Donington Park WSBK 2012 - Friday
11 May 2012
In the meantime, just five people remain in the media centre, which is my sign to retreat to my bed for the evening in preparation for what promises to be another great day of action tomorrow.
With few expecting rain to spoil the day, there are 16 Superpole spots up for grabs in Q2 ahead of the deciding session.
I'd ask who your money is on, but that is probably just as accurate as predicting the weather...
A few interesting quotes to come out of chats this evening, including Leon Haslam almost admitting he was offered the chance to ride Colin Edwards' Forward CRT machine in MotoGP at Le Mans, but wants to concentrate on his WSBK commitments for the time being.
Both Haslam and Leon Camier, meanwhile, have backed Race Direction's decision to cancel the races at Monza, insisting the unique circumstances made it simply too dangerous to race.
Somewhere between my schnitzel and swig of beer, conversation with Jack Valentine turned to John Hopkins, with the man in charge stating that he is confident his man will be back for Miller Motorsports Park. Having said that, he says it isn't the broken foot that is causing worry, it's his damaged hip...
Excuse me for the lack of recent updates but I have been busy running around getting some exclusive quotes for you (as well as enjoying a quick chat with Jack Valentine over a lovely dinner at FIXI Crescent Suzuki).
The sun has actually come out and this evening is shaping up to be rather pleasant, at least it is from the warm side of a window since there is a rather chilly breeze outside!
Jonathan Rea suffered a couple of niggling crashes at Donington today, one on a out-lap and one on an in-lap. Neither brought harm to either himself or the Honda, though it has left him scratching his head.
"Today I had two crashes in the same area; exactly the same kind of crash. Fortunately for us they've been at very low speeds and I'm fine. It seems to be when I'm not at full race pace, when there's a different kind of balance to the bike than on fast laps, so it's a strange one.
"We'll look at the data and have a close look at the circuit tonight and see what we can find out."
Nonetheless, he was still second quickest, so as long as he stays at top pace throughout, he should be fine!
Just a quick note on the Supersport Q1, with Lowes getting close to the lap record to take provisional pole position by a wide margin. In fact, the lap was not far off what was needed to crack the top 16 in WSBK Q1.
Even in perfect conditions, the boy Lowes will be tough to beat in Q2 tomorrow...
Despite a few off track excursions, the Smiths Gloucester Triumphs are doing very well in fourth and fifth, Glen Richards leading fellow Aussie Billy McConnell.
If they can keep it up, we could see Triumph return to the podium for the first time in two years.
Though many of you probably won't have noticed, Pedercini Kawasaki did the almost unthinkable last time out at Monza by donning their ZX-10Rs in... wait for it... blue!
However, while the thought of an anything-but-green Kawasaki will revile many, the striking new livery (which was very akin to last year's Yamahas) appeared an improvement to me - at least they stood out!
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your opinion), Pedercini are back to the tried and tested bright green for Donington.
Prior to this weekend's event, Max Biaggi pointed out that every manufacturer has a rider capable of challenging for victory at Donington Park.
Indeed, four of the six manufacturers have already tasted the winners' champagne and BMW have been getting closer and closer.
Up until this point, Suzuki has been the weak link as Crescent/Yoshimura battle to get on terms with their rivals. However, with Camier proving impressive throughout FP1 and Q1, the wise Mr Biaggi could well be onto something this weekend...
Further back, Eugene Laverty has endured a troublesome day on the Aprilia, never once featuring inside the top ten and eventually dropping back to 16th - right on the edge of the Superpole qualifiers.
One position behind him, but arguably more impressive, Peter Hickman is a poised 17th quickest on his first outing aboard the FIXI Crescent Suzuki, faster than fellow debutants Baz (20th) and Mason (23rd).
Other notable results, meanwhile, include Hiroshi Aoyama in 14th - if he stays where he is after Q2, he will reach Superpole for the first time this season!
No rain from the clouds but Jakub Smrz has 'rained' on the British party after taking the top spot after Q1 here at Donington Park.
the Czech rider was in fine form as he edged out Jonathan Rea, the Ulsterman looking fast but fragile after crashing for the second time today.
Another man to touch the gravel today, Carlos Checa recovered to third quickest, ahead of local favourites Leon Haslam and Leon Camier.
Take a picture quick because a Suzuki tops the timesheets after 25mins of Q1 action at Donington Park.
the GSX-R1000 in question belongs to Leon Camier, who is showing what can be done with a bit of prior circuit knowledge and a base setting.
Having struggled for consistent pace since switching from Aprilia, even if Camier doesn't stay fastest to the chequered flag, this will be a small boost for Jack Valentine and his merry men.
Michael Fish here again... Spots of rain have started falling from fairly heavy skies, but a deluge doesn't look likely.
In the meantime, the Superbikes have just ventured back onto track for Q1 with Smrz fastest from Haslam and Checa after 10 minutes.
For those perplexed to see Peter Hickman on a Suzuki this weekend, his regular employers MSS Bathams Kawasaki have assured that he has not quit the team for the purpose of a one-off ride.
Releasing a statement to the media, the team says 'MSS Bathams Kawasaki and Kawasaki Motors UK wish to assert that this is not the case, that Peter Hickman has not been released by the team to take part in the event and has made the decision to take part of his own volition.
'Neither MSS Bathams Kawasaki or Kawasaki Motors UK will make any further statement at this time.'
It's entirely up to you how you interpret that last line...
In case you were wondering, following the musings of last weekend, the Effenbert Liberty riders and their technical staff are here this weekend, but their vast hospitality suite is not...
While many don't get to see what goes on behind the scenes in the paddock, Effenbert have established a huge presence since entering in 2011 and their hospitality 'tent' (it's more of a marquee) is one of the largest around.
It's absence is certainly notable and while the intention is perhaps more about making a point, rather than having an effect, we hope it isn't an ominous sign of things to come.
Indeed, Liberty Racing may have moved to reaffirm its commitment to Superbike racing, but key sponsors Effenbert have not...
The Superbikes have been and gone, with Tom Sykes picking up exactly where he left off from Monza by pacing first free practice at Donington Park.
Also fastest in the speed traps (of course...), his nearest rival came in the form of Leon Camier, the former BSB champion no doubt benefiting from having a base setting from FIXI Crescent this weekend.
Smrz and Fabrizio followed up for Ducati and BMW in third and fourth, while Haslam was sixth best on the factory S1000RR.
An early off prevented Rea from completing more than three flying laps, but he was still quick enough for tenth, which placed him just ahead of Carlos Checa, who was on for a fast lap when he crashed with ten minutes remaining.
Davies, Laverty, Hickman, Baz and Mason completed the session in 12th, 15th, 17th, 20th and 23rd respectively.
The Superbikes are out on track pumping in the laps as they reacquaint themselves with the curves and dips of the challenging Donington Park circuit.
Don't forget, we have seven Brits to cheer on this weekend, the regular five being joined by Peter Hickman on the FIXI Crescent Suzuki and Gary Mason on the Pedercini Kawasaki.
Then we have some 'adopted' Brits to cheer on, namely ex-BSB favourites Sylvain Guintoli and Loris Baz, though we are sadly missing John Hopkins this weekend.
Despite the British presence, two Italians sit top at the moment, with Melandri leading Fabrizio.
Lowes has gotten his weekend off to a fantastic start by obliterating the opposition in FP1 at Donington Park.
We are cautiously optimistic that he will finally break his victory duck this weekend, but while he has arguably the quickest guy in timed sessions this year, he has found out on numerous occasions that it counts for very little on Sunday.
Then again, maybe it has been written in the stars that his first WSS has to come on home soil...
Following him up in second place is wild-card and adopted Briton Glen Richards, which is an impressive result even before you ponder the last time we saw a Triumph occupy No.2 on a timesheet.
Together with the other wild-cards and Brits just outside the top ten, there are plenty of home-grown/adopted riders to cheer on this weekend.
The Supersports are in full swing, save for a brief stoppage to clear the bike of Josh Day, and Sam Lowes is certainly starting as he means to go on by commanding a plus-one second lead over the competition.
That competition is being led by wild-card rider Glen Richards on the Smiths Gloucester Triumph, with PTR riders Ronan Quarby and Jules Cluzel chasing the three-cylinder machine.
Quite a few crashes so far on the slippery surface, including Day, Luca Marconi, both KUJA Honda riders and Mathew Scholtz.
A slimmer than usual schedule greets fans this weekend, with no FIM Superstock 1000 or Superstock 600 action included. Nonetheless, the headline-draws of World Superbike and World Supersport are present and correct, while the always exciting National Superstock 1000 and Superstock 600 series' share the billing this weekend.
As mentioned below, there are no BSB wild-cards in the Superbike class, but the Supersport grid will be infiltrated by three unfamiliar faces in the form of Smiths Gloucester Triumph riders Glen Richards, Billy McConnell and Luke Mossey.
Bolstering the fairly small Triumph Daytona 675 contingent this weekend, the trio have been front runners at British Supersport level so far this year and there is little reason to suggest they won't be similarly competitive this weekend, regardless of who they going shoulder-to-shoulder with.
Actually, we will find out very shortly as the WSS riders are out first… The weather? The air is damp after an earlier shower, but while the track is fairly 'green', it is dry.
While those hoping to see Noriyuki Haga sparring with his old rivals will be disappointed to learn that not a single British Superbike team has opted to wild-card this weekend, three familiar faces will nonetheless be present at Donington Park this weekend.
Though his stint in BSB was a fairly brief one, Loris Baz made a significant enough impression in just a handful of rounds to earn himself the mantle of 'fan favourite', so few will begrudge him his WSBK debut aboard the factory Kawasaki this weekend.
Offered the chance after an impressive stint on a ZX-10R in the Superstock 1000 Championship, not to mention his prior experience of Donington, this is a fine chance for Baz to advertise himself to the top teams – and show Rob McElnea what he is missing.
Also joining the ranks this weekend is Peter Hickman, who gets a surprise call up to replace John Hopkins on the FIXI Crescent Suzuki (FIXI must prefix Crescent now, apparently…), while Gary Mason is set to ride the Pedercini Kawasaki left vacant by the injured David Salom.
In all, we have a healthy grid of 23 riders for this weekend's action (at the moment) – four more than 2011...
It's ironic that less than a week after the World Superbike Championship endured possibly its most contentious day in history – which in turn was timed imperfectly with its 25th Anniversary celebrations -, we arrive in Donington Park for the fifth round of the 2012 season, an event that's had its share of controversies in the past!
Us Brits can make an Olympic sport out of talking about the weather, so it was a shame there weren't more of us on hand at Monza last weekend. Indeed, the weather was the only topic of conversation in Italy last week after Superbike racing was severely hampered by the rain, the lightening and even the dry spells in between.
Of course, we all know the wholly unsatisfying outcome of race day, but with less than a week between Monza and the next round at Donington Park the rumblings are ongoing. In short, when the heavens opened in the sky, so did the floodgates on the ground…
Speculation, accusations and frustrations across the board appear to have pitted factions against one another, with some riders and teams satisfied with Race Direction, others less so – in particular those working for Effenbert Liberty -, while everyone seems to have an issue with Pirelli, who in turn are refusing to back down.
As such, Donington Park is almost like the awkward morning after as everyone reconvenes in the harsh light of day to carry on as normal… but can such a thing happen?
Who'd have thought spectating off the circuit could be just as compelling?!
Following its very welcome return to the World Superbike calendar in 2011, Donington Park is upon us once again, this time in the more palatable month of May.
Though recent rainy days would hardly have you believe that summer is in fact around the corner, few will deny that a WSBK weekend at Donington Park wouldn't be Donington Park without a brisk breeze, heavy clouds and a spare umbrella.
It's almost amusing then that Donington Park comes just as WSBK organisers would like nothing more than a normal, uninterrupted race weekend following the mayhem of Monza less than a week ago. You can almost feel the trepidation in the air as one eye looks skywards wondering if more weather-induced chaos is around the corner…
Naturally, predicting the weather is like predicting the lottery, so I will whisper this very quietly: The weather forecast looks good this weekend… Not a heatwave, not really sunny… but no rain.
Call me Michael Fish… Oh, wait…