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Aragon WorldSBK: James Whitham's post-race analysis

bikesportnews.com sat down with former WorldSBK star and Eurosport commentator James Whitham to dissect the Aragon race weekend...

Bearing in mind that the first race of any series - witness Phillip Island - rarely gives any indication of what’s going to happen for the rest of the year this was pretty interesting and exciting stuff wasn’t it?

“Yeah, I think the weekend worked out alright in most classes but what we want is somebody to take the fight to Jonathan. And that’s not taking anything away from someone who’s dominated the championship for years and is doing what he does best. But we’d like to see a race wouldn’t we?”


Yes we would but we didn’t quite see that because in the last race Gerloff barged into him, because he couldn’t stop, and Rea was effectively taken out but came back to finish second.

“The fact is that in the second race they’d already made the tyre choices and he was only ever going to fighting for second place because Scott Redding had made an inspired tyre choice and put slicks on when every other rider on the grid had gone for intermediate. He’d made a mess of his previous tyre choice when he put wets on when everybody else had intermediates and lost out consequently. It would have been easy for Redding just to go with everybody else and be in the same boat. He didn’t do that, he took the risk, it paid off and he was going to win that race no matter what.

“By the time Jonathan got back on the track after being speared by Gerloff - and that was an amazing recovery -he was fighting for second at best which he managed to get which was brilliant. That said Garrett Gerloff had a cracking weekend. I like him, I like the way he goes about it, his enthusiasm, he’s a cracking rider.

“The move on Jonathan was optimistic at best and the only good thing to come out of it was two-fold - Jonny didn’t actually crash and Garrett was able to pick his bike up and fight for sixth place eventually finishing eight.  We like all those thrills and spills don’t we?”

Does anything that’s happened at the weekend cause you to change your mind about anything, disappoints you or impresses you?

“In the round, and I know the weather played its part, I expected Jonathan to be the man to beat and I think it will be same for the championship. But that said a couple of different people showed signs that should give them encouragement for the season.

"Number one is Scott Redding. I still think the Ducati is a good enough bike even though it seems to be, as Chas Davies has described, sensitive to the size of the rider, track temperature etc. But it is still good enough to win the championship.

"I think BMW should be encouraged that they are now good enough to find podiums, not just Sykes or van der Mark but also Folger. He had a cracking race and could have ended up sixth. So, BMW should take a bit of spirit from that. Yamaha, although not significantly improved, have got addressed all the small issues and have a better bike.  It is now a little bit quicker and more competitive.

"I was really impressed with van der Mark because he missed three quarters of free practice because he jumped off the bike and couldn’t get it fixed in time and then had a problem in FP3. He was exceptional in Sunday’s race. Brilliant. I think he might just turn a few heads.”


Wasn’t the success of a few young, bright, new riders arriving on the scene great encouragement for the series? We hear a lot about Jonathan Rea, rightly so, and half a dozen others but these new guys like Texan Garrett Gerloff and two or three others looked really exciting.

“That’s absolutely right. It may be a bit too early to talk about a changing of the guard and I think I should mention how impressed I was with Alex Lowes. He looked really happy and settled, understood when he wasn’t going to beat his teammate and wasn’t going to chuck it in the trees trying.

"What I was disappointed with, while knowing there have to be penalties for exceeding track limits, was penalising Toprak when he went off the track on the straight gaining no advantage at all. At that point I saw him as one of the only men - the only man - who could have taken the race to Jonathan Rea. He was taken back from the second row to the fourth row which robbed him of the chance in the first two races at least.

Someone described him as the last of the great brakers and Tom Sykes said afterwards ‘I’m normally pretty brutal on the brakes but Toprak was something else!’ He’s impressive.”


So, Rea is still your clear favourite with Redding a likely number two but van der Mark, Toprak, Lowes and, interestingly Gerloff, could be threats to the runner-up position?

“Well, we’re going to Estoril this weekend where last year Toprak was exceptional and the Yamaha seemed to work really well. And I think it might be a very different story on a very different circuit. Any one of the above.  

“I would like to say before we finish I was really impressed, and a bit disappointed at the same time, for Jules Cluzel in the Supersport race because he had a coming together with Niki Tuuli on the MV, glowing well, in the first race - he does specialise in crashes which aren’t his fault - but in the second got a podium from the back row which is impressive. He’s been in Supersport for nine years, finished second three times, third four times and fourth once.

"One other rider I would like to mention is Steven Odendaal, the South African, and his double Supersport victory. He was there or thereabouts last year and this was a breakthrough ride. Finally, Tom Booth-Amos winning his first WSP 300, one of the most difficult categories to win, not because of speed but race craft. Not an easy task.”

So, is this going to be a great season for World Superbikes?

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed...”

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