The FIM have finally released the provisional calendar for the World Superbike series for next year. The 2015 season will see WSBK travel to 14 rounds, returning to all of the venues which hosted races in 2014, and two more overseas rounds added, in Russia and Thailand.
The chances of this being the definitive calendar appear to be slim. Three rounds are marked as still subject to contract: Portimao, Moscow and Qatar. Both Portimao and Qatar look likely to go ahead, but whether WSBK will actually return to Moscow remains to be seen. The 2014 round was canceled due to the political instability in the Russian Federation and the overflow of conflict in Ukraine, which affected various partners of the series. The political situation has only deteriorated since then, with the EU and US imposing sanctions on Russia, making the race there almost impossible. The teams and riders will be hoping for the round to be canceled: the race was a logistical nightmare to get equipment to and from, and for both the fans and riders to attend and find accommodation for.
In a few hours time, we will know who will be the 2014 World Superbike champion. Tom Sykes leads Sylvain Guintoli by 12 points going into the final two races at Qatar. With 50 points up for grabs, the title race is still completely open, and in a series as close as World Superbikes has been this year, anything could happen.
What both Sykes and Guintoli need are help from their teammates. Guintoli most of all: if the Frenchman is to be champion, he will need someone, such as his Aprilia teammate Marco Melandri, to get in between him and the Kawasaki of Sykes. Sykes, on the other hand, can wrap up the title by winning both races, or at least finishing ahead of Guintoli. If he can't finish ahead of the Frenchman, then he will hope that his teammate Loris Baz can assist.
As loyal teammates, surely Melandri and Baz will be happy to help? That was only partially the case at the last round in Magny-Cours. In race one, Melandri theatrically waved Guintoli past and into the lead, making it patently obvious that victory was Melandri's to dispense as he saw fit, and he was prepared to allow his teammate to win this time. Further back, Baz did the same same for Sykes, though without making quite as much of a song and dance about it as Melandri did.
Race two was a different affair. Once again, Melandri led, and could grant victory to Guintoli if he wanted to. He chose not to, taking the win – despite his pit board making the feelings of his team very clear indeed, for the second race in a row – and taking 5 precious points from Guintoli. If Melandri had obeyed team orders and moved over, then Guintoli would have trailed Sykes by 7 points instead of 12. That would put Guintoli's destiny in his own hands: win both races, and it would not matter what Sykes did. Now, Guintoli needs help, he needs someone between him and the Englishman. Will his teammate come to his rescue this time? Will the Aprilia WSBK team issue team orders again, commanding Melandri to serve the cause of Guintoli's championship challenge?
The rain made for a challenging set of races today, with attrition and setup playing a large part in today's races, but mostly, they'll be remembered for one symbol:
Press releases from the series organizers and World Superbike and World Supersport teams after Sunday's drama-filled races at Magny-Cours:
As the weather didn't get any better, the second World Superbike race was also reduced to nineteen laps.
Jules Cluzel wore comedy windscreen wiper glasses on the grid, reminding us that this would be a race on a wet track. Like the World Superbike race, this too was reduced, to seventeen laps.
It rained this morning but the rain had stopped by the time the race started, but the conditions meant that the race was reduced from twenty-one to nineteen laps.
Press releases from the series organizers and the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after qualifying at Magny-Cours:
Qualifying for World Superbike's penultimate pair of races for 2014 took place today, and the French circuit of Magny-Cours, designed by the ubiquitous Hermann Tilke, had been resurfaced in places since last year, making the track a little bit quicker. Rain has been predicted as possible tomorrow, which would mean qualifying is merely an indicator of where everyone starts the race and not a prediction of pace.
Qualifying for the penultimate World Supersport race finally saw Cal Crutchlow's 2009 qualifying lap bettered.
Tom Sykes continues his title defence with the fastest lap in the untimed session ahead of Superpole with Marco Melandri very close behind. The session was red-flagged with twenty-one minutes remaining due to Sykes crashing at the final chicane after setting the fastest lap. The session resumed shortly after, but Sykes missed out on over ten minutes of tracktime.
Wild Card Lucas Mahias leads Michael van der Mark and Kenan Sofuoglu.
With five manufacturers in the top six, Sylvain Guintoli is quickest in France.