Aruba.it Ducati’s Alvaro Batista dominated the opening WorldSBK race at Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya on Saturday.
A lights to flag victory saw the Spaniard meet the flag almost nine seconds clear with KRT’s Jonathan Rea and GRT Yamaha’s Garrett Gerloff completing the podium celebrations after a fight through the field.
The first Superbike race of the Catalan weekend saw home hero Iker Lecuona command the grid for the first time in his WorldSBK career. The Honda rider set for 20 laps around the 4.7km Montmeló circuit as just one of two riders on the hard option Pirelli tyre - Motocorsa’s Axel Bassani the other - with Kawasaki’s Alex Lowes and Rea alongside on the front row. Title-rivals Bautista and Toprak Razgatlioglu were missing from the front row in a break from 2022 tradition with the Ducati rider sitting fifth ahead of the eighth-placed Yamaha.
Lights out and it was Bautista who stormed to the lead with Lowes and Andrea Locatelli in hot pursuit. Razgatlioglu through at the first corner to slide into second as Michael Rinaldi attempted a look at the Brit. Rea dropped to the back of the top ten before the Northern Irishman began his comeback, BMW’s Scott Redding initially behind before the duo moved in opposing directions in the standings.
Rinaldi’s Panigale powered down the start-finish straight to take the advantage over Lowes for third, the Kawasaki hitting back as the opening sector of lap two played out. Lecuona was running fifth from Bassani and Rea as the Motocorsa attempted his own move on the Fireblade. Redding crashing out from 12th on lap three.
Rea was up to sixth as Rinaldi dropped to ninth. Bassani continuing to hassle the HRC machine ahead with the Spaniard defending hard for fourth.
Bautista held a half second advantage by lap five with Razgatlioglu a further second clear of Lowes in third. The Brit dispatched by Lecuona as the group behind began to threaten next time around.
Locatelli ran wide as Gerloff capitalised for seventh with a third distance dispatched. The Pata Yamaha back through on his GRT cohort as the lap played out with Bassani and Rea repeatedly squabbling for position ahead.
Rea was up to fifth with 12 to go as Michael Van der Mark retired the second BMW out of the race with a technical issue. Locatelli making moves on Bassani in the mid-pack before the Italian hit back sending the frustrated R1 wide with Gerloff quick to capitalise.
Rinaldi was the next to demote Locatelli with nine laps to go. Vierge a full four seconds back on the edge of the top ten with the Bonovo pairing of Loris Baz and Eugene Laverty behind.
Lowes kept the pressure up on Lecuona as the Brit looked to return to podium contention. Rea half a second back as he began to reel in his teammate in the closing stages with the six-time champion taking his opportunity at turn one with seven to go.
The podium was soon in sight as Rea replicated the move on Lecuona next time around. Lowes unable to follow in the initial move before finally securing fourth two laps later. The battle continued to rage as Gerloff joined the fun, the American claiming the position as he progressed from sixth to fourth while Rea dispatched Razgatlioglu out front.
Three to go and it was an all-Yamaha fight for the final podium place as Gerloff continued to shine. The Texan up to third with three laps to go, much to the annoyance of the factory bosses. The mid-pack building up behind the defending champion as his pace dropped off in the closing stages.
With Lowes unable to find a way through on Razgatlioglu, Rinaldi capitalised and dispatched the Kawasaki for fifth. The Italian instantly bettering the Turk at turn nine with Lecuona doing likewise on Lowes for sixth.
The final lap saw the pole-man threaten the champ before Razgatlioglu regrouped. Laverty making his way into the top ten at the expense of Baz and Vierge as Bautista crossed the line with a dominant 8.6s lead.
Rea secured second from Gerloff at the flag with Rinaldi leading Razgatlioglu, Lecuona and Lowes home for best of the rest ahead of Bassani and Locatelli.