WorldSBK Aragon: Rinaldi surprises the podium


Picture: GeeBee Pictures

It is still theoretically possible for an official Ducati rider like Michael Rinaldi to reach a podium in WorldSBK. The man himself, the 2017 Stock 1000 Champion for Ducati, has already won four WorldSBK victories and a total of ten podiums.

He is also a particular potential threat at Motorland, where he claimed his first WorldSBK victory as a Ducati privateer with the Go Eleven team in 2020.

But after team-mate Alvaro Bautista swept and dominated the Ducati garage on his return from Honda, and after a difficult two-day official Dorna test for Rinaldi, he left his final pre-season preparation quite unsatisfied – despite some upbeat words . The race weekend has improved a lot.

Two days of working with his team to change his setup before the first round of the season saw Rinaldi fourth in each of Motorland’s three races. And often in close company with the obvious 2022 “Big Three” of Bautista, Jonathan Rea and Toprak Razgatlioglu.

Despite the lack of a podium, Michael’s three fourth places just behind the podium riders equaled a massive improvement in some people’s expectations, maybe even his own.

He actually provided his own stat to back up the fact that his race weekend went pretty well.

“I’m going home with my best start in WorldSBK, which is the positive side of the weekend,” said Rinaldi. “We didn’t mess up like last year. For this reason, I can go home completely satisfied. On the other hand, if you look at the start of the race on Saturday, and even more so today, I was overtaking Jonathan, a second behind Alvaro, and I was able to catch up with him because the feeling with the bike was excellent. I said: ‘I arrived behind Alvaro, we are there, I don’t want to fight with him until the last lap’.

“We made a gap but when the tires failed – all the bikes failed the tires – the problem was not on the exit but on the entry. When I enter the corner and the bike starts to slip , it’s impossible to turn – for me. If I try, the front closes and I almost crashed twice. So that was a bit frustrating because you’re there and when the bike is good, you know you can fight – maybe for the win but at least for the podium.

“But with eight laps to go you understand that something changes a lot and the last laps are unridable. I just need the same feeling with the bike from the first lap until the last lap. I’m sure that we would still be able to fight with the top three guys. But in the first round, I can be happy. I’m not complaining.

Rea said he was the best of the rest behind Bautista in both races on Sunday, but the best of the riders other than those perceived as full-season championship contenders who filled all the podium spots saw Rinaldi another kind of best from the others.

His consistency was remarkable, but as he said, “Consistency in results but in races, no. I think I was fourth fastest overall, but if you look at the first part of the race I would say we were like Alvaro. A big, big congratulations to him and the team because they deserve to be leading the championship at the moment.”

Rinaldi had a spell in the Superpole race when he beckoned Rea, with whom he had some close contests. In response to this apparent rebuke, Rinaldi joked, “I said, hi”, to saucy laughter from the media.

He expanded on the wrestling theme with Rea saying, “When I fight this guy, I really, really enjoy it. But of course Johnny won’t allow me to leave. When he tried the move and was on the edge it was fine, but when he tried once he definitely didn’t take the corner. I can almost say, ‘OK, I don’t want to crash.’ But that’s OK. Still with Toprak on the last corner, he hit my elbow and I lost handlebar grip. But we’re racing, I’m not complaining.

“I also fight with three World Championship-winning drivers. I think that among those, I am the only one not to be world champion; I am European champion. So, it’s OK. I like racing, and when it’s at the limit, and that’s smart, it’s fine. It was just full of adrenaline right now.

Wiley C. Thompson