Magny-Cours has crowned more WorldSBK champions than any other circuit, but it’s also been the scene of some of the most fractious moments of intra-team rivalries. The circuit might be located in the middle of France, but over the years MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship team managers have been stuck in the middle of their riders over team orders.
With Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) controlling his destiny in clinching his fourth title this weekend, the Kawasaki rider holds a 116 point lead with 150 available and there’s little chance that team orders will be used this weekend. In the past however, Kawasaki have used team orders with varying degrees of success.
In 2016’s season closer in Qatar, Rea followed his teammate Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) home to ensure that the Englishman finished second in the world championship. Two years previously Sykes wasn’t so fortunate. In his attempts to defend the title Kawasaki made a decision to aid Sykes by requesting Loris Baz to slow and allow Sykes to pass him.
The Frenchman refused to cede the position, citing that his mechanics had worked hard and deserved as good a result as possible. The MotoGP™ bound Baz duly finished ahead of Sykes on the podium at the final round of the year, but Sykes went into the final race with a slender three point lead. Ultimately the title would fall out of the reach of Sykes, who finished third in Race 2.
Bad blood had been an issue throughout the summer for the Kawasaki duo with a first lap clash in Malaysia the catalyst. Even so, at the penultimate round of the year – Baz’ home race at Magny-Cours – the Frenchman followed instruction and ceded a position to Sykes at the last corner of the opening race. The decision allowed Sykes to claim an extra point by finishing in fourth position.
In front of the Kawasaki riders, Aprilia were also doing all they could to win the championship with Sylvain Guintoli. The Frenchman was closing on Sykes in the standings, and the team made their decision to help his chances by forcing Marco Melandri to drop one position and allow his teammate to win. The Italian was shown a pit board instruction which included a sad face emoji, and duly dropped a spot and finished second. It was an Aprilia 1-2 but no-one was in any doubt about who had been the faster rider.
In Race 2 a similar instruction played out, but this time Melandri was once bitten and twice shy. The Italian refused the orders on this occasion and as a result Guintoli went to the final race of the year 12 points adrift of Sykes. Ultimately, Guintoli would take the title by six points and with both title challengers enjoying the benefit of team orders in one race, and a refusal of team orders on a second occasion.
In 2012 Sykes was narrowly defeated to the title by Aprilia once again with Max Biaggi taking the title by half a point. The Italian squad had made a decision to utilise instructions if it would prove the difference between winning and losing the title. Eugene Laverty was issued an instruction to allow Biaggi through for fourth position, but the Irishman made a decision to ignore this instruction because his team-mate was already in a championship winning position.
Team orders are always offer a difficult balance for team managers to find. You need motivated riders but the team needs to win. Sometimes keeping a rider happy and motivated can conflict with the needs of the team.
Follow all the action – with or without team orders – all on the WorldSBK VideoPass.