Featuring an unusual format with a race on Saturday and then the second one on Sunday, rather than then the normal fashion of having both races on the same day, the return of SBK racing to the 3.610km American track for the first time since 2004, however, had some surprises of its own thrown in on the opening day.
Race One was scheduled for 26 laps but after a rider fell and his bike punctured the inflatable track safety barrier the first attempt at the race was stopped with only six laps gone. A second start only lasted eight laps of the planned 20, when three riders fell at the same corner and the red flags came out for the second time.
Tom and his team had made small but important adjustments to take on the final challenge of a third race – the only one which would count today – and over 12 laps Sykes proved unbeatable. He had qualified second on the grid after Superpole, which was held in its usual three phase format.
Sykes won race one by a final 1’253 seconds after a classic game of wait and pounce. He passed long time leader Chaz Davies with two laps to go and pushed hard from that point on, taking a confident victory as the following riders found no answer to his late attack. He also set a new lap record, of 1'23.803, on lap two.
Tom took a 22-point advantage, over championship second place rider Sylvain Guintoli, into the second race of the weekend on Sunday 29th, his seventh race win of 2013.
Supersport World Championship rider David Salom replaced team regular Loris Baz at this round and he narrowly missed out on Superpole qualifying, going 16th off the grid. After a poor start in the final leg, he pushed on to finish 11th in the race - despite hitting a plastic trackside marker with his left knuckles at the super-fast turn one.
Tom Sykes: “It was hard having three starts but it ended up good for us with a race win. Sylvain Guintoli was riding really strong but when it counted, in the last of the three legs of the race, he had a bit of an issue. We came together at the entry to turn one off the start and our contact pushed my brake lever down from its normal position. That was a bit awkward to deal with for a little while but I got my head around it.”
David Salom: “My race was not so bad but I hit my left hand on the trackside plastic marker – the small orange cones - and I have a lot of pain in my finger! My start was not good but in each of the three races I was a bit better.”
In race two on Sunday, Sykes added a fourth place to his race one victory to take a 23-point advantage away from the 12th round of the series, as David Salom scored a strong ninth place.
Sykes was leader of the second race for 21 of 26 laps, but in the final two circuits he got passed by three riders and had to settle for fourth place. He had been fighting unexpected traction issues exiting corners for most of the race and rode well to stay in the lead for so long, but he was unable to make the most of his machine's performance as he could not get the power to the ground as he wanted.
His first race win on Saturday added to his 13 points for fourth today take Tom to a leading total of 361 points, with two rounds and four races remaining – the first of those in France at Magny-Cours.
The overall team performance at Laguna was strong as it was a new track for Tom and his team to face, while most of his top rivals had been here many times before. With regular team rider Loris Baz missing through injury David Salom’s ninth place in race two today was a good result for a rider more used to racing in the Supersport World Championship. He improved all weekend and rewarded his opportunity to race in SBK with good points scores.
Tom Sykes: “It was great to win on Saturday and I led for a long time today but that was the first time we have struggled with grip all weekend. We were six or seven tenths off our best times in the same track conditions and we have to think about why that was. We know what our potential was here again today. Overall, we have extended our championship lead but it would have been nice to taken that second podium! We can keep improving and we have a couple of good circuits coming up so we will move on with confidence. In less than a week’s time we will be in France and doing it all over again. We have worked hard and well all race weekend and took a win on Saturday.”
David Salom: “I had a good second race today and the finger I hurt yesterday when I hit a trackside marker gave me no real pain. The team worked very hard to make the bike suit me this weekend, it worked well in the Sunday race and I got a top ten finish. I enjoyed the race and the weekend, finishing both races in the points, and the work the team did was perfect. I have been happy with the experience.”
Guim Roda, KRT Team Manager: “I would like to congratulate the all the team on the job this weekend. They all made great efforts to keep the momentum up and head to Magny-Cours with our target really alive. David Salom made a great job the first time for him on the KRT ZX-10R Ninja and at Laguna Seca; better from him was impossible. Regarding Tom's weekend, we are so satisfied with his performance. All had been perfect until the last laps of the second race. We have to be very proud of the job Tom did and thanks to him for keeping calm during those critical moments of pressure. He took away a great haul of points, which are all really important.”
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