Sylvain Guintoli set up a tense finale to the World Superbike season as a first and second place whittled Tom Sykes’ championship lead down to twelve points at a near underwater Magny-Cours circuit.
|How costly will Melandri’s decision to win race two prove to be?
Photo: Aprilia Racing
The Frenchman shared the victory spoils with Marco Melandri, who sat behind his team-mate in a bid to aid his championship challenge in the first race, then spectacularly ignored those same team orders in the second.
With the rain falling heavily throughout both races, Tom Sykes’ aim was to conserve his championship lead, which stood at 31 points entering this penultimate round. Despite suffering a few near moments in the treacherous conditions, the reigning world champion emerged from the weekend with 26 points after claiming a pair of fourth places.
There were mixed emotions for both Pata Honda riders as Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam claimed a third place apiece, the former suffering his first non-score of the season, crashing out of the second race, allowing the latter to take his first top-three finish since 2012.
Saturday certainly suggested that Sykes was in a commanding position to maintain his lead at a track at which he scored an emphatic double victory just twelve months before. But Guintoli was primed for two wet races, as his mischievous tweet sent to Sykes on Saturday evening suggested.
“Good night mate, sweet dreams,” read the tweet with an attached picture of a gloomy weather chart predicting Sunday’s conditions.
Although Guintoli slashed 19 points off Sykes’ title advantage he will certainly be annoyed at Melandri’s blatant disregard for the team orders that would have guaranteed a first double victory in the series at a crucial time.
“It seems that today has not been consistent,” he is reported to have said to media minutes after Melandri had refused to move over on the final lap of race two. “I took a few risks at the beginning of the races and then, once I had created a good gap, I concentrated on staying focused to avoid any pointless risks and to take home the best possible result.”
It could well have been a second consecutive double victory for Melandri had he not been advised to let Guintoli win in the first. The Italian eliminated Guintoli’s early five second lead to overtake the Frenchman with seven laps remaining. A pit-board told him to slow however, giving Guintoli his first race win since Assen in April.
Behind Jonathan Rea rode a measured race to take home third ahead of the Kawasaki duo of Loris Baz and Tom Sykes. As was the case with Aprilia, Baz received a similar message in the later laps to allow the Englishman through to fourth.
The second race was just as eventful with Guintoli taking advantage of early Davide Giugliano and Jonathan Rea crashes to command a short-lived lead. As was the case in the first Melandri soon reeled him in and took advantage of a Guintoli mistake at the Adelaide hairpin on lap twelve. Melandri received another board close to the end requesting him to move over but the Italian refused, deciding instead to take his third win in four races.
Melandri believed his second race performance was “fair compensation for my efforts.” He said, “The bike was fantastic and I was able to confirm my performance in Jerez. Sylvain was very fast and in the first laps it was difficult to overtake, but we created a good gap in front of our rivals straight way.” The win moved him third overall at Rea’s expense.
Behind, Leon Haslam came through the field to take a richly deserved third place after taking Sykes – clearly struggling with the lack of grip – in the final laps. A succession of falls and retirements handed 3C Ducati wildcards Lorenzo Lanzi and Max Neukirchner fifth and sixth places.
Elsewhere Sunday was a day to forget for both the Ducati and Voltcom Crescent Suzuki teams as Eugene Laverty and Alex Lowes failed to finish either race, while Chaz Davies and Davide Giugliano both crashed in the first race, with the Italian remounting to claim seventh.