Imola, Italy - Defending world champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki) humbled the Ducati Team riders on their home turf at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari di Imola with an emphatic double win.
His factory Kawasaki team-mate Tom Sykes was second in Race 1, while Ducati Team rider Marco Melandri salvaged some local pride with third. The locals did rather better in Race 2 with Ducati Team leader Chaz Davies splitting the Kawasakis in second, but it was nevertheless a weekend Ducatisti would rather forget.
Ana Carrasco, who turned 21 in March, the first woman to score points in Moto3 and the first ever to win a world championship race, added to her list of breakthroughs by becoming the first woman to lead the points standings in a world championship series, with a runaway win in the World Supersport 300 race, while South African teenagers Dorren Loureiro, Dino Iozzo and Sam Lochoff did us proud with 11th, 15th and 25th respectively in the same race.
The two factory Kawasaki riders shot into the lead from the lights, quickly opening up a gap from the chasing pack, which increased almost four seconds between the British pair at the halfway point, with each leading the race in turn from that point on.
Sykes also showed his Assen pace was no fluke and that, when he’s got room in front, his ZX-10R’s pace is almost unparalleled.
The first two laps were a nightmare for Davies, who was looking for his fifth consecutive win at Imola. After his crash in Superpole 2, he struggled at the launch, falling back from third to seventh. Having climbed back to fourth, Davies went straight through the Variante Bassa chicane, losing several positions along the way and any chance of a win, although he later redeemed himself with two wonderful passes at that same Turn 21.
But by then the podium was out of sight, although his Ducati Team-mate Marco Melandri slavaged some local pride by equalling his career best World Superbike result here with third in front of his home fans.
Behind the two teams that dominated proceedings throughout the weekend, Ducati privaters Xavi Fores equalled his 2017 Race 1 finish with fifth, finding the pace to hold off Yamaha factory rider Michael van der Mark, who was nonetheless pleased at his performance, after starting from the bottom of the fourth row.
Ducati Junior Team rider Michael Ruben Rinaldi moved up to third in lap one, only to fall back as the race progressed, but his seventh-place finish equals his best result in World Superbikes. Aprilia’s Lorenzo Savadori posted his best finish of the season in eighth, ahead of Kawasaki privateer Leon Haslam, capping a successful return to the World Superbike paddock by passing Alex Lowes on the second factory Yamaha right on the line for ninth.
Rea’s victory in Race 2 equalled the legendary Carl Fogarty’s record of 59 World Superbike race wins - and he did it in style, putting up a stunning battle with Davies, who fought off several attacks from the reigning champion before having to settle for second.
But is was Rinaldi who made the early move, flying off the line and taking the lead ahead of Davies, who tucked in behind before making his move Variante Bassa at the end of lap three. By then Rea was up to third; a few corners later, at Tosa, he passed Rinaldi and in was Game On.
For nine laps, it was cat-and-mouse with barely a tenth of a second separating the two, as Rea stalked Davies, creeping up and planning his pass. He fired the first shot at Tamburello on lap 10, but ran wide and allowed Davies back through on the straight. Two laps later, at Tosa, Rea found the pace he needed, but Davies took the inside line; the pair touched, Rea went wide, and the Ducati stayed in front.
But a lap later, going into Variante Alta, Rea made it stick and, from then on, he put on an incredible display, giving Davies no chance to answer back, and increasing the lead to four seconds by the flag.
Melandri and Van der Mark, who’d been battling for the final podium place, collided in Rivazza on lap 10, both ending up in the gravel and out of the race. That left Sykes to complete an all-British podium for the first time this season; after a superb dice with Fores throughout the race, he finally managing to make it past with three laps to go.
Jordi Torres (MV Agusta) scored his best result of the season with a superb fifth off the fourth row of the grid, bringing with him Lowes - one place behind him on the grid and the same at the finish, equalling his best Imola result.
Rinaldi matched his Race 1 result in seventh, ahead of Kawasaki privateer Toprak Razgatlioglu, Eugene Laverty (Aprilia) in an encouraging return from injury, and another Kawasaki privateer,. Leandro Mercado.
It took Jules Cluzel (NRT) a year and a half to find his way back to the top with his win at Assen - and just another 21 days to take his second victory of the season, after a thriller of a race with local heroes Federico Caricasulo on the factory Yamaha and MV Agusta rider Raffaele De Rosa, who finished second and third respectively.
Things got emotional before the start, however, as multiple champion Kenan Sofuoglu, third on the grid, decided at the last moment not to ride in what was supposed to be his final race. The World Supersport legend led the field around the track one more time on his factory Kawasaki ZX-6R and then headed into the pits, after a final bow, on his terms, from a worthy champion.
Than it was time to race and, almost in celebration of Sofuoglu’s legacy, it was a cracker. Right from the start, five riders broke away, with Yamaha factory rider Lucas Mahias leading Cluzel, Caricasulo, De Rosa and German veteran Sandro Cortese (Yamaha).
The reigning champion held them all off brilliantly until lap six, when a big moment at Rivazza dropped him left him down to 20th. The remaining front four, all covered by less than a second, set a blistering pace; Caricasulo, fighting to hang on after a mistake on lap seven, managed to overtake Cortese and De Rosa in the closing stages, but Cluzel was just too far ahead, taking the flag 0.363s ahead of the Italian.
De Rosa put his MV Agusta on the podium for the second race in a row, adding another name to the already crowded list of title contenders.
Cortese finished fourth, just 0.084s behind De Rossa – but it was Yamaha privateer Randy Krummenacher who fought his way up from 11th on the grid to fifth (albeit a distant fifth, more than 14 seconds adrift) and become the new championship leader on 81 points.
Anthony West (Kawasaki) made a triumphant return from injury with sixth, while Mahias, in full damage-control mode, was beaten to seventh by Niki Tuuli (Honda) by just one thousandth of a second, which left him two points behind Mahias in the standings - and 10 points ahead of Caricasulo in fifth.
WORLD SUPERSPORT 300
Ana Carrasco (Kawasaki Ninja 400) took her first win of 2018 and the second of her Supersport 300 world championship career with the most dominant display of the season so far. Incredibly fast all weekend, she also became the new championship leader after Scott Deroue (Kawasaki Ninja 400) bowed out on the final lap.
Superpole winner Carrasco dominated from the start; by the end of lap one she was two seconds clear of the field and she came home almost 14 seconds ahead of the chasing pack in a class where winning margins are usually measured in decimal points.
To put that in perspective, the next seven finishers were covered by less than two seconds - and that was after Deroue crashed out of second after losing his front end at Acque Minerali.
Local wild card Kevin Sabatucci (Yamaha R3) came in second, just 0.031s ahead of Borja Sánchez (Kawasaki Ninja 400) but, in a weird twist of fate, Sabatucci was penalised one position by the Race Director, so he and Borja had to swop podium positions. Ironically, Sanchez lost out on a podium finish at Imola in 2017 when he was hit with a similar penalty and dropped from third to fourth.
Behind them, Luca Grunwald (KTM RC390) continued his good form with fifth, ahead of Galanig Hendra Pratama (Yamaha R3), Jan-Ole Jähnig (KTM RC390), Maria Herrera (Yamaha R3), who posted her best finish yet in World Supersport 300 by fighting her way up from 19th on the grid to seventh, and Mika Perez (Kawasaki Ninja 400), who finished 1.756s behind Sabatucci.