Over 51,000 spectators attended last weekend’s three-day penultimate round of the World Superbike (SBK) Championship season at the Portimão Motor Park.
Title contender Marco Melandri, who was fastest during Friday’s open practice, described the Algarve racing Mecca as “one of the most spectacular tracks in the world”- unfortunately the Italian was not to enjoy the best of weekends thereafter, crashing out of Sunday’s rain-affected opening race and, as a result, finding himself unable to take part in the second.
One man who did relish the conditions was Britain’s Tom Sykes (pictured). The 27-year-old Kawasaki star scorched to a new track record on the way to claiming his eighth pole position of the current season, shaving three tenths of a second off Jonathan Rea’s previous 2011 best mark. Sykes went on to beat the Ducati duo of Carlos Checa and Sebastian Guintoli in Race One and now holds second place in the overall standings, 30.5 points behind likely champion-elect Max Biaggi who consolidated his lead with a third place in Sunday’s second final.
That race sensationally saw victory on a drying track for former Parkalgar Honda home favourite Eugene Laverty. The Irishman, now in the service of Aprilia, showed a clean pair of heels to runner-up Jonathan Rea during his pillar-to-post success.
While the official crowning of the 2012 SBK champion will be left to Magny Cours in a fortnight’s time, the Algarve did see title celebrations in the secondary Supersport category where Kenan Sofuoglu’s (Kawasaki) second-placed finish behind closest rival Jules Cluzel was good enough to secure a third world championship. Local Supersport fans were also able to dream of what might have been as another former Parkalgar team rider, Sam Lowes, made the most of his track knowledge in posting the fastest practice time before taking a close-up fifth place in the race proper. Lowes, who now races for Polish Parkalgar sister outfit Bogdanka PTR Honda, holds fourth place in the overall standings.
Former Laverty and Lowes’ team mate in the Algarve, Miguel Praia, accepted an invitation to return to competition here in the hope of advertising his 2013 credentials- unfortunately the 34-year-old from Albufeira was only able to manage 17th place.