The Motul World Superbike Championship stages their penultimate round in Argentina this weekend at the Circuito Juan Villicum, two weeks out from a wild weekend in Portugal. There are six races left to run over two weekends, including the short Sunday morning Superpole race, and the title battle continues from strength to strength. The last 2021 round is slated for Indonesia November 19-21, COVID permitting.
The current television listings for REV TV Canada have the opening race live from Argentina running at 1:30PM Eastern Time, Saturday October 16. (We might suggest you also watch at noon, for highlights from Portugal – amazing action). On Sunday, October 17, action from Argentina again starts at 1:30PM, and will cover highlights of the Tissot Superpole sprint.
Pata Yamaha’s Toprak Razgatlioglu heads the Championship standings with 478 points, while long-running series Champ Jonathan Rea is second for Kawasaki with a points total of 454. Also in with a shot at the crown is Aruba Ducati’s Scott Redding with 424. To give you an idea of the dominance of this trio, Ducati’s rising start Michael Ruben Rinaldi sits fourth in the rankings with 249 points.
Amazingly, Razgatlioglu and Rea have each achieved twenty-five podiums in 2021, with eleven victories each. Rea’s DNF’s are all crash-related, including two in one race on home turf at Donington; for Razgatlioglu, a takeout by fellow Yamaha racer Garrett Gerloff at the start in Assen and a frightening fall caused by a broken fender in Portugal indicate that his is currently the most consistent performer.
Beyond the basic stats, Razgatlioglu had demonstrated a new style of racing, where last-second, near-panic braking is the norm, the rear wheel in the sky as he heads for the apex. This means passing Razgatlioglu on the brakes is near impossible, and although his efforts appear erratic, they do not cause much in the way of lap time variance.
Rea’s 2021 campaign highlights the remarkable determination shown by the reigning, six-time in a row World Champ. For the first time, it appears that the ZX-10R Ninja is not the clearly superior machine in the Championship, and an unflinching Rea is determined to make up for this by riding at his absolute limit. His falls have been spectacular, and scary.
Redding has shown flashes of superiority, but as with factory Ducati Panigale team leaders before him, he struggles for consistency. Sometimes, the Ducati is forced to take a come-from-behind approach. Redding was clearly frustrated early in the season, and during the summer break signed to lead BMW’s resurgent program for 2022. Since then, Redding has found useful consistency with his red v-4.
At Portimao two weeks ago, these three had moments of all-out war, and rather than pace themselves in a high-speed chess match, opted for more of a right now, street brawl approach. There were several bumps and some hurt feelings, and Razgatlioglu emerged the least upset, with a “who me?” Rossi approach.
In Saturday’s race one, the pushing and shoving was extreme before Rea lost the front end and suffered a major fall, unassisted.
“I don’t want to put the shit on Toprak about how he rides,” explained Sunday Feature winner Rea, before doing just that. “However, the guy he’s passing is on their limit with their bike and tires, the combination of everything.
“I don’t want to complain too much; I’m ready to fight like that and I’m going to fight like that. I can shake his hand after that and not complain, but I’m happy to let the brakes off and use him as a burn.”
It’s hard not to imagine that Razgatlioglu, not to mention Race Control, might want to discuss that last comment.
“I’m not going to grumble, rubbing is racing. He can train on his go-kart track in Turkey, but I grew up motocrossing, and that’s also hard.”
Just to be clear, World Superbike has not offered up a NASCAR-style “have at ‘er, boys” directive.
For his part, Razgatlioglu seemed happy to be under Rea’s skin, even if he wouldn’t quite say it in those words.
“Rea has started talking, but this is good,” commented Razgatlioglu after he fell in the final race at Portimao due to that bizarre fender issue.
“It means he is very angry for the Championship. I don’t like talking because this is my style and it’s never changing. Every race weekend, I am fighting like this.
“I’m not scared – maybe Rea and Scott are. For me, no problem. Sometimes in the race, we touch – it’s OK, this is racing. In race one we started out a little bit hard but OK, this is normal because he is trying to pass and I’m trying to pass.
“Now, Rea’s started talking; I am really surprised now for Jonny. We know Redding, after every race, talks about this. This is good.”
While this posturing is entertaining and attracts attention to a terrific title battle, it is also happening at a time when World organizers Dorna and the FIM sanctioning group are trying to calm aggressive racing in the support classes of both World Superbike and MotoGP (Moto2 and Moto3).
The best suggestion for curbing overly optimistic behavior in the support classes, where the lower power levels tend to keep the racer in packs, is to aggressively enforce the existing rules for behavior and track limits.
Earlier in the season, Rea raised some eyebrows by successfully protesting a minor turn limits excursion by Razgatlioglu in France. It should prove interesting to see if the Rule Book needs to be opened to handle to stars during the final races in WSBK 2021.
- By Colin Fraser