vive la . . . sunshine ?

SBK Magny Cours, France 6th October 2013

Words: laura Bradley, Pics: Richard Handley

Tom Sykes lost the championship by half a point a year ago. We think he's not planning on doing the same again...Magny Cours, a circuit we should all be more than familiar with by now. Superbikes have been visiting here for many years, and with lots currently changing in the paddock, this circuit will always be an important place in the lives of all the paddock workers and racing fans. This year, the final was to take place elsewhere, but the racing was still sure to be special, with some championships ready to be wrapped up.

The weather, however, was not quite as predictable as the results of the weekend would be. With spouts of rain and sunshine, and high levels of humidity meant that not only were tyre choices tricky, but knowing what to wear was also a hard decision!

Free practice was uneventful, with David Salom, Loris Baz' stand-in for this round, crashing around halfway through and walking away unharmed. It did, however, show the riders how the weather was to be over the weekend, with the track providing wet conditions for them to adjust to.

The first qualifying session started out with drops of rain, as Badovini started with the fastest time, soon to be beaten by Haslam. Laverty quickly succeeded in getting the fastest time, but Sykes was not deterred, and set a fast time of 1'41.233. Haslam, however, was going incredibly well and soon pipped that time, with Giugliano following suit. Sykes, though, was having none of that and set another fast time, followed by another lap in which he beat his own pace. The table stayed the same throughout the remainder of the session, until Guintoli just beat his rival's time with ten minutes left, then beating his own time in the last minute of the session with a 1'38.709. Cluzel, Haslam and Leon Camier's temporary replacement Vincente Phillipe all had short rides on the gravel in quick succession of each other, and that was the only few events in this session. Guintoli, Sykes, Davies, Cluzel, Laverty, Giugliano, Philippe, Melandri, Fabrizio, Michele Pirro (standing in for Checa), Salom, Haslam, Badovini, Lanzi and Elias made the provisional superpole entry list.

A brace of new faces - Toni Elias chasing stand-in rider Vincente Phillipe.Philippe started out fastest in the second qualifying session, with Giugliano and he swapping places twice. Salom then crashed, causing the session to get red flagged. Sykes started the re-start with the fastest time, with Pirro getting a brief look in before Giugliano got back in the top spot again. Sykes then re-took the fastest spot with Guintoli proving a point and taking it from him. However, the familiar face that is Lanzi soon set a fast time of 1'58.288, only for his efforts to be pushed aside by Giugliano, who then beat his own time twice. It looked like Giugliano could have been unbeatable, but Melandri then set a faster time, beating his own time twice too. Melandri ended up fastest with a 1'54.696, with Giugliano, Guintoli, Badovini, Pirro, Haslam, Fabrizio, Elias, Sykes, Lanzi, Laverty, Philippe, Davies, Aitchison and Sandi rounding off the top fifteen.

However, as it was a wet second qualifying session, the times did not beat the first session, and the superpole entry list was as follows:

Guintoli, Sykes, Davies, Cluzel, Laverty, Giugliano, Philippe, Melandri, Fabrizio, Pirro, Salom, Haslam, Badovini, Lanzi and Elias.

The free practice before superpole had drops of rain in all sectors, and Cluzel and Pirro both crashed out, with Cluzel doing lots of damage to the bike. Philippe also had a big crash, causing a red flag with fifteen minutes left of the session and leaving the Fixi Crescent Suzuki team with lots of work to do.

Superpole was declared as wet, so would be two twenty minute sessions with only the top nine going through to the second session. The first session started with Sykes going fastest with Giugliano in second with Haslam and Melandri in third and fourth, but Elias got the fastest time with twelve minutes left of the session. Giugliano was briefly fastest with Sykes taking it, but Haslam then topped the sheets with a 1'51.796. Haslam, however, had a huge crash on turn twelve half way through, limping away as Elias topped his time. Fabrizio then set the fastest time, with Giugliano being quick to take it. Fabrizio briefly got the top spot back, but Giugliano took it again with a 1'46.825. Guintoli, however, beat this by eight hundredth of a second with five minutes of the session left, only to get topped by Sykes in the last minute with a 1'44.897.

Davide Giugliano isn't afraid to get close to other riders...This left Sykes on provisional pole with Laverty, Guintoli, Badovini, Davies, Melandri, Giugliano, Fabrizio and Philippe joining him in the second superpole session, Philippe having placed despite a last minute crash.

Pirro, Elias and, due to a technical fault stopping him being able to place a faster time, Cluzel were knocked out to make the fourth row of the grid. Salom, Lanzi and Haslam were knocked out to make the fifth row.

The second superpole session started with Sykes in fastest again, but Laverty was quick to take it fro, him. Guintoli and Davies pushed Sykes down to fifth, as Giugliano slid into second. Guintoli briefly had a stint in second, but Giugliano soon took it back as he crossed the line with nine minutes of the session remaining. A minute later, Sykes took pole position with a time of 1'39.571. The white flag came out to signal rain in sector two with five minutes left of the session, leaving Sykes undeterred as he beat his own time with a 1'38.592.

So, Sykes was once again on pole, with Guintoli placing second on his last flying lap and Giugliano finishing the first row of the grid. Laverty, Fabrizio and Badovini made up the second row with Melandri, Davies and Philippe placing in the third row, Philippe not having placed a time due to technical faults with the bike.

Race one started with Sykes taking the lead, to nobody's surprise. Giugliano took second with Guintoli third, but Guintoli quickly took second from the Althea rider, with Melandri coming through to also overtake Giugliano into third. By the end of the first lap, Sykes and Giugliano had already started to pull away from third and fourth, with Laverty sat in fifth looking like he was ready to start challenging for the podium. Giugliano reclaimed third place from Melandri on the second lap, and in the meantime Cluzel had worked his way from a fourth row start on the grid to eighth place, showing an impressive start to the race. Laverty soon followed Giugliano in overtaking Melandri, and they briefly collide as Melandri tries to defend, allowing Davies to also sneak past his team-mate, only to drop it at the next corner. He walked away unhurt, but his crash seemed to be the catalyst for chaos to begin.

Big gaggle of riders is bound to end in tears...By the third lap, Cluzel has worked his way into sixth place, with his pace seeming faster and faster, however, he was clearly over pushing, as he crashed at turn twelve, walking away unhurt but doing a huge deal of damage to his bike. Guintoli was on the pace, but didn't seem to have the right methods to be able to catch up with Sykes and stayed in second.

Back to Laverty, now, as his determination started to pay off and he overtook Giugliano into third place. Giugliano, however, was not going to let his podium go without a fight, and stayed close to the Aprilia looking for any opportunity to get back in front. By this point, Melandri had dropped far back, with Fabrizio and Haslam looking to overtake. Sykes soon started to pull a lead, and the race started to become slightly processional after that, so we will start to focus a bit further down the pack, from eighth position and lap ten. Elias had climbed his way up, overtaking Philippe into ninth, but the Frenchman was doing very well in his Superbike debut, and took ninth back soon afterwards. However, Elias soon reclaimed it, as Pirro overtook Haslam into 7th. Pirro and Haslam both went on to overtake Fabrizio into sixth and seventh, as Elias caught up and soon followed suit. This was followed by a fantastic battle between eighth to eleventh, which Elias and Phillipe managed to get the better of. Elias, though, soon lost the back end and slid off the bike, sliding into Phillipe and knocking him off, too. Elias then stood up and ran to smack Philippe as if it were his fault, which it clearly wasn't - something which was not a good PR move for the Spanish rider, especially seeing as Philippe is French and making his debut at his home track. Both riders re-joined, but Elias pitted in on the next lap, which was shortly followed by Fabrizio overtaking Haslam to reclaim seventh.

Nothing changed for the next few laps, it looked as if Guintoli could challenge Sykes for a win, but Aitcheson highsided the bike, with it being left on the track and on fire, so the race was red flagged on lap twenty of twenty three. This left Sykes to claim the win with Guintoli second and Laverty third. Giugliano, Melandri, Pirro, Fabrizio, Haslam, Badovini and Lanzi finished off the top ten.

Race two started, once again, with Sykes the unstoppable taking the lead from the first corner with Laverty second and Guintoli third. Melandri was fourth but was soon overtaken by Giugliano and Davies, pushing him down to sixth.

Philippe got his chance to get his own back on lap three, and overtook Elias into eighth, making it stick. At the same time, Sykes set a new lap record for the circuit with a 1'38.383. The race ended for Pirro, who crashed out going into lap four, walking away unhurt but surely disappointed after his success in the first race.

So, this is when things start to get a bit higgledy piggledy, as lots happened in different packs. Melandri overtook Davies into sixth place, as Philippe carried on climbing up the tables and overtook Fabrizio into eighth, with Haslam getting in front of Badovini to take tenth place. By lap six, Sykes had a three second lead from Laverty, with Guintoli being hot on the Irishman's tail and ready to overtake at the first possible moment.

Elias and Haslam both overtook Fabrizio to get into eighth and ninth, whilst Melandri ran very wide and hit the gravel at turn eight after finding a false neutral, causing him to end up at the very back of the field. The race ended for Haslam on lap eight, as a technical fault caused his bike to pack up, losing him a top ten finish.

Laverty and Guintoli were like this for both races...Guintoli found his moment on lap nine, and overtook Laverty, looking on the pace and hopeful to catch up to Sykes, despite his six second lead. Skipping ahead to lap twelve, now, and Cluzel. He had worked his way up to eight place, having overtaken Fabrizio. However, he was clearly over-pushing again, as he crashed out, re-joining at the back with lots of work to do again. Ianuzzo also crashed out, but was already last so wasn't losing much. Fabrizio, however, lost eighth place when his bike had a technical problem and cut out on him.

By lap fifteen, Melandri and Lanzi had overtaken Badovini into eighth and ninth, and that is when the chaos, or 'the battle of the Aprilias' began. Laverty overtook Guintoli, and Guintoli cut through the chicane in his efforts to get second place back, rolling off to stay in third and avoid a penalty. While all this was happening, Sykes was gaining more and more of a lead. Guintoli overtook Laverty again on lap nineteen, and a hell of a battle started to take shape. The next lap started with Laverty overtaking Guintoli again, with Melandri overtaking Elias into seventh further down the track - an impressive achievement bearing in mind the Italian's earlier off-track adventure.

The rain started in sector one on lap twenty-one, with the white flag coming out, and Guintoli overtook Laverty again, with Laverty returning the favour as they approached the line to enter the penultimate lap. Guintoli then overtook Laverty again, with Laverty taking the second place straight back. Guintoli then had a look on the inside, but his team-mate out braked him and Laverty stayed in the lead. Guintoli then attempted another overtake at the next corner and made it stick. Going into the final lap they were neck and neck, and Sykes was long gone in front. The Aprilias were still neck and neck going around the hairpin when Guintoli lost the back end and lowsided at the apex and Laverty lost the back and highsided at the exit within seconds of each other.. The bikes were on track and the rain was coming down hard, so the race was red flagged and rewound a lap. That meant that most races today were red flagged, and Guintoli and Laverty both commented on the amount of flies on their visors being the main hindrance, as they couldn't even see the rain. Sykes won the race by a country mile, and as both Laverty and Guintoli were able to get their bikes back to the pit box within the required five minutes of the red flag they were both counted in the results, Laverty placing second and Guintoli third. Giugliano, Davies, Philippe (very impressive riding), Melandri, Elias, Lanzi and Badovini finished off the top ten.

One round left now, and that's Jerez in two weeks time. We can't believe quite how quickly this season has gone, but we will be there, as usual.

We just want to say a huge congratulations to Sam Lowes on his World Supersport championship win, we're over the moon for him.

Tom Sykes, being aggressive...

Race One

1 Tom Sykes (Kawasaki)
2 Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia)
3 Eugene Laverty (Aprilia)
4 Davide Giugliano (Aprilia)
5 Marco Melandri (BMW)
6 Michele Pirro (Ducati)
7 Michel Fabrizio (Honda)
8 Leon Haslam (Honda)
9 Ayrton Badovini (Ducati)
10 Lorenzo Lanzi (Ducati)

Race Two

1 Tom Sykes (Kawasaki)
2 Eugene Laverty (Aprilia)
3 Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia)
4 Davide Giugliano (Aprilia)
5 Chaz Davies (BMW)
6 Vincente Phillipe (Suzuki)
7 Marco Melandri (BMW)
8 Toni Elias (Aprilia)
9 Lorenzo Lanzi (Ducati)
10 Ayrton Badovini (Ducati)

Championship Standing after thirteen rounds:

1 Tom Sykes 411
2 Eugene Laverty 374
3 Sylvain Guintoli 373
4 Marco Melandri 339
5 Chaz Davies 270
6 Davide Giugliano 195
7 Michel Fabrizio 186
8 Loris Baz 180
9 Jonathan Rea 176
10 Jules Cluzel 160



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