Voltcom Crescent Suzuki’s Alex Lowes took a determined top-six finish at the Sepang International Circuit’s opening World Superbike Championship race today followed by a dramatic first-corner chaos that saw him fight from the back in race two.
With tyre management being the order of the day, Lowes rode a determined race as the Malaysian track recorded 43°C for the opening contest. A difficult start to race one left the British racer circulating just inside the top-10 for the first half, before digging deep on his Yoshimura-powered GSX-R. Claiming a position a lap as the race concluded, Lowes crossed the line in sixth for 10 championship points.
Forced to take avoiding action after a dramatic first corner crash by Max Biaggi on the opening lap of race two, Lowes found himself with an uphill battle from last position. Again finding initial ultimate pace difficult but regrouping as his rhythm increased, he rode an unwavering race for the remaining laps, claiming a well-deserved eighth for eight further points and promoting him up to ninth overall in the Championship standings.
Prevented from advancing his Suzuki GSX-R1000 beyond his grid position for much of the early afternoon action in a race-long battle with Ducati’s Matteo Baiocco, Randy de Puniet looked to have secured an eighth-place finish on his final lap. However, a final corner error saw the frustrated Frenchman recover only four points from his 12th place finish. Running strongly in the top 10 as race two began, de Puniet struggled to maintain his pace in the mid-section of the concluding battle, consolidating 13th and three points at the flag.
Championship contenders Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki) and Chaz Davies (Ducati) shared a victory each as the Sepang circuit avoided the threatening tropical showers – the cloud cover cooling the track (39°C) if not the air (31°C) for the second encounter.
A long summer break now beckons for Voltcom Crescent Suzuki with the team returning to its UK Headquarters. Lowes and de Puniet will join the team in Verwood, Dorset for a Suzuki test ride and open day on Saturday August 8th to meet the fans, with the next race scheduled for September as the Championship returns to Spain, and the Jerez circuit, on the 20th.
“It was a difficult day but I feel like I rode really well. I’m disappointed with the sixth and eighth results on paper but riding-wise I think I did a good job. Obviously I just got unlucky in the second race with the incident in turn one; it can happen any time but when everything is going a bit uphill, it seems to happen to us! Apart from that I did my absolute best, caught-up as much as possible without crashing; and went forward in both races. We struggled a bit for out-and-out pace here so we tried to set our bike-up for 16 laps, as it’s a bit of a peculiar track for tyre life.
“It’s been a tough weekend but I feel like I’m starting to learn how to ride in this heat a lot better and without the race two incident at the start there was the potential to battle for fourth place. I’m looking forward to a few weeks off before we have the last three rounds of the year and I’m hoping for a really strong finish as I’m really starting to build-back some confidence and belief in myself now.”
Randy de Puniet:
“A difficult race day! In race one I finished 12th but I was able to finish eighth as I had a good race, but I made a mistake in the last corner overtaking Baiocco. I braked too-late and ended up on the grass, restarted and finished 12th, which was disappointing but the pace was there. In race two I had a better start, I was 10th on the first lap – in race one I was 13th – so it was much better - but I struggled a lot with the feeling throughout. I’m disappointed because if the feeling was the same as race one I am sure seventh position would have been easy. We have continued to make progress in the last few races but I’m still not where I want to be, so we will keep working.”
Paul Denning – Team Manager:
“A hot and humid day, as always, at Sepang but one of Alex’s best performances of the year so far. Sixth and eighth doesn’t automatically back-that-up but being completely honest, our bike simply didn’t have the acceleration and speed required to compete with the top challengers here and we had to take a different approach – which was to use the harder tyre - try and keep consistent and grind-out the best results we possibly could. Sixth in race one was a good reward for that strategy for Alex but being outgunned at the start and then being pushed wide by the Biaggi crash in turn one meant race two was always going to be difficult. The team was extremely impressed with how Alex dug-in and pulled his way back from last position to eighth at the end, increasing his pace to the point where on some laps at the latter stages his lap-times were the same as the podium finishers.
“Randy looked like he could have challenged for his best results of the season here today and on paper it looked like it might have come, but after a very strong first race, a last corner error knocked him back to 12th and in the second race he struggled with tyre performance.
“We enter into the summer break now and with all the freight going directly from here to Jerez we don’t have the opportunity for any development in that time, so we will be looking to maximise the performance of the GSX-R when we get to Spain and continue the upward trend in the championship positions.”
Sepang – eni FIM Superbike World Championship – Race One: 1. Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki) 33’33.964: 2. Chaz Davies (Ducati) +0.121: 3. Max Biaggi (Aprilia) +10.695: 4. Sylvain Guintoli (Honda) +15.433: 5. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) +17.983: 6. Alex Lowes (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki) +23.758. 12. Randy de Puniet (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki) +37.378.
Sepang – eni FIM Superbike World Championship – Race Two: 1. Davies 33’36.466: 2. Rea +0.091: 3. Jordi Torres (Aprilia) +5.008: 4. Guintoli +13.130: 5. Michael van der Mark (Honda) + 15.801. 8. Alex Lowes (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki) +26.526. 13. Randy de Puniet (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki) +46.521.
World Championship Classification: 1. Rea 452: 2. Davies 308: 3. Sykes 295: 4. Haslam 259: 5. Torres 186: 9. Alex Lowes (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki) 112. 17. Randy de Puniet (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki) 39.