Nerves are jangling as Portimao awaits WorldSBK in 2023, with the tension in the air and the title on the line this weekend.
It’s Thursday, so it can only mean one thing in the 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship paddock: media day! With a microphone waiting to pick up the hottest quotes ahead of the Pirelli Portuguese Round at the ‘rollercoaster’ of Portimao in the Algarve, we’ve put all the best bits below, with topics ranging from the ever-changing title fight to the 2024 rider line-up and more.
Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati): “I hope to not make more mistakes”
Championship leader Alvaro Bautista leads the title race by 47 points, but how is he feeling about this match point weekend? “The title isn’t 100% dependent on my side, so I’m not thinking about that. I just want to focus on myself and try to get the maximum in all conditions. It’ll be a tough weekend because it’ll be hot. It’s better to think about the important things, the weekend and managing all three days, than the other things. Best way to enjoy the moment and not feel more pressure. I’m not a big fan of combinations or statistics or records, I just think about the present. I know if I do my best, it’ll be a good weekend. In the end, crashes or technical problems are part of the game. You prefer to not have it but it’s a possibility for all the riders in all races. I hope to not make more mistakes like on Saturday at Aragon, but it’s part of the game.”
Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK): “I’m taking a lot of risks… I always need more”
Toprak Razgatlioglu is always fast at Portimao and he’ll need to be this year to keep his hopes of title number two alive: “I have very good memories here, especially last year. I had a big fight with Alvaro in the Superpole Race. I hope we are fighting with him because it’s one of my favourite tracks. I’m strong here, also Jonny’s very strong. Alvaro, every track we go to, is very strong and we’re fighting together. I’m taking a lot of risks because it looks like I’m now in second position but, if I win all the races and he’s second, he’s again World Champion. I always need more. I’m only looking at winning the races. Maybe he makes some mistakes and the Championship changes again. I’m just focused on my race, trying to win again. A hat-trick won’t be easy because Alvaro is very strong. Jonny’s very strong and my teammate is getting strong. This weekend I will try the jump, especially at the end of FP1. We will see how many metres I jump!”
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK): “Momentum was all with Alvaro, now it seems to be going against him; It’s all for him to lose”
Having his say on the title fight ahead of him, six-time World Champion Jonathan Rea shared his thoughts before talking about his own Portimao chances: “When I was in Alvaro’s position, you start to think about the gap coming down and how many races are left. With every race that goes by, the gap can be less and less but you see how quick an advantage can swing with a good weekend or bad one. It seems the momentum was all with Alvaro at the beginning of the season, now in the last races, they’ve faced difficulties. It seems to be going against him right now with uncharacteristic mistakes and Toprak’s riding in a good way but you have to win races. The points gap between winning and finishing second means a lot at this stage; it’s all for him to lose. We have to look at our competition to understand our strengths and weaknesses and exploit them at different circuits. This is one that might not penalise our weaknesses as much; we come on in fourth gear, carrying momentum and hopefully around the rest of the track, we can make a difference.”
Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati): “Details not depending on me… I need a big project”
Speaking about the weekend ahead and his future, Michael Ruben Rinaldi said: “The pressure being off is an important fact and it helped to ride in a more relaxed way, thinking to ride the bike and nothing else. I feel great; I’ll try my best from Friday morning to have a good weekend and challenge for the podium. We know that in the last seasons, the top three – Jonny, Toprak and Alvaro – are making the difference, as they’re tough riders to beat. To be the only one in two years who has been able to do that is something incredible. I want to join the titanic trio, so I think we need to work even harder and I’m looking forward to having a seat next year to beat them again. Making good results helps but there’s no right decision yet about 2024 because there are details not depending on me. I want to have a good opportunity but also a good proposal. I’m at a point in my career where I can’t ride a bike just for fun or just for money. I need a good background, results and support from the manufacturer, as I’m not 19-years-old anymore, so I need a big project. I’d like a two-year project but not just a move because I need a seat.”
Iker Lecuona (Team HRC): “I can say I’ll stay with Honda”
After a strong weekend last time out, Iker Lecuona is keen for more of the same: “After Aragon, I am really happy and I say the same to my manager when we travelled to Valencia. I needed one weekend like that. I’ve struggled a lot all season, with many crashes and many things that I don’t understand well. The best race was the first one in Australia and until this moment, I struggled every weekend and I can’t enjoy. We had something different on the bike at Aragon and after this weekend, with three top ten finishes and two top six results, I’m really satisfied. It was a motivation for me. About my future, we need to wait. I’m happy here and I can say I’ll stay with Honda but we will see when we can say something. I understand that I can put my mind to the things that I can manage. Things I can’t manage, like a third person, I can’t do anything.”
Michael van der Mark (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team): “Everything is improving”
Seeking a return to the top ten, Michael van der Mark always stars at Portimao: “I was quite happy with P11; it’s not a place where we should be proud but I am getting the rhythm and speed back, so it was good progress. Portimao is one of my favourite tracks that I enjoy and I’ve always done well at, so I am happy to be here. 2021’s win seems like forever ago; the speed I had with the bike in the rain, without even pushing, was incredible. It looks like there will be no rain this weekend but we’ll get there again. It’s difficult to say what is missing but if you miss most of the season, for sure it won’t be easy. The bike is improving, everything is improving but the midfield is so close. We can only keep working, developing the bike and we need to have a package that is stronger everywhere.”
Lorenzo Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha): “We’re looking at other brands to continue in WorldSBK”
With his future uncertain, Lorenzo Baldassarri gave an update about his hopes for 2024: “I hope to continue in WorldSBK. I enjoy it a lot and I feel like it’s more my bike than a World Supersport bike. I hope to continue with Yamaha because they invested money in me and trusted in me for this first year. I don’t know where at the moment but it’s not easy for us. We started the year with GMT94 Yamaha and last year the Championship finished very late and started early, so we didn’t have much testing. WorldSBK needs a lot of laps to put all these things together. I can’t wait to know about next year. We are also looking at other brands to continue in WorldSBK but, the main target is to continue in WorldSBK or other categories but I want to be competitive. I want to compete for good results.”
Nicolo Bulega (Aruba.it Racing WorldSSP Team): “Could be a very special weekend”
Looking ahead to the weekend and discussing the possibility of being crowned, Bulega said: “It could be a very special weekend for me and my team but, first, I’d only like to continue as I did from the first race and start my Friday trying to find a good setup. If it’s possible, I’d like to secure the title in Race 1. I start this weekend like always as I want to find a good setup, have fun with my bike and try to win. If I will be Champion after the race, even better. Honestly, I’m very relaxed because I feel very good with my bike. I feel like I can push every lap that I want. This is the most important and makes me happy and calm. To bring back Ducati to this condition in WorldSSP is something that makes me very proud. It’s something special.”
Jeffrey Buis (MTM Kawasaki): “A lot of people asked me if I’m nervous”
Talking about the season finale, Buis said: “A lot of people asked me if I’m nervous but, for me, it’s just a normal race weekend. I just do what I can do always. I’ll try to be in the top positions and that’s very important for this weekend. Back in 2020, I was quite nervous and also younger. Now, I have a bit more experience and I’ll try to stay calm. I’ll do my best and that’s all I can do. My goal is to do it in Race 1 because then in Race 2 I can ride freely.”
In preparation for the Pirelli Portuguese Round at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, riders from the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, including Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team), Hafizh Syahrin (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team) and Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW), swapped their motorcycles for a unique adventure, taking a boat trip along Portugal’s picturesque coastline.