Last weekend saw the penultimate round of the French Superbike Championship and after fantastic performances by S1000RR riders Erwan Nigon and Sébastien Gimbert, one thing is for sure, a BMW Motorrad France rider will be crowned champion at the final round in Albi at the end of the month, although nobody yet knows which one of them it will be…
Having qualified first and second in a grid of 36 riders at the historic 4.185 km Bugatti circuit – and with lap times well over a second faster than their nearest rivals in both Superpole sessions – Gimbert and Nigon were both fired up for the first 15-lap Superbike race of the day.
In fact, so fast was Sébastien Gimbert on the S1000RR during Saturday’s free practice that his best lap of 1:36.603 was only 3.2 seconds slower than Valentino Rossi’s pole position time at the same circuit earlier this year – and only 0.8 seconds slower than the final MotoGP qualifier, Mika Kallio on the Pramac Racing Team Ducati. However, Gimbert set his time on a virtually stock RR.
With a 21-point deficit to his team-mate Nigon, reigning ‘Champion de France’ Sébastien Gimbert knew that there was still everything to play for in both races and with the title chase still possible, it was him who got the got the best start off the line, followed by Suzuki rider Freddy Foray and Julien Da Costa on the Kawasaki. Despite taking the lead in the early stages, Freddy Foray was soon forced to yield to the two BMW riders, who soon mounted an early challenge for the lead and powered ahead at the front of the pack of riders.
Before long, pole-setter Sébastien Gimbert had pulled a one-second gap on his team-mate – posting the fastest lap of the race on lap 7 – and going on to comfortably win the first leg by nearly four seconds in advance of Nigon. Third place went to Julien Da Costa, although he was more than 16 seconds behind winner Gimbert. With privateer S1000RR riders Loïc Napoleone, Nicolas Pouhair and Alexandre Perrault finishing the first race in 12th, 13th and 14th places respectively, there were five RR riders among the top 15 in race one.
Having closed up the points gap over his team-mate, a resolute Gimbert lined up at 1615 for the day’s second Superbike race. As predicted, the title chase continued between the two BMW riders, with both determined to ride as hard as possible, but neither wanting to make any mistakes that would allow their team-mate to seize the advantage.
It was the #7 RR rider Erwan Nigon who made the best start to race two, just in front of current champion Gimbert. On the second lap, challenger Kenny Foray crashed out of contention and left the two BMW Motorrad France riders to battle for the lead in front of Kawasaki rider Julien Da Costa in third, albeit it quite a long way behind.
Having set the fastest lap of race two as early as the third lap, it was Gimbert who showed he meant business on his #1 RR and just two laps later he found a way past his team-mate and took the lead. After this point, he was simply unstoppable on the BMW superbike and cruised ahead to win the second race – and his first double victory of 2010 – by over four seconds.
With Nigon finishing in second place again, these excellent results make life very interesting for the team, especially with just one race meeting remaining and the 2010 title still to be decided. With his two victories at Le Mans, Gimbert now has 239 points – just 11 fewer than Nigon at 250. With 50 points still available, it’s anyone’s guess who will become the 2010 French Superbike Champion at Albi circuit on September 26th but one thing is for certain – it will either be Sébastien or Erwan. Furthermore, with an unassailable lead in the Manufacturers’ championship too, BMW Motorrad France will undoubtedly be celebrating a near-perfect first season in this prestigious series, which concludes in two week’s time. As they say in France, ‘les jeux sont faits’…