As dramatic as ever, WorldSBK.com reviews the start of the WorldSSP season
Heading into the opening race of the season at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, the FIM Supersport World Championship was blown wide open as the reigning world champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) was back on the plane home, unable to ride with the wrist injury he sustained over the winter. Fans were treated to a stunning opening round of racing action, which hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down as we got to the seventh round of the season.
Hitting the first round of the 2017 season at a sunny Yamaha Finance Australian Round, anticipation filled the air but the race was red flagged following a crash from Robin Mulhauser (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda) at turn six. With debris to be cleared on track, the race got back underway and a 12-wheeled battle for the lead ensued led by Jules Cluzel (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda). With Roberto Rolfo (Team Factory Vamag) leading the way and a final lap crash around MG for Cluzel and Federico Caricasulo (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team), it left Rolfo and Lucas Mahias (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team) to fight to the line, and dropping off the group of Anthony West (West Racing), Kyle Ryde (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) and Niki Tuuli (Kallio Racing). Rolfo took the victory in the closest finish in WorldSBK history, ahead of Mahias.
Heading to the Motul Thai Round, drama continued for the WorldSSP riders, as mechanical issues and black flags littered the humid race. With Zulfahmi Khairuddin (Orelac Racing VerdNatura), PJ Jacoben (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) and Mahias all forced to retire in the early laps with mechanical problems, whilst Christian Gamarino (BARDHAL EVANS BROS. Honda Racing) crashed out of podium contention with 12 laps to go. Kyle Smith (GEMAR Team Lorini) was black flagged from the leading spot as he failed to ignore penalty notices, but it was Caricasulo who was victorious over the line as fans were treated to another last lap finish – locked in a fight with home hero and wildcard Decha Kraisart (Yamaha Thailand Racing Team).
WorldSSP’s return to Europe for the Pirelli Aragon Round also marked Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing)’s return to racing following his injury. Hoping to come back with a bang and claw back some championship points, the Turkish rider crashed out of the race following a collision with Caricasulo on lap eight. Championship standings began to change as Mahias secured his first win of the season and ultimately the championship lead, crossing the line ahead of Sheridan Morias (Kallio Racing) and PJ Jacobsen (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) in a tense final lap.
As the European season really got underway, it was Sofuoglu’s time to shine and the Turkish rider went on to secure four victories in a row from the Acerbis Dutch Round onwards. In classic Sofuoglu dominance style, taking the victory by over two seconds and proving he hasn’t lost his amazing skills in the series. As championship leader Mahias and Cluzel were locked in a fight for the final two positions on the podium, the pair kept the crowds entertained for the 18 laps even for second position.
In a restarted and shortened race at the Motul Italian Round, Sofuoglu was able to score his second load of points in 2017, working his way past championship rival Mahias to take a narrow victory around the technical Imola circuit. Jacobsen was unable to convert the pole position to a victory and rounded out the podium, as the American continues to struggle to match the pace of his rivals. With a long way to go in the season, Sofuoglu continued to deny thinking about the championship.
Heading to an overcast Donington Park for the Pata UK Round, and in another red flagged and restarted race, Sofugolu made another statement as he took the victory from pole position in the six round of the season. Holding off the French duo of Cluzel and Mahias who completed the podium, the Turkish rider still insisted he was unhappy with his pace despite the clear dominance shown. Fans were also treated to a stunning performance from Profile Racing team-mates Luke Stapleford and Stefan Hill as the pair were locked in a battle for fourth position in front of their home fans.
Seemingly unstoppable heading into Misano for the Pirelli Riviera Di Rimini Round, Sofugolu claimed his fourth victory from four races and as a result reduced the championship lead to just five points following a dramatic DNF for championship leader Lucas Mahias. Riding through an intense battle for the lead with Cluzel, Sofuoglu was able to break from the Frenchman to secure a two second lead over the line. Home hero and early race winner Caricasulo crossed the line in third position.
Deep into their summer break, the WorldSSP riders will now look to recharge their batteries ahead of the eighth round of the season in Germany at the Lausitzring, but will Sofuoglu repeat his performance from last season? Relive all the action on the WorldSBK VideoPass to fill the WorldSSP void.