The final quarter of the 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship hones into view through the hills of the Spanish countryside to the desert-like lands of MotorLand Aragon and historic Alcaniz. An area where time forgot, with the sheer natural beauty and typical local cultures shining through, comes alive to the sound of World Superbike action this weekend. It’s an area where bikes are at the heart of the locals and with plenty of home heroes to cheer on, a title race intensifying and the ever-present threat of inclement weather, expect Aragon to deliver in abundance.
FIGHT FOR THE TITLE: Bautista and Ducati with the upper hand
The big story coming into the tenth round is whether Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) can be toppled at a track where he’s been dominant at in the past. Five wins for Ducati, a podium for Honda in 2020 and a return to winning ways at the start of 2022 are some of the highlights. At Magny-Cours, it was proven that even the #1 can be subject to bad luck and misfortune, with a temporary technical issue in Race 1 restricting him to P10, whilst a collision with his own teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi in the Superpole Race saw him fight back for P2. Rinaldi is strong at Aragon, with it being the site of his maiden WorldSBK win and Bautista hopes that he’ll be a rider packing out the places between himself and title rival Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK), particularly after their strong test here at the end of the European summer holidays.
Razgatlioglu’s form at Aragon hasn’t been anything to shout about coming into the round; a best of third place achieved four times – including a hat-trick last year – and a pole position are the key takeaways from a track that Yamaha have historically struggled at. The 2021 World Champion did make in-roads into Bautista’s title advantage at Magny-Cours with a 17-point swing and whilst on paper it doesn’t look likely this weekend, races aren’t decided on paper. Razgatlioglu and the Yamaha team opted not to test at Aragon during the mid-season break – is this going to further hinder them, or will it be a master stroke if the conditions aren’t relevant to what they were in the test?
KAWASAKI A FORCE? A happy hunting ground for the team in green
A solid Magny-Cours for Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) with three podiums means that he consolidated third in the Championship and put a gap into 2024 teammate at Yamaha Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) behind him. Aragon is a happy hunting ground for Rea, with nine wins and he’s aiming to become the first rider at Aragon to make it to double figures. Traditionally a track where the 36-year-old has made the difference for Kawasaki, can he shine again? Teammate Alex Lowes is also a contender, should he be fit after a left knee injury at Magny-Cours. Without a top six finish since Donington Park and fighting off the chasing pack behind him for eighth overall in the standings, the #22 took two second place finishes and a third at Aragon in 2021. Both Rea and Lowes enjoyed a positive test at the Alcaniz venue in August, can both contend again?
FOURTH PLACE FIGHT: Locatelli vs Bassani, Petrucci closing in for top Independent honours
It’s an all-Italian fight for fourth overall; with the #65 of Rea looking to get one hand on the bronze medal for 2023, Andrea Locatelli’s consistency saw him also put a gap into Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) behind him, although the Ducati star is top Independent. At Aragon, ‘Loka’ and ‘El Bocia’ will renew their fight for fourth overall, Bassani keen to overcome the deficit that was put into him in France; the gap is 37 with nine races and three rounds remaining. However, closing in behind them is Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) and with a new deal in his pocket for 2024 to stay with the team, focus will be on the track. He’s 76 points behind Locatelli and whilst in 2023, that may be a bridge too far, ‘Petrux’ will aim to reel in the 39-point deficit to Bassani ahead of him.
MAN OF THE MOMENT: Gerloff leads the BMW charge after Magny-Cours magnificence
Whilst Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) may be the top BMW in the Championship standings, Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) stole the show in France with a career-first pole position and two top five finishes in the full races. Despite being taken out by Redding in the Superpole Race, the American moved to just 16 points behind him in the standings. A recent test at Aragon will serve as a basis for all BMWs and Gerloff hopes he can sparkle with him back to something of his former self. Off-track, teammate Loris Baz’s future is still up in the air, whereas Michael van der Mark (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) returns to Aragon for the first time since his double top five finish in 2021. BMW had a nightmare in 2022 at the Spanish track, with just three top ten results out of a possible 15, a best coming from Baz in P7 during Race 2.
CAN HONDA FINALLY BOUNCE BACK? Recent struggles could end at Aragon
Holding onto a top ten overall in the Championship, Xavi Vierge (Team HRC) continues to lead Honda’s charge in WorldSBK but is yet to get near the heights of his early season podium success from Mandalika. The Spaniard, who enjoys a second ‘home round’ of the season, is tenth overall and comes off the back of a double top ten finish on Sunday at Magny-Cours with P9, his first back-to-back top ten results since Misano. As for Iker Lecuona, he debuted in WorldSBK at Aragon last year and was a strong P6 in Race 1 at a track where the bike has had a podium, back in 2020, although a lot has changed since then. Both were at the Aragon test in August with positive findings hoping to propel them forwards for this round and beyond.
HEADLINES ELSEWHERE: Aegerter leads a pack ready to surprise
MotorLand Aragon could be considered a slightly more ‘normal’ circuit, away from the quirks and intricacies of hard-to-learn tracks such as Donington Park, Imola, Most and Magny-Cours, so expect double WorldSSP Champion Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) to be back in the thick of the action. His teammate Remy Gardner will also be keen to shine as the Australian chases a top ten overall. Aegerter is P9 with 123 points, Gardner P12 with 107. Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven) was back inside the top ten right the way through the races at Magny-Cours and he’ll be keen to improve on his 13th place from Aragon in 2022, his debut on WorldSBK machinery. Brad Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) was on a Red Bull Rookies Cup podium at Aragon back in 2014 and despite a short test at the track in March earlier this year, he’s not raced a Superbike there.
Rounding out the order in WorldSBK, the likes of Lorenzo Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha), who was a WorldSSP debut winner at Aragon last year in a head-to-head fight against Aegerter, which saw him pull off the most miraculous of saves at Turn 16 on the final lap. Hafizh Syahrin (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team) aims for back-to-back points-scoring rides after 14th in Race 2 at Magny-Cours and he’s joined by regular teammate Eric Granado, back from MotoE™ World Cup duty. Isaac Vinales (TPR Team Pedercini Racing), Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing MOVISIO) and Tito Rabat (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) make it a trio of Kawasakis completing the order.
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