GRT Yamaha Step Up to WorldSBK with Marco Melandri and Sandro Cortese in 2019
Yamaha has reached an agreement with Marco Melandri and Sandro Cortese that will see the two riders campaign factory supported Yamaha YZF-R1 machines for the GRT Yamaha Team, who will step up to contest the FIM World Superbike Championship in 2019.
The move to the premier class for GRT Yamaha comes after two incredibly successful seasons in the FIM World Supersport Championship. In 2017 the team secured the world title with Lucas Mahias, who returned with the team in 2018 to finish as runner up to Cortese in the championship. GRT Yamaha also finished both seasons as the top team in the series, making a significant contribution to Yamaha’s domination of the class.
While GRT Yamaha will be new to the FIM World Superbike Championship in 2019, in Melandri and Cortese they have two riders with vast experience gained in both prototype and production racing. This experience will be critical as the team adapt to the demands of racing in the premier production class.
A former 250cc World Champion and MotoGP race winner, Melandri has claimed an impressive 72 podium finishes, including 22 race wins, since making his debut in the FIM World Superbike Championship aboard a Yamaha YZF-R1 back in 2011. The 36-year-old from Ravenna in Italy was second in the championship that year, his best result to date, but has finished inside the top five in every season he’s contested since. Since stepping away from MotoGP Melandri has ridden for every European manufacturer in WorldSBK, Aprilia, Ducati, BMW, and also was for a period of time the official test rider for MV Agusta’s WorldSBK campaign.
Although 2019 will be Cortese’s first season in the FIM World Superbike Championship he also brings a wealth of experience with him to the GRT Yamaha team. The 28-year-old German took five race wins and 10 podium finishes on his way to being crowned as the first ever Moto3 World Champion in 2012. Cortese is also the reigning World Supersport Champion, having secured the title in his debut season in the class aboard a Yamaha YZF-R6 with a podium finish in the final round in Qatar.
Sandro Cortese – GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team
“To win the WorldSSP championship and then step up to WorldSBK with the GRT Yamaha Team is like a dream come true for me. I’m super happy to be a part of this new project and, although it’s a big step, I am really looking forward to the challenge. I can’t wait to jump on the Yamaha YZF-R1 for the first time in Jerez later this month to start the familiarisation process. It will be like Christmas for me; I’ve never ridden such a big bike before and I am like a small kid who can’t wait to get his present! The bike will be more physically demanding to ride than the Yamaha YZF-R6 and, with three races every weekend instead of just one next year, I will definitely need to work on my fitness over the winter to ensure I’m ready.”
Melandri and Cortese will get their first opportunity to test the Yamaha YZF-R1 they’ll campaign in GRT Yamaha colours in 2019 during a two-day test at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain, which gets underway on 26th November.
Filippo Conti – GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team Manager
“I am really delighted to be stepping up to the WorldSBK championship with Yamaha, it’s like a dream come true. We started this project in WorldSSP and now we are moving up to WorldSBK, which is very important for the team but also for Yamaha’s production racing program. It’s a big step for us and we know we will be facing a steep learning curve in our debut season, but our two riders bring with them a wealth of experience. Riders don’t come more experienced than Marco, who has been a frontrunner in WorldSBK since he came to the championship in 2011. And while 2019 will be Sandro’s first season on a WorldSBK machine, he’s the reigning WorldSSP champion and a former Moto3 World Champion, so I expect him to adapt quickly to our Yamaha YZF-R1. We need to learn a lot in this new category, but our target is clear; we want to be as competitive in WorldSBK as we have been in WorldSSP. Maybe this isn’t possible in our debut season, but that’s the goal for the future.”
Lucas Mahias wins Qatar WSSP race for 2018 runner up
GRT Yamaha claims WSSP Teams Title
GRT Yamaha’s Lucas Mahias continued his domination in Qatar today, taking the win in difficult conditions and securing second place in the final championship standings to sign off from his 2018 campaign. Federico Caricasulo joined his teammate on the podium, after a remarkable recovery from what was a difficult weekend saw him claim a superb third place at the chequered flag, with the GRT Yamaha team claiming the Team Title.
Torrential rain at the Losail International Circuit ahead of warm up forced a delay to today’s race program, with the WorldSSP riders taking to the track for a 15-minute warm-up more than 90 minutes later than scheduled. Following the session both the riders raised concerns about the track conditions, which resulted in a delay to the race start as circuit staff worked to disperse the water running across the track at turns four, seven and 15.
The race, shortened from 15 to 12 laps, eventually got underway at 16.45 and the lights went out and a wild opening lap began. Polesitter Lucas Mahias went horribly wide at turn 1, falling to fourth, while Corentin Perolari slotted himself between the two title contenders, Cluzel taking the lead. Cortese moved past the GM94 rider on the main straight and bridged the gap with Cluzel up to the final sector, sticking an unbelievable move through 12.
But Cluzel returned the favour through the main straight, and Perolari found his way past Cortese again. The German was determined not to fall at the final hurdle: he moved past the 20-year-old Frenchman on the main straight in lap 4 and set out to put pressure on the NRT rider; Cluzel went wide at turn 13, Cortese moved swiftly back into the lead.
A ceasefire seemed to be agreed for the next few laps, but with Mahias edging closer to the pair Cluzel came back all guns blazing in lap 9, sticking in a pass at turn 4. The slipstream through the start of lap 10 moved Cortese momentarily ahead but his French rival was back in front through 2.
Then came the moment that, with hindsight, would decide the championship. Smelling blood and with both riders bickering at every corner, Mahias seized his opportunity and passed both riders at turn 6 and into the race lead. Cluzel left Cortese back in third, but beating his rival was no longer enough: he needed the race win to overcome the five-point gap separating them.
Knowing that he now held the advantage, even in a losing situation, the German kept his cool and remained with Cluzel, fighting his way through while trying to force mistakes out of his desperate rival. And the mistake did come: Cluzel tried to put in a last lap pass over Cortese through turn 7, with the championship all but slipping through his fingers; he lost the front end, crashing out and officially handing the title to Cortese, whose incredible consistency was finally the winning factor over Cluzel’s five race wins.
Mahias crossed the line in first, taking his third win of the season and the runner-up spot in the standings. Cortese’s second place is enough to clinch the championship by 23 points in his rookie season.
Federico Caricasulo finished third after a fantastic climb through from seventh on the grid, with Thomas Gradinger in fourth position. Randy Krummenacher was fifth, with Perolari finally down in sixth. Héctor Barberà finished his season on a high with seventh position, ahead of Raffaele De Rosa in eighth, Hans Soomer in ninth, and Peter Sebestyen closing the top ten.
That’s a wrap on the 2018 World Supersport season! It’s been a long ride, full of twists and turns at every stop along the way, and we can’t wait to get going again.
Sandro Cortese – P2 – 2018 Champion
“I am so speechless! I am so happy and I can enjoy this moment. I have to say thank you to my team, they picked me up after such a difficult winter, I had no ride and they believed in me. I think we did the maximum we could this year, we gave everything all year, and the people in my team are great. And a final thank you to my family, they helped me in hard times and I cant wait to get back home!”
The success enjoyed by Mahias and Caricasulo this season was more than enough to secure GRT Yamaha the coveted team’s championship title for the second year in succession, with an advantage of 59 points over their closest rival. Yamaha also took the Manufacturer’s Title with a 162 point lead to second placed MV Agusta.
Lucas Mahias – P1
“What a crazy weekend for me; I won two races in one weekend, which I think is a first for the World Supersport Championship! Also I arrived here fifth in the championship but I head home having finished second. Pole position, a new circuit record and the race win; pretty much a perfect way to end the season, so I’m really happy. Congratulations to Sandro on winning the World Championship and commiserations to Jules, who had no option but to push for the win today if he was to claim the title. Thanks to Yamaha and to my team for helping me realise my dream during the past two years. Now it’s back home to start training over the winter, ready for next season.”
Federico Caricasulo – P3
“It was a difficult weekend because from the first session I was missing around one second to the frontrunners. In the race I felt much better in sector three where I’d been losing all my time previously and I was much faster as a result. My start wasn’t great and I was 11th in the first corner, but then I managed to push to get back towards the front. The three guys ahead of me towards the end had a little bit too much of a gap for me to catch them, but I’m happy to have finished the last race of the season on the podium, after what started as a very difficult weekend for me. Congratulations to Sandro on the championship and thanks to my team for their hard work and dedication this season.”
Filippo Conti – GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team Manager
“We made some promises ahead of this weekend. We said we’d win the race, and we did that. We said we’d wrap up the team’s championship and we did that too. Lucas did an incredible job this weekend and had a fantastic race this evening. He was faster than the two guys fighting for the championship from the start, but waited until he could pass cleanly before making his move for the lead, so as not to affect the outcome. That’s true sportsmanship. Federico made an incredible recovery after difficult practice and qualifying sessions. We know he always finds a little bit more in the race and he certainly did that today, fighting his way through from 11th position in the first corner to finish on the podium in third. Thank you to everyone in the team, as they have made an incredible job for the second year in succession and shown once again with the team’s championship title that we are the strongest in the WorldSSP paddock. Thank you also to Yamaha for their support and congratulations to Sandro on the championship title. Commiserations to Jules, who animated the race incredibly today, but was unfortunate to crash on the final lap. We wish him a speedy recovery. Now we look forward to the challenges the future may bring.”
Cortese’s 2018 journey to victory
Making the switch over into the FIM Supersport World Championship from prototype machines can always be a risk, but Sandro Cortese made it look effortless in 2018 to be crowned World Champion.
Heading over the Phillip Island for his WorldSSP debut in February, Cortese was charged and ready for the fight after a difficult winter. Taking to his YZF-R6 for only the second time in the official test, he finished top four overall ahead of the start of the season. And what followed in the Yamaha Finance Australian Round was sensational from Cortese, fighting with the experienced front runners for the podium which boiled down to a breath-taking final lap as he took a podium position, and the fastest lap of the race from Federico Caricasulo. Cortese had already arrived in round one.
Heading west to Thailand for round two, this was a new track for the 28 year old so a true test of his skills with his new bike. Facing the heat as well as the circuit, he took home a fourth position finish from a fourth place grid start. MotorLand Aragon marked the start of the European season, and for Cortese this marked the start of his championship charge.
Coming out and dominating the field in northern Spain, he took pole position and the race win in only his third race, crossing the line 1.4s ahead of his rivals. But as the championship headed straight to TT Circuit Assen, Cortese struggled to match his pace around a track he is so familiar with. Starting from pole position, he couldn’t emulate this into a podium, after a slow start off the line meant he suffered in the 18 lap battle.
Dusting himself off heading to the historic Imola circuit, the rookie was only seven points off the top of the standings and the battle in WorldSSP was as tense as ever. A new track for the German, Imola is notoriously tight, twisty and technical and it was set to be a hard task for a newbie. But Cortese fought to secure a top four finish around a circuit which is difficult to overtake.
Sunny skies welcomed the paddock at Donington Park, with Cortese securing third on the grid as he continued to get used to the Superpole format of a 15 minute ‘dash’, he was a man determined out on track. Crossing the line 1.3s ahead of his main title rival Jules Cluzel, it was clear that when it all came together, Cortese was unstoppable. His grand performance in Great Britain meant he now led the world championship standings for the first time, with an advantage of seven points over Cluzel.
There were now two new tracks ahead of him, putting him in a strong position to extend his championship lead. In the humid conditions at Automotodrom Brno, the German was unable to convert his pole position into a win; but secured second as he was unable to catch Cluzel to the line. In the final race before the summer break, Misano proved a tough track for Cortese and his Yamaha but he could convert a fifth on the grid to third in the race, taking home another trophy and as a result a five point championship lead into the break.
Returning ready to fight in Portugal, tests throughout the summer helped him to understand the rollercoaster nature of the track. But drama struck in the opening laps as a hot-headed Cortese was unable to make a move up the inside of Cluzel stick, and the pair crashed out as a result. Not giving up, the German put on a sensational fightback as he was able to get back on his bike and take a fifth position finish, salvaging 11 points and keeping a hold of his lead in the standings.
Another new track of Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours followed, and for Cortese it was time to start thinking of the title. Unable to catch Cluzel on his home turf, he secured a second position finish meaning he now had the first opportunity to take the title in Argentina, heading with an 11 point advantage.
With all riders on even ground at Circuito San Juan Villicum, it was a welcomed change for the Yamaha rider. But despite putting his all into the race, he was unable to stop Cluzel and the fight went down to Qatar. All the German had to do in Qatar was finish in the top two to take the title, which was done with his usual tenacious battling out on track, to crown him 2018 FIM Supersport World Champion.
Only the second German to ever win the WorldSSP title, the story of Cortese’s sensational season has been consistency and will go down in history as the first man to win the Moto3 and WorldSSP crown.