Alvaro Bautista maintained his extraordinary run of success in the 2023 WorldSBK Championship after securing his 17th victory in 19 races with a battling performance in Race 1 at Imola.
Reaching the flag with a +3.6secs advantage over Toprak Razgatlioglu, though the end result looks familiar, it belies a gritty showdown between the two riders during the first-half of the race in what was arguably their closest battle yet.
Behind Bautista and Razgatlioglu, Jonathan Rea completed the podium after coming through from seventh on the grid.
A venue that WorldSBK hasn't visited since Bautista's rookie season in 2019, the Spaniard hasn't looked quite as formidable on the Aruba.it Ducati Panigale V4 R at Imola this weekend, giving hope to the likes of Razgatlioglu and Axel Bassani - who he shared the front row - hope of ending his unbroken run of full-length race wins.
However, from the lights, neither of the front three could win the race down to Tamburello for the first time, with fourth place starter Andrea Locatelli getting the hole-shot from Bassani, Bautista and Razgatlioglu.
It was a lead he'd cling onto until deep into lap two when Bassani's superior drive out of Variante Alta allowed him to nose ahead before Rivazza. However, his moment in the spotlight wouldn't last long either with a moment coming out of Tamburello on lap three checking his momentum and demoting him to fifth by the end of the lap.
Locatelli took up the pace again, the Italian's more modest pace having the effect of backing Bautista and Razgatlioglu into one another, the pair tripping over one another as the former capitalised on his Ducati's superior acceleration on the run to corners, the latter doing what he does best on the brakes.
Indeed, it takes something very special to overtake Bautista and even the Spaniard would have like taken a moment to appreciate the sheer confidence of his rival as he swept through into second on the outside into Variante Alta.
On a roll, Razgatlioglu quickly attempted to dispatch of his team-mate Locatelli at the start of lap three, but a big shake of the R1's head under braking would send him wide and allow the Italian back ahead.
He wasn't the only one wrestling with their bike, with Bautista being lifted out of the seat of his Ducati on the exit of Acqua Mineral. It was enough for Rea, having clawed his way up from seventh on the grid, to nose ahead into third, before Bautista served a swift rebuttal and got to work on pursuing the Yamahas ahead.
Razgatlioglu eventually got the move done properly on Locatelli coming into lap five, with Bautista quickly chasing him through as well.
From here the pair engaged in their most entertaining bout of the season, the stark differences in their bike's strengths and weaknesses appearing even more striking on the undulating, kerb heavy corners Italian circuit.
On numerous occasions Bautista would get the run past Razgatlioglu, but would run out of straight to complete the pass before the Turk wiggled back in front under braking.
However, as has been the case on numerous occasions this season, Bautista looked comfortable in the heat of battle, whereas Razgatlioglu's raggedness began to take its toll on his tyres.
It meant that once Bautista got his overtake for the lead down emphatically with eight laps to go, Razgatlioglu had nothing left in the tank - or tyre - to respond.
As such, Bautista could click back into his familiar superiority with a clear track in front of him, steadily pulling clear of Razgatlioglu, himself well ahead of the chasing pack.
A 17th win from 19 races sees Bautista continue his relentless march to a second WorldSBK title, the ex-MotoGP rider now almost a full three figures clear of Razgatlioglu, the margin between them 98 points.
Further back, Rea showed some hustle to get up into third position, though once he'd dispatched of Locatelli he was too far back to mount a challenge on Razgatlioglu ahead.
Behind Locatelli in fourth, Michael Ruben Rinaldi picked his way up to fifth place at the flag, the Aruba.it rider leading a trio of Italian-helmed Ducatis with Danilo Petrucci getting up to sixth place, with Bassani in seventh, his early strong pace deserting him during the second-half.
Loris Baz scored his best finish of the season as the highest-placed BMW rider, the Frenchman keeping Alex Lowes and Scott Redding, who couldn't sustain the pace from fifth on the grid, at bay in ninth and tenth.
Like Redding, fellow second row starter Bradley Ray couldn't make the most of his lofty starting position, the Motoxracing Yamaha rider visibly struggling with tyre problems as he plummeted down the order, eventually finishing behind a gaggle of riders for one point in 15th.
Leading him across the line was Remy Gardner, Xavi Vierge, Garrett Gerloff and Leon Haslam in positions 11th down to 14th respectively.
|2023 Italian WorldSBK | Imola | Race 1 Results | Round 7 of 12|
|1||Alvaro Bautista||ESP||Aruba Ducati||Ducati Panigale V4 R||19 Laps|
|2||Toprak Razgatlioglu||TUR||Pata Crescent Racing||Yamaha R1||+3.672|
|3||Jonathan Rea||GBR||Kawasaki Racing Team||Kawasaki ZX-10RR||+7.847|
|4||Andrea Locatelli||ITA||Pata Crescent Racing||Yamaha R1||+13.543|
|5||Michael Ruben Rinaldi||ITA||Aruba Ducati||Ducati Panigale V4 R||+15.898|
|6||Danilo Petrucci||ITA||Barni Spark Racing||Ducati Panigale V4 R||+18.551|
|7||Axel Bassani||ITA||Motocorsa Racing||Ducati Panigale V4 R||+20.633|
|8||Loris Baz||FRA||Bonovo Racing||BMW M 1000 RR||+21.727|
|9||Alex Lowes||GBR||Kawasaki Racing Team||Kawasaki ZX-10RR||+22.082|
|10||Scott Redding||GBR||BMW Motorrad WorldSBK||BMW M 1000 RR||+26.052|
|11||Remy Gardner||AUS||GYTR GRT||Yamaha R1||+36.865|
|12||Xavi Vierge||ESP||Team HRC||Honda CBR1000RR-R||+37.032|
|13||Garrett Gerloff||USA||Bonovo Racing||BMW M 1000 RR||+37.282|
|14||Leon Haslam||GBR||BMW Motorrad WorldSBK||BMW M 1000 RR||+37.827|
|15||Bradley Ray||GBR||Motoxracing||Yamaha R1||+38.943|
|16||Tito Rabat||ESP||Puccetti Racing||Kawasaki ZX-10RR||+58.025|
|17||Gabriele Ruiu||ITA||B-Max Racing||BMW M 1000 RR||+58.206|
|18||Roberto Tamburini||ITA||MIE Racing||Honda CBR1000RR-R||+59.022|
|DNF||Dominique Aegerter||CHE||GYTR GRT||Yamaha R1|
|DNF||Iker Lecuona||ESP||Team HRC||Honda CBR1000RR-R|
|DNF||Isaac Vinales||ESP||TPR by Vinales Racing||Kawasaki ZX-10RR|
|DNF||Eric Granado||BRA||MIE Racing||Honda CBR1000RR-R|
|DNF||Oliver Konig||CZE||Orelac Racing||Kawasaki ZX-10RR|
|DNF||Philipp Oettl||GER||Go Eleven||Ducati Panigale V4 R|
|DNF||Lorenzo Baldassarri||ITA||GMT 94||Yamaha R1|