Aprilia’s Sylvain Guintoli has closed the gap in the World Superbike championship standings to three points after taking the opening race win underneath the floodlights at Qatar.
Title challenger, Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes finished in third, but his team-mate Loris Baz ignored blatant team orders to drop back a place, and held on to second as he crossed the finishing line. So the fight for the title goes down to the wire and will be settled in the final race of the day at the Losail circuit, with Huddersfield’s finest having a slight advantage over the Frenchman.
Initially it was Sykes who got the hole-shot, with Pata Honda’s Jonathan Rea hot on his tail. But on the final turn on the opening lap Rea went into the lead, only for Baz to get into the slipstream of both bikes to go into the front, at turn one on lap two.
By lap four Baz was pushing on ahead, and even set a new lap record in the process, of a 1’58.096, smashing the previous best time clocked by Ben Spies in 2009, by one second. But a lap later Guintoli made his move on the home straight going up the inside of his rival to go into third.
Two laps later there was the battle of the Ducati’s out on the Losail circuit, with Giugliano and Davies both tussling it out on track for that coveted fifth spot. Meanwhile Rea was hunting down Baz and closed the gap to 0.3 seconds over the tall Frenchman, with ten laps remaining.
At the halfway stage Guintoli made his move on Rea to go up to third getting the better of the Northern Irishman going into turn one on the ninth rotation. Further down the field Melandri was out-pacing the Ducati duo of Giugliano and Davies and pounced on the pair with six laps remaining on the opening corner.
The plucky Italian figure of Melandri had Sykes as his next target and got the better of him on lap thirteen, but as all the drama was going on the Aprilia of Guintoli had that added pace over the Kawasaki of Baz and stormed into the lead for the first time.
But Sykes was fighting back and over took Melandri to take fourth, and with two laps remaining got into the slipstream of Rea to take third, and the team orders came out in the Kawasaki garage with Baz’s pit board telling him to drop down a place for Sykes to get through.
But Baz ignored team orders and did not slow down so Sykes had to settle for third with Rea and Giugliano rounded up the top five. Red Devils Roma’s Toni Elias had a surge in form during the penultimate lap and clinched seventh, followed by Davies and Melandri.
The Voltcom Suzuki’s of Eugene Laverty and Alex Lowes finished the race in ninth and tenth respectively, with Pata Honda’s Leon Haslam finishing just outside the top ten in eleventh.
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