Multiple world champion Jonathan Rea picked up two more wins, and a second place, at an Argentinian world superbike round surrounded in controversy.
The five-time champ had already sealed the 2019 title two weeks ago in France but the world championship riders arrived at the Villicum circuit to find the surface dirty and lacking in grip, with oil seeping through the asphalt in hot conditions.
Saturday saw a rider protest, with a desire to push all races back to Sunday when conditions were due to be cooler, and in the end six riders (Eugene Laverty, Leon Camier, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Chaz Davies, Marco Melandri and Sandro Cortese) opted not to race.
The resultant 12-rider race was underwhelming and spread out, with lap times slow as the riders managed grip and tyre issues, although all riders finished the race – with Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista taking the win from Rea and Toprak Razgatlioglu.
Sunday saw cooler temperatures and a full grid of 19 riders (including Frenchman Loris Baz, who had been ruled out of the Saturday race on medical grounds) lined up for the 10-lap Superpole race, with Rea taking the win from Bautista and Razgatlioglu in a race with no major incidents.
Sunday’s main race also had some exciting action, as Davies found his best form to split the Kawasakis of Rea and Razgatlioglu.
“That was really positive, especially the Superpole race where I felt really strong in the cooler conditions,” said Rea. “The grip level was really high so I was able to push the bike and manage it. The sensations felt quite normal. We made a change overnight, on the front of the bike, just to give me a bit more front confidence in trail braking to stabilise the bike. That enabled me to carry that much more entry speed. We knew Alvaro was one of the strongest guys and to race with him I was going to have to be really strong on the brakes and corner entry. Kudos to the guys because we came up with a really good set-up. Yesterday I made too many mistakes in the race and that gave Alvaro too much breathing room, so now I am really happy to win both races today.”
Davies was keen to thank his team for supporting his Saturday rebellion, with suggestions that many other riders had been forced to ride against their wishes by their teams. He added: “It was a really good way to finish the weekend. This morning in the Superpole race I was able to finish in fourth place which put me on the second row of the grid for race two. Unfortunately, in the second race I made a bad start and I was swamped by several riders at the first corner. I felt comfortable enough however and began to pick my way through the pack. When I got up to second place the gap to Jonathan was almost three seconds, and although I closed it down a bit, it was impossible to get any closer to him. Pity because I think if I had been there from the beginning, it might have been a nice race. However, we were competitive on another track, that’s four or five now where we’ve been near or on the podium. A big thanks to the team for their work but also for standing by me yesterday. Hopefully now we can go to Qatar and continue the momentum to finish the season strong.”
Carole Nash backed Leon Haslam had a difficult time in Argentina. It was announced earlier in the week that the 2018 British champion would be leaving the factory Kawasaki team, his place taken by Alex Lowes, and he had a big crash in practice before posting finishes of sixth, eighth and 10th. He remains sixth in the championship, albeit with a reduced gap of eight points ahead of Davies in seventh. Haslam said: “Starting from 14th on the grid was hard work. We made it to sixth in the long race yesterday and eighth in the first race today, and I do not think we could have done much more because the passing around this circuit has been hard. I was really looking forward to that last race. I got a good start and then got tangled with Tom Sykes. As I went up the inside of him he came into me and I think it was my handlebar that got caught in his fairing. That dropped us back to pretty much last. We came through to battling for eighth position, I think, at one point but we had destroyed the rear tyre and ended up going backwards for the last five, six or seven laps.”
After the race, the FIM (motorcycle racing’s governing body) issued a statement regarding the controversy, stating:
“Following the decision of six riders not to participate in race one at the Motul Argentinean Round of the FIM Superbike World Championship, in San Juan on Saturday October 12th, FIM wishes to provide some clarifications.
“At the request of the FIM in 2018, the circuit of San Juan was resurfaced to host WorldSBK in 2019. On Wednesday, October 9th during the inspection of the track, the FIM safety officer requested the circuit management to wash the track to remove the dust that had accumulated during the last days to ensure the safety conditions necessary for the smooth running of the Argentinean round. After an intensive cleaning of the track, the homologation was issued on Thursday during a new inspection. This homologation procedure valid from Friday to Sunday is identical for each event of the championship and takes place on the Thursday preceding each race according to the FIM rules. On Friday evening during the safety commission meeting, the rider representatives expressed concern over the scorching conditions and its possible effect on the newly laid asphalt. In agreement with all the stakeholders (riders, representatives of FIM and Dorna), it was decided that a meeting would be held on Saturday at 12:00 after the free practice session three to make a new point on the situation. At this meeting all riders were happy with the improvement of the track conditions and it was unanimously decided to go ahead with the qualifying sessions and race.
“Nevertheless, after qualifying sessions six WorldSBK riders decided not to take part in the race two hours later. The FIM wishes to remind that the safety of all riders is its priority and wish to emphasize that neither the scorching conditions nor the condition of the track surface at that precise moment justified the cancellation of the race. In addition and to provide a high level of marshalling, the FIM also provided a seminar for the 150 track marshals on Thursday at the San Juan circuit with the support of the national federation CAMOD.”
The world superbike season concludes in Qatar in two weeks’ time.