, with factory Yamaha rider Lucas Mahias setting the fastest lap of the race and passing Krummenacher at the end for fourth, while Cluzel’s team-mate Thomas Gradinger rounded off an excellent Sunday for the NRT team with his best result of the season so far in sixth.
Veteran Anthony West (Kawasaki) got the best of a frenetic midfield battle, edging out Kyle Smith (Honda) for seventh, while Eerneli Lahti (Suzuki) took his first top 10 finish in ninth, ahead of Luc Cresson (Yamaha)
WORLD SUPERSPORT 300
Pint-sized Indonesian teenager Galang Hendra Pratama (Yamaha) took his second career race win, flying away from pole at the start, with Dutch Kawasaki rider Walid Khan scoring a maiden podium finish and Borja Sánchez, also on a Kawasaki, third in a race that was cut short by a red flag.
Championship leader Ana Carrasco (Kawasaki) dived in front in Turn 1 but two corners later Hendra Pratama was back and making space between himself and the 37 strong pack – which turned into a classic Supersport 300 scuffle, with Carrasco defending second from attacks by Scott Deroue (Kawasaki) and a flying Maria Herrera (Yamaha), who came up from 17th on the grid to fight for a podium place.
Then Carrasco made a rare mistake; it cost her less than a second but dropped her back to 11th, with another four riders right on her tail. As everybody got ready for an explosive final two laps, suddenly it was all over as a backmarker’s crash left him and his bike lying on the circuit and the red flags came out.
With more than two thirds of race distance completed the result was called as at the end of lap seven, putting Hendra Pratama, Khana and Sanchez on the podium with KTM Fortron Junior rider Koen Meuffels fourth ahead of his senior team-mate Glenn van Straalen and the returning Nick Kalinin (Kawasaki). The red flag came at the worst moment possible for Carrasco, back in 11th and out of the top 10 for the first time in 2018, but she remained championship leader, 20 points ahead of Sanchez.
To give you some idea of how tight Supersport 300 racing actually is, De la Vega, in 14th position, finished lap seven almost exactly two seconds behind Khan in second.