This is where it all began. On a cold Sunday morning in 1988, some of the best motorcyclists in the world tried their hand at a new championship. Little did they know that they would go down in history as being at the forefront of what was to become, and still is, one of the most popular motorsport championships and as the fastest growing in the world. MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship was born in the UK on the Donington Park track, and even as time goes on, the memories will never go away. In this feature, we take a look back at WorldSBK’s history in Donington Park and explain why 2022 promises to be a classic weekend for the record books.
THE BEGINNING: big names, big optimism
On April 3, 1988, the day dawned and the Superbike World Championship was about to begin. Fans were delighted to see local hero Roger Burnett take the pole, but it was Italians Davide Tardozzi and Marco Lucchinelli, the 1981 500cc world champion, who came out on top. The future 1988 champion Fred Merkel took the podium in Race 2, while road racing legend Joey Dunlop finished third in Race 1. The success of the first round continued, and in 1989 the grid was bigger and stronger; Fabrizio Pirovano and Giancarlo Falappa took the victories at Donington Park, while in 1990 it was Merkel and Falappa. Carl Fogarty finished in the top six in both races in 1990 – he would finish in the top ten again in 1991.
THE MISTY YEARS: King Carl wins at Donington Park
After a couple of appearances in 1990 and 1991, 1992 was to be the moment when history would seriously begin for some riders, with Carl Fogarty claiming the first of these 59 WorldSBK successes. That Race 2 victory was the season for him, but here the winning machine from Blackburn was launched, which at the time made a name for itself on an uncompetitive machine. Despite a difficult 1993 edition at Donington Park, finishing second in race 1 and crashing in race 2, he returned to his best in 1994 and won the season opener on the circuit. But a difficult second visit to Donington Park would prevent them from winning the home title, with the deadline pushed back to Australia. A “love and hate relationship,” as he recently described it.
The popularity of WorldSBK has grown thanks to Fogarty’s successes, in the UK more than anywhere else where tens of thousands of people come to the circuits. The driver scored a double at Donington Park in 1995 before doing the same at Brands Hatch. He is still the only British driver to have achieved a double on two different British tracks in the same year. His switch to Honda did not make him win at Donington Park in 1996, but he would finish in second place and not until 1997. His last home win came in Race 1 of the 1999 edition, where he came full circle on the track for his first hit .
A NEW HERO, THE YEAR OF THE GAME MAP: the crowd is going crazy
After Carl Fogarty’s career-ending accident on Phillip Island in Round 2 of the 2000 season, everyone wondered who would be able to succeed him in the UK. Despite this unknown, many suitors have left their mark on history. Neil Hodgson was back on the WorldSBK network after appearing in 1998 on a Kawasaki before returning to BSB to regain his confidence. The GSE Ducati team led by the legendary Colin Wright called his services a wildcard, and this event was one of the most famous in history.
In third place in Race 1, Hodgson exploited Pierfrancesco Chili’s deteriorating tires at the end of Race 2 to pass him in the final lap in front of 100,000 roaring spectators. Chris Walker, another wildcard, also passed Chile to give rise to the first British double in history; the future after Fogarty was in good hands, and at least for one day there was a new king.
COMEBACKET: A new classic in 2007
Absent from the calendar from 2002 to 2006, Donington Park made a remarkable comeback in 2007 with James Toseland in search of another title. Born not far from the circuit, he took the victory in race 1. Race 2 was different as a mechanical problem on the fourth lap forced him to give up, leaving Noriyuki Haga, Max Biaggi and Troy Corser together. Biaggi seemed to be ready for victory, but a mistake in the last corner of the last lap allowed Haga to pass …
In 2008, rainy weather spoiled the party, but that did not stop the Honda Ten Kate Ryuichi Kiyonari from exhibiting one of the best showcases. The races were heavily contested, but this will be Troy Bayliss’ last win in the UK – his career started at BSB, making it an even more special event – while Kiyonari enjoyed a Race 2 on a wet track to win for the last time in his WorldSBK career. Stars also turned out to be Tom Sykes and Cal Crutchlow, who took charge of races 1 and 2. managed to climb his Yamaha GSE to sixth place in race 2.
BRITISH DOMINATION: still pride at home
The last time a British rider had not won at Donington Park was in 2011, and even then the popular Marco Melandri won WorldSBK for the first time in Race 1, while title challenger Carlos Checa won Race 2 – unbelievably, it is Ducati’s last victory to date. Jonathan Rea battled his way into the final corner to win in 2012, at the expense of Leon Haslam and Marco Melandri, who crashed and lost a BMW one-two.
From 2013, Donington Park became synonymous with Tom Sykes. He scored a one-two in 2013 and was then a magician every year until Race 1 in 2017. One of his biggest victories came in 2014. Fell to 11th, but back in the lead to challenge for victory against teammate Loris Baz, Sykes won Race 1. There was even more magic in Race 2 in 2017, but this time it was not for Sykes: his series of nine straight victories ended with Jonathan Rea’s victory in Race 2, for Kawasaki’s 100th victory in WorldSBK.
THE LAST MAGIC CHAPTER: Big wins and first rounds
In recent years, we have witnessed great surprises and magical moments. Michael van der Mark scored a one-two finish in 2018, while Toprak Razgatlioglu beat Jonathan Rea in Race 2 to finish in second place and raise his first WorldSBK podium. In 2019, with now three races per. weekend, Rea scored his first hat-trick and at the same time took the championship lead from Alvaro Bautista. The absence of the race in 2020 due to the Covid-19 epidemic made the 2021 edition even more special with the breathtaking first round of Toprak Razgatlioglu in Race 1 and the battle between Rea and him in Race 2, where Rea crashed and Razgatlioglu takes the lead in the championship for the first time. All of this makes the Donington Park circuit one of the most magical places on the calendar, and it promises to continue in 2022.
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