Masterful Mahias Times it Perfectly to Secure Pole at Imola
The GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team enjoyed a superb Saturday at Round 5 of the 2018 FIM Supersport World Championship. Reigning WorldSSP Champion, Lucas Mahias, secured his third pole position of the season in a dramatic, rain-affected SP2 after setting a brilliant 1:53.042 in what turned out to be a race against the weather. His teammate Federico Caricasulo had been the man to beat at his home round on Friday and he maintained this form, despite the tricky conditions in SP2, to qualify in fourth for Sunday's race. European Supersport Cup rider Alfonso Coppola continued his impressive progress in his rookie WorldSSP season as he qualified in 26th, incredibly improving his best time from Friday's FP1 by 2.5s.
The weather has been glorious all weekend at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, but just as the bikes were being warmed up for WorldSSP SP1, ominous grey clouds appeared and a storm was on its way. This meant qualifying was a case of who could set the fastest time before the heavy rain arrived in an exciting game of cat and mouse.
Mahias (71 points) arrived in Imola having seen his championship lead reduced to just one point after two tricky races at Aragon and Assen. Determined to take the fight to his rivals in Imola, the 28-year-old French rider had rediscovered the feeling with his R6 during Friday's practice that he had enjoyed in Phillip Island and Thailand, finishing FP2 in second overall, just 0.051s behind his teammate Caricasulo. This theme continued in FP3 as he again ended the session in second, this time just 0.065s off the pace of his teammate but the best was yet to come. As the riders were waiting for pit lane to open for SP2, the rain started to fall and this saw everybody scramble to get out on their bikes as soon as possible and try and set a lap time on slicks before the track became too wet.
Flying out of his pit box, Mahias used all of his endurance racing experience - where you have to get up to speed immediately so as not to lose any precious time - to set a sensational flying lap at the first attempt. As the first man out on track, he had to assess the conditions as he arrived at each corner, pushing as hard as he could with the rain coming down hard and timing it to perfection to set a 1:53.042 and securing pole with his first flying lap. As the rain increased, it became impossible for anyone to beat his time, meaning the man from Mont-de-Marsan had secured his third pole position of the season - and fourth in six races - by a whopping 0.985s. Mahias now heads into Sunday's race confident he has the pace to battle at the front and looking to extend his championship lead.
His teammate Caricasulo had ended Friday on top of the timesheets as the local hero showed devastating pace around the Imola circuit. He followed this up by topping FP3 on Saturday morning with a 1:51.284 and heading into SP2 he was the man to beat. Heading out on track at the same time as his teammate Mahias, he rode very cleverly and without taking too many risks, safe in the knowledge that his race pace for Sunday would allow him to fight for the win as long as he was not too far back on the grid. The 22-year-old Italian could not quite match Mahias on his first flying lap but still managed to set a 1:54.949 to secure fourth in SP2 and he will start Sunday's race from the head of the second row with the perfect opportunity to fight for the victory.
European Supersport Cup rider Alfonso Coppola has been focusing on his improvement over a race weekend in his rookie year in the WorldSSP class after making the step up from the WorldSSP300 championship. The inaugural Yamaha R3 Challenge Cup winner showed how far he has grown as a rider by improving from a 1:55.979 in FP1, to a 1:54.874 in FP2 to finish Friday in 29th overall. The impressive progress continued in FP3 with the 20-year-old Italian shaving almost 0.5s off his best time to set a 1:54.414. He carried this form into SP1 where, sensationally, he managed to improve by almost a second to a 1:53.559 and he will now line up 23rd on the grid for Sunday's race, determined to fight for his first WorldSSP Championship point.
After the changeable conditions on Saturday, Sunday's forecast is for blue skies and a high of 25°C and the GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team are looking forward to hitting the track at 9:10 am local time (CEST) for Warm Up, with the 17-lap race due to start at 11:30 am. Check out the WorldSSP qualifying results.
GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team - 1st - 1:53.042
"I am very happy! Today was very good for me. I liked the qualifying situation, it was so exciting to start with the rain coming down. I have a lot of experience in endurance racing, where you have to go fast right from your out lap, and in this kind of situation, I am pretty quick. For sure, it was very difficult because when I started I knew I would have only one lap to try and secure pole position. On the second lap, with the rain, it was impossible to go faster. I tried to exit first, I overtook Federico and I was the first person out on track. This made it hard as I was entering corners not knowing if it was wet or dry but I just pushed and pushed as much as I could. In Sector 3 for instance, I could smell the water on the track and it was very difficult. I looked at my lap time and thought it was okay, and I saw that had opened a gap on Federico so maybe it would be okay and from that moment, I was hoping it rained a lot. Pole position is great for the team, after two tricky races we had lots of meetings and we worked very hard and this is good for the atmosphere and feeling with the team. My race pace is really good, in the last two races I had to really push to just follow the other riders but now I have a really good feeling with the bike and my confidence is back! I feel really good for the race, I hope tomorrow it is a good race without lots of red flags like last year, for the riders and the fans too."
GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team - 4th - 1:54.949
"I am not happy with P4 as I have been very fast all weekend in the dry and then in SP2, it was tricky as we had just one lap to try and set the fastest time. It is not easy to push on the limit on just your first lap in wet conditions with slick tyres and Lucas was very strong but it is still good to start from the second row, pole position just would have been better. I am very confident for the race because I have a good rhythm, I am happy with my bike and we just need to find the right tyre and I think I can battle for the win in the race!"
GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Junior Team - 23rd - 1:53.559
"I am happy with a 1:53.5! It is a good lap and I managed to improve 2.5s from my best time in FP1. At the start of the weekend, it would have been impossible for me to do a 1:53.5 but I worked hard with my team and we made a really good step. Imola is a very tough and physical track so to improve this much is good and we closed the gap to the guys at the front a lot. Tomorrow will be a tough and physical race, 17 laps around Imola in the heat will be tough but it will be a good experience for me as I look to keep on building my strength and fitness on the R6. I am really looking forward to the race and I would like to thank my GRT team for all their hard work and Yamaha for the opportunity and their belief in me!"
GRT Yamaha Offical WorldSSP Team Manager
"We had an amazing qualifying today, it was very different but all the riders and the team did an amazing job! Lucas is very confident in changing conditions, even if it meant we had to change our team strategy but we always focus on getting the best result. Lucas and his whole team were very clever and he just pushed as much as he could, controlling the risk, and we knew if he could get the quickest first lap he would secure pole position. It was very good work and it was great for the team. For Federico, we are confident in his pace, even if he will have to start from fourth. He was very intelligent as he knew he had a very good race pace and he didn't want to take too many risks in the tricky conditions but also needed to qualify as close to the front as possible and starting from the second row we know he has the pace to challenge for the race win. Alfonso has shown continuous improvement. Once again he hit the lap time target that we set him and the whole team made a big step today and his improvement is very impressive. I would like to thank the whole team as they have shown that in all conditions we can be fighting at the front and thank you to Yamaha for supporting us so well."