The 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is well underway and heads into the second half of the season as the Pirelli Navarra Round beckons at the all-new Circuito de Navarra. The facility was opened in 2010 and is the second consecutive new venue for WorldSBK whilst also being the fifth consecutive that wasn’t on the 2020 calendar. With one of the fastest turns on the calendar and intricate sectors, Navarra is ready to welcome the intense Championship battle between Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with BRIXX WorldSBK), with both separated by just three points after 18 races.
THREE WAY FIGHT: Yamaha vs Kawasaki vs Ducati
The Championship battle is the closest it has been after 18 races since 2004 and there’s absolutely no shortage of vintage action in 2021. Toprak Razgatlioglu took 34 points out of Jonathan Rea’s lead at the last round at Most, meaning he is just three behind. Heading to Navarra where he was fast in testing, Razgatlioglu knows that he’s within striking distance of the Championship lead, even though he is focused on the race in hand and not the standings. He has a strong teammate for support too, with Andrea Locatelli not out of the top five in the last six races – of which he took two podiums, one at Assen in Race 2 and the other at Most in Race 1. The level playing field of Navarra may bring Locatelli further into contention as he aims for a first win, whilst also aims to pack out the places between Toprak and his Championship rivals.
Jonathan Rea’s disastrous Most is now behind him as he hit the reset button with a small break and then a return to testing duties at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Taking 23 points from three races in the Czech Republic, his second lowest amount for a round tally after Estoril’s 20 last year, Rea has got to hit the ground running at Navarra if he is to remain in the Championship lead. Taking a triple win at Assen and then enduring Most’s difficulties, the WorldSBK pendulum swings wildly from round to round, adding to the excitement and unpredictability of 2021. Teammate Alex Lowes was racing with physical restrictions at Most and had three crashes in one day at Navarra during testing, so he’ll hope that those two aspects of his form aren’t indicative of the weekend ahead.
One of the main stories coming out of the Czech Republic was that Ducati and Scott Redding (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) are back, with the British star taking a long-awaited victory at Most. After getting his knee down in another way on the podium by proposing to his girlfriend, Redding’s mindset coming to Navarra is in a good place as he seeks to close the gap down further from 50, having taken it down from 81 last time out. Teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi will also look to get back on the rostrum after his comebacks in Race 1 and Race 2 at Most, with the Italian storming through from eighth and 11th respectively. Can Ducati utilise their recent form and get their Panigale V4 R in the perfect operating window in Los Arcos?
BACK ON TRACK: BMW and Honda in contention?
BMW had a mixed weekend at Most, as Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) took a sturdy fifth place in Race 1, whilst teammate Michael van der Mark’s comeback from 17th to 7th in Race 2 also gave the German manufacturer something to shout about. However, they’re still yet to cement their place in the constant fight for the podium. With Navarra closing in, this could be the round where they really come on strong; Sykes has consistently hailed the progress that the team made with the bike at the Navarra test in July, citing that as one of the turning points of the 2021 season and the M 1000 RR project. Both he and van der Mark were quick and there’s a feeling that if both can have a clean run through Free Practice, they could be contenders come racing.
Alvaro Bautista (Team HRC) showed strength at the Autodrom Most last time out as the Honda rider recovered from a Race 1 error to finish sixth, whilst he fought back after a slow start in Race 2. In his second ‘home event’ of the season, Bautista will hope the recent test in Barcelona can propel him and Honda forwards after electronic issues have plagued them continuously throughout the first six rounds of the season. Teammate Leon Haslam will hope the level playing field can bring him further into play and especially after a strong Barcelona test, as HRC seek to return to the leading positions.
THE INDEPENDENT BATTLE: who will feature?
The Independent battle is starting to see new names come into the picture; Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) enjoyed a calm Most weekend and was on top of testing after day one at Navarra back in July. However, it was Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) who took his best ever result at Most with a first top five in Race 1, finishing fifth. Bassani’s potential is high, and he’s growing in stature with each race – could he be a surprise towards the front of the field this weekend? Making a return to action will be Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing), whilst Tito Rabat (Barni Racing Team) will hope he can progress forward at his second home round of the year.
Kohta Nozane (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) is 16th in the Championship and returns to the track where he crashed at during testing, resulting in a broken finger. Isaac Viñales (ORELAC Racing VerdNatura) aims to continue knocking on the door of the top ten, whilst Eugene Laverty’s (RC Squadra Corse) attendance is to be confirmed. Jonas Folger (Bonovo MGM Racing), Christophe Ponsson (Gil Motor Sport Yamaha) and Leandro Mercado (MIE Racing Honda Team) are next up, with Mercado returning after a positive COVID-19 test ruled him out of Most. Loris Cresson (OUTDO TPR Team Pedercini Racing) and teammate Jayson Uribe complete the full-time entrants, whilst Suzuki return to the WorldSBK grid with Spanish Superbike rider Naomichi Uramoto wildcarding, meaning there’re six manufacturers on the grid.
- From www.WorldSBK.com