Sandro Cortese has won the Supersport World Championship on his first attempt after a nail-biting contest against title rival Jules Cluzel under floodlights in Qatar on Saturday evening.
The fact a race took place at all was testimony to the heroic efforts of series organisers Dorna and staff at the Losail International Circuit, as just hours before Qatar had witnessed some of the most extreme weather conditions the region has ever seen.
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A sandstorm was followed by wind and rain in biblical proportions which left roads flooded, trees uprooted and a sense of pandemonium at the circuit where much damage was incurred. The track itself was cleaned up, the race distance reduced from 15 to 12 laps and lap times much slower due to standing water.
Cluzel hit the front early doors as pole-sitter and outgoing World Champion Lucas Mahias ran wide at Turn 1. Cortese saw off the attentions of Corentin Perolari to seize second before engaging in a colossal dogfight with his championship rival, trading the lead on numerous occasions; a race win would guarantee the title for either man.
The key moment came when Mahias overtook both on Lap 10. Cluzel’s race ended in a Turn 7 crash on the final tour, pushing too hard in a desperate bid to overhaul Cortese in the hope that a problem for leader Mahias could still win him the title. This handed the final podium spot to Federico Caricasulo who saw off the attentions of Thomas Gradinger, while GRT Yamaha beat rookies NRT to the Teams’ title. Randy Krummenacher was fifth ahead of Perolari. Just 16 riders finished in a race marred by incidents.
Britain’s Sam Hornsey had broken his right leg after rear-ending the bike of Hikari Okubo, whose chain snapped at the start. Luke Stapleford and Kyle Smith also crashed, Stapleford incurring a fracture to his left wrist, while Cluzel rejoined on the final lap only to go down again; the Frenchman, who has narrowly missed out on the title in all six of his Supersport seasons, sustained a broken left ankle and foot as well as a fracture to his left hip when he highsided at Turn 15 where a stream of water crossed the track.
Germany’s Cortese, now 28, was the inaugural Moto3 World Champion in 2012. He switched to the World Superbike paddock this season after five low-key campaigns in Moto2. The Kallio Racing rider, a late signing for this year’s grid, is the first German to win the Supersport title since Jorg Teuchert in 2000 and the first rider to clinch the honour in his maiden full season since Cal Crutchlow in 2009.