The MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is in the home straight, with the 2016 season coming to a close at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar: for the third year in a row Losail will feature something unique in superbike racing: night-racing, using an innovative lighting system at the Qatar circuit.
First opened in 2004, the Losail International Circuit's modern complex is located a few kilometres from Doha, the capital of Qatar: it is 5,380 metres long, with a home straight of 1,068 metres.
There are 16 medium-high speed corners, six to the left and ten to the right, with a track width of 12 metres.
Almost the whole of the track is surrounded by artificial grass, placed close to the tarmac to limit sand deposits from the nearby desert and carried across by the strong wind: this is one of the biggest challenges for the tyres, which usually have to cope with sand residue on the tarmac, particularly during the first testing sessions.
The landscape of the Qatar peninsula does nothing to lesson the problem: Qatar is almost totally flat, and when the wind picks up sand is usually blown straight on to the track, leaving it dirty.
On the Friday of the race, the riders have to take the corners with fixed spokes to "clean" the line taken by the bike, especially by the front tyre, which often grips on the same point, creating wear lines, while on the rear tyre"leopard spots"are formed,making wear even more evident.
The Superbike World Championship has featured night races on the Qatar circuit since the 2014 season, whereas from 2005 to 2009 races took place during the daytime in spring: of great significance for the tyres, above all for the choice of compounds used. The Losail circuit has never been resurfaced, meaning there is significant tyre wear and good grip is necessary, particularly for the rear tyre, in order to compensate for the loss of grip from the deterioration of the tarmac over the years.
To tackle the Losail track, tyres must provide a compromise between stability at the front, especially during hard braking, and a good level of traction at the rear to properly keep the racing line in fast corners.
It is best to use a front tyre which can absorb the power accumulated during braking without suffering greater strain, while for the rear tyre it makes more sense to go for a soft compound which can shape itself to the road surface and provide sufficient traction. The difficulty of choosing themost suitable compound for racing on the Qatari track comes from the constant presence of sand on the circuit, which reduces grip and produces lateral micro-slippage - the so-calledslick and slide effect- which leads to tears on the surface of the tyre tread.
In 2015 Pirelli had a tricky final race weekend, precisely because of the large amount of sand which had collected on the track: the high temperatures (despite the fact that the race took place at night) combined with sand deposits meant that the tyres underwent notable strain in the various riding phases.
This is why the Superbike riders decided to use either an SC0 standard tyre or a development SC0 TO611 at the rear: two soft solutions, ideal for dealing with smooth tarmac and high temperatures, offering maximum grip and traction on worn tarmac.
For the front tyre the main choice was for an SC1 compound S1699 development tyre, the tyre used most often over the course of the season and which enables a more sustained approach to corners, as well as providing greater precision in the different riding phases, above all on moderately abrasive surfaces like Losail, where the sand residue accelerates tyre wear.
The 2015 edition was an emotional one: the last date of the season saw the Spaniard Jordi Torres (Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils) reach the top of the podium for the first time in his career in race one, claiming the victory in front of two riders from the Kawasaki Racing Team, Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes, who finished in second and third place respectively.
Race two ended with a win for Leon Haslam (Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils) in front of Chaz Davies and Tom Sykes. Thanks to second place in the second race, the Welshman Davies, riding the Ducati Panigale R of Aruba.it Racing – Ducati SBK Team, confirmed second place in the Riders' Championship behind Jonathan Rea and in front of Tom Sykes.
In Supersport here was a victory for Kyle Smith (PATA Honda World Supersport Team): the British rider reached the finish line first with a 971-millisecond lead over the new world champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) and a one-second lead over Lorenzo Zanetti, on the MV Agusta F3 675 of the MV Agusta Reparto Corse team.