Lowes Wins Championship Podium Fight in Qatar
Alex Lowes concluded the 2019 season and his four years as a Yamaha WorldSBK rider by adding to his podium tally on the final day of WorldSBK racing this year. The 29-year-old Briton claimed his second podium finish of the weekend with third place in the Superpole Sprint Race, backing that up with a hard-fought fourth place in WorldSBK Race 2 to win the battle for third place in the overall championship standings.
Lowes arrived at the final round with a slender one-point lead over his Pata Yamaha with Rizla WorldSBK teammate, Michael van der Mark, in the championship standings. Despite intense pressure from van der Mark and Kawasaki's Toprak Razgatlioglu, Lowes kept his cool and departs Qatar this evening with third place in the FIM Superbike World Championship, achieving the top-3 goal he'd set himself at the start of his 2019 campaign.
After a difficult weekend in Qatar, van der Mark's sixth place in the Superpole Race and a particularly hard-fought seventh place in Race 2 were enough to ensure that the Dutch rider, who celebrated his 27th birthday today, finished fourth in the championship standings, just 14 points behind his Pata Yamaha teammate.
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK rider, Sandro Cortese, enjoyed a strong finish to his rookie WorldSBK season. The German rider bounced back from a crash in yesterday's Race 1 to pick up two top-ten finishes today. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough to reclaim 11th place in the championship standings from Jordi Torres, who retained an advantage of just one single point.
WorldSBK Race 2 in Qatar marked the final appearance for Marco Melandri who, after a career that has spanned three decades and is unmatched by any rider on the current WorldSBK grid, finally hung up his leathers and retired from racing this evening. Having been pushed wide twice during the race and losing places as a result, Melandri decided to enjoy his last racing laps before heading home to start the next chapter in what has already been a remarkable life.
Loris Baz rode an excellent WorldSBK Race 2 this evening. The Ten Kate Yamaha Supported WorldSBK rider got pushed wide on the entry to Turn 1 at the start, ran off track and then rejoined in last position. Over the course of the 17-lap race Baz fought his way through the field to latch onto the back of the group battling for fifth place, which included van der Mark. The Frenchman eventually finished in eighth position in the race and 10th in the championship, an incredible achievement given that he missed the first 15 races of the season.
Pata Yamaha WorldSBK - Final Championship Position 3rd - 341 Points
"It was good to end the season with a strong weekend here in Qatar but, apart from one bad weekend in Jerez and the crash while leading in Misano, I've been up there in the top-six and really strong in every race. The target this year was to finish top-three in the championship; obviously everyone wants to be world champion, but you've got to improve on what you did the year before, keep learning, keep moving forward and this year was a good step forward for me. It's a bittersweet end to the season because I'm leaving a team that has such a great atmosphere, with whom I get on really well and in which I feel a part of the family. It's strange to be leaving both Crescent and Yamaha, we'll all face new challenges next season, but tonight I'm going to enjoy it, together with the guys who've worked so hard for me and helped me achieve my goal this season."
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha WorldSBK - Final Championship Position 4th - 327 Points
"We made some changes to the set up ahead of Race 2 this evening and I felt a lot better at the beginning compared to the Superpole race in the afternoon. Unfortunately, once the tyres started to drop off then I struggled like before. I tried everything to stay in front of Alex, but it just wasn't possible because I was struggling with the grip so much. Anyway, I think if we look back on this season we should be satisfied. The Misano injury put us on the back foot, missing that whole event and then riding injured at the following two rounds, but we never gave up and we never stopped trying. To finish fourth in the championship isn't what we were looking for but, given the obstacles we've faced this season, it's still pretty incredible. Big credit to the team and to Yamaha, unfortunately this wasn't our weekend but I'm confident we'll be back stronger next year."
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK - Final Championship Position 9th - 177 Points
"To be honest, I was hoping to bow out today with a different result. The Superpole Race wasn't too bad, it was always going to be difficult from the sixth row of the grid, but it was certainly the most enjoyable race of the weekend. Race 2 was very difficult; I got a bad start, got pushed out of the track when someone made a mistake in front of me and then struggled a lot when I rejoined. When Rinaldi passed me, he pushed me out at Turn 1 and my race was done. From that moment it was like the last stage of the Tour de France, just riding my bike for fun. This weekend it's been nice to have so many people come up to me to say hello and congratulations to me. This makes me prouder than many races."
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK - Final Championship Position P12 - 134 Points
"In the Superpole Race I felt much more comfortable with the bike, but Race 2 was tough. I struggled a lot at the end with the front tyre, losing it almost every time. After the crash yesterday I tried to go as much as I could on the limit, but I didn't want to finish my last race with GRT Yamaha with a crash so the top-ten was the best we could do today. At the end I was still pretty close to the two Pata Yamaha riders, which is a positive. When you start from third on the grid everyone expects great things, but I've had to learn and understand a lot of things this season, such as how to maintain my pace over the full race distance and not just the first five or six laps. Overall, I feel that I've had a good rookie season. Big thanks to Yamaha and to the GRT Yamaha team for making this possible this year. I will miss everyone in the team next season."
Ten Kate Yamaha Supported WorldSBK - Final Championship Position P10 - 138 Points
"I got into a bit of a mess with Leon Haslam and lost a lot of time running off track at Turn 1, but it all stems from the same problem we've had all year, in that I struggle to get the bike off the line. It's definitely something we need to focus on improving ahead of next season. I rejoined in last place, but my feeling with the bike was better than yesterday and I knew I could conserve my tyres better than most of the riders ahead of me. I pushed on, trying not to lose too much time overtaking the guys, which meant a couple of hard moves, but I eventually managed to come back to the battle for fourth place. It was really hard to overtake Eugene Laverty because he also had good pace and was very quick on the straight. But in the end it was cool; we finished again with the factory guys, closer to the winner than yesterday despite the off-track excursion, which was enough to secure me 10th in the championship, despite missing the first 15 races because we only made our debut in Jerez. We came here wanting more, but I think we can be satisfied with what we've achieved this season."
Yamaha Motor Europe Road Racing Manager
"It's been a long but successful WorldSBK season for Yamaha, our teams and our riders, but we can be satisfied with what we've achieved this year. Alex did a very focused and consistent job to finish third in the championship standings, despite intense pressure from both Michael and Toprak Razgatlioglu in the second half of the season. Having the two Pata Yamaha riders finish third and fourth is already an improvement on last year, but the fact that we have two other Yamaha R1s in the top-ten, with Marco ninth and Loris tenth, shows that our package is competitive for everyone, not just the reference team. I'd like to thank the teams, the riders and the Yamaha technical staff for their commitment and dedication this season and I am confident that, with their continued support and the new 2020 R1, we can come back even stronger for next season. All that remains to be said is to thank Alex, Marco and Sandro and to wish them every success for their futures."