Imola, Italy - The fifth round of the 2015 World Superbike series on Sunday 10 May, delivered even more drama than expected, as Race 1 was red-flagged after David Salom crashed out on lap 11, setting up a six-lap flat-out sprint restart that had the capacity crowd on its feet from lights to flag.
But even that didn’t stop the works Kawasakis of Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes dominating the day, with Rea taking his third double of the season, and stretching his lead in the championships to 87 points after eight wins and two seconds from 10 starts.
The one thing he didn’t win, however, was Superpole - that went to an emotional Davide Giugliano, on home turf, in his return to the Ducati Team after a long layoff due to injury.
Right from the start there was nobody else in it; by lap nine Sykes, Giugliano and Rea - close enough to bang elbows on practically every corner - had pulled out a gap of almost 10 seconds over Leon Haslam on the works Aprilia and Leandro Mercado’s privateer Ducati, while Ayrton Badovini (BMW), Honda team-mates Michael van der Mark and defending champion Sylvain Guintoli and MV Agusta rider Leon Camier disputed sixth.
Then it all went pear-shaped as Salom and his Kawasaki took a huge tumble at Rivazza, bring out the red flags and ambulance. Salom was taken to the medical centre where doctors found a fractured left radius and some soft tissue damage to his elbow.
The pace at the restart was electric, as Sykes and Rea pushed each other to the limit. Rea blitzed his team mate to grab the lead on his way to setting a lap record on the first flying tour, only for Sykes to respond with an even faster lap.
A tense final lap saw Rea hold on to claim his 22nd career win by less than half a second, with Giugliano third after a determined ride.
Haslam had taken advantage of the delay to make some set-up adjustments on the grid and looked more comfortable after the restart, finishing fourth ahead of Guintoli, who sliced through the field from 15th to fifth.
Along the way he got the best of a six-way battle that included Badovini, reigning Superstock 1000cc Cup winner Mercado Matteo Baiocco (Ducati), Van der Mark and Michel Fabrizio, who took a solid 10th on his one-off ride, replacing the Baiocco’s injured team-mate Nico Terol.
The second outing went the race went the full 19 laps, with the Kawasaki team-mates taking their second 1-2 of the day as Rea came home a comfortable 4.399 seconds ahead for his 22nd career win.
After Chaz Davies’ Ducati went sick (again!) third went to Haslam’s Aprilia team-mate Jordi Torres, in his first World Superbike podium finish, ahead of Giugliano, Badovini Baiocco.
Roman Ramos (Kawasaki), Mercado, Fabrizio and Alex Lowes (Suzuki) rounded out the ten 10 after both Honda riders and Aprilia team leader Haslam crashed out before half distance; only 13 riders finished.
Kawasaki stalwart Kenan Sofuoglu took line honours by less than a second after a 17-lap battle with arch-rival Jules Cluzel - and it would have been even closer had the works MV Agusta rider not got it slightly wrong at Variante Bassa on the hectic final lap.
Sofuoglu and Cluzel smashed the lap record repeatedly as they pulled away from the chasing pack. 2014 Imola race winner, Cluzel’s team-mate Lorenzo Zanetti was unable to live with the pace of the front two and had to settle for third, after overhauling Kawasaki riders PJ Jacobsen and Marco Faccani, who came home fourth and fifth respectively.
Ratthapark Wilairot got the best of a race-long Honda v Honda smackdown with Gino Rea (they finished sixth and seventh, less than half a second apart) ahead of Rea's team-mates Riccardo Russo and Martin Cardenas, while veteran Roberto Rolfo, also on a Honda, rounded out the top 10.
WORLD SUPERSTOCK 1000
Aprilia hotshot Lorenzo Savadori took his second win of the season, controlling the 14-lap race from the front to come home more than two seconds ahead of Roberto Tamburini (BMW), with Ondrej Jezek (Ducati) completing the podium.
Factory Yamaha rider Kev Coghlan edged out Fabio Massei’s privateer Ducati for fourth, with Yamaha rider Jeremy Guarnoni, Ducati riders Tony Covena and Luca Salvadori, wildcard Denni Schiavoni (BMW) and Sylvain Barrier (Yamaha) fuillec out the top 10.
A spectacular crash on the second lap saw Florian Marino (Yamaha) highside over Raffaele De Rosa and his Ducati; both ended up in the kitty litter and were later transferred to the medical centre.