Van der Mark Storms to Top Six in Race 1 at Imola
The Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team battled hard throughout Race 1 at Round 5 of the 2018 Motul FIM Superbike World Championship in Imola on Saturday. Michael van der Mark had a tricky SP2 and could only qualify in 12th but when the lights went out he mounted a stunning charge through the field to secure a superb sixth place finish. His teammate Alex Lowes qualified in tenth and gave it absolutely everything during the race, despite not having the best feeling with his bike, to bring his Pata Yamaha R1 home in a solid tenth-place finish.
It was another gorgeous day at Imola with blues skies and the sun shining on the iconic Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit, meaning track temperatures were well over 40°C. Imola has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for the Pata Yamaha Team since the manufacturer's return to the WorldSBK Championship but van der Mark went some way to turning that around on Saturday. The 25-year-old Dutch rider - fresh from his double podium in Assen - ended Friday's practice in 5th overall with a 1:47.461 and used FP4 to try and work on race pace and the stability of his R1. In SP2, he just could not produce the kind of pace he was expecting, failing to improve on his Friday time and setting a 1:47.710, which meant he would line up for Race 1 12th on the grid.
When the lights went out the 2014 WorldSSP Champion did not have the best of starts and dropped down to 14th in the first corner. Showing excellent maturity, he did not panic and embarked on a sensational charge through the field, combining some breath-taking overtaking manoeuvres with very consistent pace. By the end of the first lap, he was already up to ninth place and by the time they crossed the line to start lap 4 he was in seventh. As the race went on, his pace continued to improve and on lap 6 he dropped into the 1:47's for the first time and was chasing down Michael Ruben Rinaldi in sixth. While everyone else's lap times were dropping, van der Mark continued to improve and set his fastest lap of the race on lap 12 as he closed down a two-second gap to Rinaldi and blasted past him on lap 13, immediately opening a gap. From there on in, he maintained his impressive pace to the chequered flag to secure a superb sixth-place finish and record his best ever WorldSBK finish at Imola after a very impressive ride. The result means that van der Mark is now fifth in the overall standings with 113 points, just 8 behind Tom Sykes in fourth, and also saw him maintain his run of being ever present in the top six in the last six races. Thanks to his performance he will line up on the front row for Sunday's Race 2 in third, confident he will be able to fight for a top-five finish.
After Alex Lowes finished Saturday morning's FP4 in ninth, the 27-year-old British rider was determined to join his teammate in SP2 and set his fastest ever lap at Imola, a 1:47.097, to top SP1 in some style and finish 0.539s ahead of the rest. Once on the qualifying tyre in SP2, he too did not have the best feeling with his Pata Yamaha R1 and failed to improve his time, setting a 1:47.115 to start Race 1 from 10th on the grid.
Lining up at the head of the fourth row, Lowes enjoyed a good start and was up to ninth by the first corner. Unfortunately, it soon became evident that he was struggling to match his rivals under acceleration. In typical style, the 2013 British Superbike Champion showed full commitment to be involved in an excellent four-way battle for ninth with Leon Haslam, Eugene Laverty, Lorenzo Savadori and Toprak Razgatlioglu. Scrapping for almost the entire 19-laps, he gave as good as he got and never gave up. He continued to battle right to the line to secure a tenth-place finish, just 0.108s off Haslam in ninth, and collected 6 championship points to take his season tally to 82. This sees him seventh overall in the standings and Lowes is determined to work on the data collected during the race with his team overnight to allow him to come out fighting from 12th on the grid in Sunday's Race 2.
After a day of ups and downs that matched the rollercoaster nature of the Imola track, the Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team are looking forward to returning to action on Sunday at 9:35 am local time (CEST) for Warm Up, with the 19-lap Race 2 scheduled to start at 1 pm. Check out the full Race 1 results.
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - 6th +19.339s
"SP2 was a bit of a disaster and it was really difficult to understand why, so P12 was not ideal, especially not at Imola. My start wasn't really that good but I kept calm and went faster and faster, passing the guys one by one and at the end, I was a bit alone on the track, but I was so happy to have made up so many places. There are a lot of areas where we can improve, mainly acceleration, but to start in 12th and finish in sixth at such a difficult circuit, I am really happy with this result. Tomorrow we will start from P3 but we need a bit more pace and then hopefully we can fight in the top five."
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - 10th - 30.377s
"Honestly, today was extremely disappointing and a really tough 19 laps. We needed to think about tyre life but, unfortunately, the way we had the power delivery set up made life just too difficult on corner exit and I felt like I wasn't able to fight from the first lap right the way to the end. I am disappointed but I am sure that with a better package tomorrow and a good night's sleep I will come back and give my absolute best in Race 2 tomorrow."
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team Principal
"As we said yesterday, we expected Imola to be tough and the race around this extremely technically challenging racetrack exposed the less strong aspects of our current machine. That said, Michael rode, what I believe, was one of his best races of the season so far in terms of consistency and controlled aggression to achieve his best WorldSBK result so far at Imola. By finishing in the top six he has also put himself on the front row of the grid and given himself the best chance to improve further in Race 2 tomorrow. Well done to Michael and his crew for maximising his potential. Alex had a far less easy race. The team had focused on the setting of his R1 in order to assist with tyre life but, unfortunately, it left Alex unable to fight under acceleration and he did what he could to bring the bike home in the top ten. Race 1 in Imola is done, Michael is on the front row tomorrow, Alex's crew have data to give him a better machine and we hope to do our best in Race 2."