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2005: Japan to topple Italy?

11 November 2004

Next season sees a renewed interest by the Japanese manufacturers in the World Superbike championship, with Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki all having a greater presence in the series.

Alstare Suzuki will be out in force with a great deal of help from the Japanese manufacturer. They will also have the benefit of having a Suzuki factory rider in the form of Yukio Kagayama and the experienced former World Superbike champion Troy Corser.

Ten Kate Honda will have two WSS champions in the form of Chris Vermeulen and Karl Muggeridge. The team has admitted it will be receiving a great deal more help from HRC following Vermeulen's success this season, where he narrowly missed out on taking the championship away from Ducati.

Yamaha will have it's R1 out in force next season following the success from it's debut this season, at Magny-Cours with Sebastien Gimbert, taking two fourth places for Yamaha France. Next season with Gimbert and possibly Noriyuki Haga, the Yamaha factory hopes to celebrate its 50th year in style. Chris Vermeulen has already tipped a Haga and Yamaha partnership as a very formidable threat next year.

“Suzuki is going to be strong with Corser and Kagayama, and they're going to get great support from Suzuki in Japan. (But) Yamaha with Haga - that's my biggest worry to be honest," stated Vermeulen in an interview with Crash.net at the NEC show in Birmingham, UK.

Chris Walker will be making a return to Kawasaki, where he had two near misses in the British Superbike championship taking second place in 1998 and 1999 for the green Japanese manufacturer.

“The way the championship is going it looks like the 1000cc four-cylinder bikes are going to be the way forward,” explained Walker to Crash.net. “I had the chance to get onto a (four-cylinder) bike and sign a two-year deal.

“While it (the Kawasaki ZX-10R) is not initially a bike that's got any great pedigree at the moment it is definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with. What Scott Smart did with it in England has been fantastic this year (taking three wins in the bike's development year) and it's only going to go from strength to strength.”

Alstare Suzuki's Troy Corser believes that Honda's four-cylinder Fireblade should've taken the title this season.

“If you look at when Honda made the bike available to Ten Kate it was only two weeks before the first race and even up until the fourth or fifth round they were still running pretty standard parts on the bike and were giving the Ducati's a run for their money,” commented Corser. “So if they had started a bit earlier they probably would've been beating them before the end of the season.”

But since his move from Foggy Petronas Racing, he believes Ducati will have a very tough time next season after dominating the World Superbike series since its formation in 1988 by taking the manufacturers title 13 times in the past 17 years and for the last seven years consecutively.

“It is probably going to be the year for the four-cylinder,” continued Corser. “It has been a lot of years since they have won, now its 1000cc and higher RPMs, it is going to be a bit more difficult for Ducati than it has been in the past.”

Gerrit Ten Kate, the Honda-team boss, also believes that this season was tough for Ducati, but with renewed Japanese interest predicts 2005 the year of reckoning for the four-cylinder.

“This year they were already sweating with us,” explained Gerrit. “I think next year is going to be a hard year for Ducati. I think with Suzuki and Yamaha coming back it will be a lot harder for us as well.”

Even World Superbike champion James Toseland admitted that Ducati didn't have it all their own way.

“Ducati nearly got caught out this season,” he said. “They thought they were going to walk away with the championship with no problems. Then all of a sudden a certain Chris Vermeulen and a certain Fireblade came along.

“All these people all of a sudden cropped up challenging (Fila Ducati) in a straight line where not many people have got passed a factory 999 before in previous years.”

But it is not all doom and gloom for the fans as Ducati are sure not to go down without a fight.

“I know Ducati are not going to lay down,” commented Troy Corser. “They're going to bring something out next year and from what I hear it has improved a little in power.”

Of course the Fila Ducati team already have the advantage of having a years development fuelled directly by the factory. The data gathered this year will also help significantly next season getting the most from the practice sessions enabling the riders to fine-tune their set-up, whereas the Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki riders will be approaching each round with a clean set-up sheet.

Even if Ducati do not have it their own way in 2005, the planned release of the MotoGP derived V-four road bike at the end of 2005 is sure to be homologated for Superbike racing for 2006, giving Ducati a new lease of life in the years that follow, albeit a four-cylinder one.


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