The Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team enjoyed a positive start on Friday at a hot and humid Imola, Round 5 of the 2018 FIM Motul Superbike Championship. Michael van der Mark displayed good pace throughout the day and finished fifth fastest on the combined timesheets with a 1:47.461 to make it through automatically to Saturday’s SP2. His teammate Alex Lowes also showed strong pace and towards the end of FP3, he set a time good enough for fifth on the timing screens but, unfortunately, he had it taken away for exceeding the track limits by the tiniest of margins at the final chicane. This meant he ended Friday in 12th overall with a 1:47.737 but he will head into Saturday’s SP1 looking to make the most of the extra track time and with the confidence he has the pace to make it through to SP2.
The Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari has always been the toughest track for the Yamaha YZF-R1 since the manufacturer’s return to the WorldSBK Championship in 2016 but on Friday they went some way to banishing this and showcasing the progress the Pata Yamaha team have made. Van der Mark arrived in Imola off the back of a double podium in Assen and riding the crest of a wave of confidence. The 25-year-old Dutch rider set out his stall in FP1 by ending the morning in sixth place with a 1:48.232.
In FP2 he focused on finding a good feeling with his Pata Yamaha R1 around the demanding rollercoaster of a circuit and while he didn’t manage to improve his time, the work put in would come to fruition in FP3. Sitting in tenth with just five minutes to go in the final session of the day and on the cusp of having to go through to SP1, the 2014 WorldSSP Champion put in some fresh tyres and managed to set a 1:47.461 – his fastest ever lap around Imola – to end Friday in 5th overall. This means van der Mark progresses automatically to SP2, although he knows there is still work to do in Saturday morning’s FP4 session to improve the stability of his bike if he is to repeat his podium heroics from the last round.
His teammate Lowes showed exceptional fortitude on Friday despite having a rather tricky day. In FP1, he was just getting himself reacquainted with the iconic Imola track when he unfortunately missed a downshift and crashed at Turn 7 on just his fifth lap, bringing an end to his session. The 27-year-old British rider hit the deck hard but was declared fit after checks in the Medical Centre, although it meant he missed the rest of the session and he found himself down in 18th overall with a 1:50.043. Despite being battered and bruised, the 2013 British Superbike Champion got back on his Pata Yamaha R1 and showed everyone just how tough he is in FP2 by setting a 1:48.095 to move up to ninth overall on the timesheets.
At the start of FP3, he completed a 10-lap run, showing good pace and consistency and he continued to work on his feeling with the bike throughout the session. With just minutes to go, he was in 12th but confident he could improve and he did just that by heading out on a couple of flying laps and setting a 1:47.423, which would have been good enough for fifth overall. Sadly, he had exceeded track limits at the final chicane by a lick of paint and even though it did not give him an advantage, the lap time was cancelled. When he returned to the pits he was informed of what happened and gave it one final shot to set a flying lap, getting across the line to start the stopwatch with just seconds to go and going on to record his fastest ever lap at Imola, a 1:47.737, which saw him end Friday in 12th overall. This means Lowes will head into Saturday’s SP1 but having displayed the pace to be fighting in the top five, he will take the positives and look to use the extra track time to his advantage.
The Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team return to action on Saturday at 8:45 am local time (CEST) for FP4, with qualifying starting at 10:30 am and the 19-lap Race 1 scheduled for 1 pm. Click here for the combined results from Friday’s Free Practice.
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team – 5th 1:47.461
“This morning we started off quite strong. I felt good and we had a good speed but Imola is a tough track and the distance to the guys at the front was way too much but luckily, we stayed calm. In FP2 we were 11th but we remained focused and tried to fix our problems and at the end of FP3, we managed to make a big step. I felt so much better with the bike. There is still a lot to do to sort the stability of the bike but I am happy with the way we stayed calm and tried to fix our problems one by one. If we can make the bike more stable, then we can focus on our race pace.”
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team – 12th – 1:47.737
.”This morning I was just getting my feeling back for the track and the next thing I know I was on the deck. I went down quite hard on my neck and shoulder and got a bit of whiplash, which was a shame as we obviously lost that session. After that, I felt quite good on the bike and in the second and third sessions went okay, I did the best lap times I have ever done around here, so it was better than last year. In FP3, I lost my two quickest laps, which I did not know until afterwards, otherwise, I would have been fifth so my pace was actually quite good. I did a long run at the start and I tried to put in a hot lap at the end. I don’t think our pace is as bad as it looks, we probably just didn’t make the most of what we could have done. We will keep working on the bike tomorrow, we have found a good compromise for the change of directions but we are struggling in some areas, especially on corner exit. Apart from that, I feel quite good!”
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team Principal
“Imola has been the toughest track for the new generation R1 since Yamaha’s comeback to WorldSBK so we didn’t expect it to be easy at all here today. That said our performance relative to the fastest riders is much better than in 2016-17 and, but for a Rizla paper’s width of tyre touching the track limits marking for Alex, fifth and sixth on the timesheets is a very positive result and something to build on. Alex’s cancelled laps and the fact he has to go into SP1 could be seen as a negative but we will take the positives i.e. more track time and more time to improve the performance. Michael has done a very solid job today and worked hard to get the best from himself and the bike. Fingers crossed overnight we can find some solutions to make the guys lives a little bit easier and to increase our pace by a few tenths for both.”