The world champion prevails in a rain-hit Tissot Superpole with Bautista back on the fifth row
The weather continued to wreak havoc at the Pirelli French Round with heavy rain falling ahead of Tissot Superpole. The lap times tumbled all the way to the end but in a dramatic finish, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) held off Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) with less than two hundredths of a second splitting the top two.
After a half-hour delay due to track conditions, the riders flooded out onto the rain-soaked Magny-Cours circuit and Rea immediately threw down the gauntlet, lapping almost a second faster than his nearest challenger Loris Baz (Ten Kate Racing – Yamaha). The chasing pack gradually chipped away though, with Michael van der Mark and Alessando Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) halving the defecit as they circulated together.
With just under 15 minutes remaining, Loris Baz ended Rea’s dominance of the session but the world champion’s response was instant. Climbing all over the back of the Yamaha through the final chicane, Rea regained provisional pole with a remarkable lap. With conditions constantly improving though as the rain relented, the battle for pole position was set to go all the way down to the wire.
The pressure was building on Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) with the Spaniard returning to the pits at the end of his first stint down in tenth place. The 34-year-old sat out yesterday’s second session which was held in wet conditions and had plenty of ground to make up as he ventured out for his final run, trailing the polesitter by over three seconds. His team-mate Chaz Davies wasn’t faring much better, suffering a crash at turn 12.
As grip levels improved, the timing screens were awash with personal best sector times. With Jonathan Rea choosing to run through pit-lane at the start of his final run, his lead started to come under serious threat from Michael van der Mark, who narrowed the gap to two tenths of a second. Leon Haslam was also starting to edge into contention, joining his team-mate on the front row.
As the chequered flag flew, Rea and van der Mark found themselves in a direct shootout for pole position with the Yamaha rider missing out by 0.013s, potentially held up by yellow flags due to a crash for wildcard Sylvain Barrier (Brixx Performance) in the final sector. As a result, Rea was assured of his 22nd career pole but that didn’t stop the Ulsterman improving, albeit by just one thousandth of a second, on his last effort. Leon Haslam consolidated third on the grid with a personal best late on.
Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) produced an outstanding final lap to claim fourth, a career best Superpole performance for the Italian rider, while Loris Baz will lead the French challenge from fifth on the grid. Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) completes the top six, and has now qualified on the front two rows in 50 consecutive Superpole sessions he has competed in.
Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) heads the third row with Eugene Laverty (Team Goeleven) alongside in eighth after threatening the front row of the grid earlier in the session. Completing the third row is Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) who claims his and Honda’s best Superpole result of the season, showing his experience in difficult conditions. Leon Camier starts Race One right behind his team-mate in tenth, equalling his best Superpole performance of an injury-interrupted campaign.
Outside the top ten, both ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati riders will face an uphill struggle in Race One with Chaz Davies dropping to 11th after his fall while Alvaro Bautista was unable to climb an higher than 14th as he aims to keep his championship hopes alive. Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) will start between them in 13th after tumbling at turn 13, a disappointing result after figuring in the top three yesterday.
- Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) 1’53.955
- Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) +0.014
- Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) +0.257
- Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) +0.608
- Loris Baz (Ten Kate Racing – Yamaha) +0.715
- Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) +1.200