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Miller: WSBK team by team analysis

3 June 2009

Crash.net looks back at the sixth round of the 2009 World Superbike Championship at Miller Motorsports Park, USA team-by-team…

Yamaha WSB
Ben Spies – 1st, 1st
Tom Sykes – 13th, 9th

While there was probably an air of inevitability about it, Ben Spies' pole position and two very dominant race wins are still a remarkable achievement, regardless of whether he has intimate knowledge of the circuit already. While he kept a surprisingly low profile on the first day of competition, Spies' record-breaking seventh consecutive pole position – by more than half a second – would set the tone for the remainder of the weekend. Untouchable in either race, Spies even managed good starts each time – an area where the Yamaha R1 has struggled this year – to simply ride off into the distance. Carlos Checa and Michel Fabrizio tried hard but they were no competition. While it still leaves him with a mountain to climb in the overall standings, this performance does raise the question of how much Spies has left to give on circuits he does know, should he remain in WSBK next season. Rivals should be very worried indeed…

By sharp contrast, Tom Sykes endured a torrid time at Miller, even when Spies' performance isn't taken into account. Qualifying outside Superpole, although Sykes rallied hard in both races, there is only so much you can do from 22nd on the grid. Ninth in the second race was a decent showing, particularly for a rookie, although Sykes will be counting down the days to Donington Park when he can show exactly what he can do in familiar surroundings.


Xerox Ducati
Michel Fabrizio – 3rd, 2nd
Noriyuki Haga – 9th, 8th

Michel Fabrizio flew the Ducati flag for the majority of the weekend at Miller Motorsports Park, with Noriyuki Haga seemingly struggling to ever get comfortable with the bike or the circuit throughout. The championship leader's cause was certainly not aided by a colossal accident during the second qualification session, but Haga refused to blame that for his eventual eighth and ninth place finish – easily his least convincing performance for quite a while, even beyond this season. Indeed, Haga is renowned for his 'off' weekends, but having seen good starts reduced to mid-field finishes, even this was a bit of a surprise. Misano should prove a much happier hunting ground…

It was up to Fabrizio, instead, to spare the team's blushes with two more convincing podium finishes. Although he has been demoted back to third by Spies in the overall standings, the Italian is being dragged along too. Showing fighting spirit in the first race to finish third on aggregate, Fabrizio put on a spirited display in race two in his attempts to chase down Spies. Although he failed on that account, it was certainly no disgrace that he finished similarly several seconds up on third. More proof Fabrizio is coming of age this season…


Ten Kate Honda
Carlos Checa – 2nd, DNF
Jonathan Rea – 5th, 3rd
Ryuichi Kiyonari – 4th, 5th

While we've seen hints of a recovery at various stages recently, most notably Ryuichi Kiyonari's podium at Monza and Jonathan Rea's maiden rostrum at Kyalami, Miller proved the first time this year that all three Ten Kate riders have been prominent. The turn of Carlos Checa to snatch the initiative, the Spaniard looked every inch the rider that won twice in Utah last season as he dabbled inside the top five throughout the weekend. He should have been on the podium twice, were it not for a fall in the second race, but Checa was definitely Ten Kate's form man this time.

Then again, Rea and Kiyonari weren't far off. Although Kiyonari was the better qualifier in third, compared to Rea's 11th, the Northern Irishman was the better racer, effectively finishing third twice, although his first race effort on aggregate placed him fifth. Significantly, it moves him up to fourth in the overall standings - a great achievement alone -, but one that in turn reasserts Ten Kate's authority over Stiggy Honda. A much needed good weekend for the Dutch team.


Aprilia
Max Biaggi – 6th, 4th
Shinya Nakano – DNF, 7th

Save for a blip on Saturday afternoon, Aprilia enjoyed another prosperous weekend in the USA, with both Max Biaggi and Shinya Nakano showing good form during the races in particular. Despite Nakano's best efforts, Biaggi was once again their front runner finishing fourth and sixth in the two races. It could have been even better too had Biaggi not fallen during Superpole and prevented himself from qualifying any better than 16th on the grid. Indeed, while his – and Nakano's - missile starts made up for his spot on the fourth row, it begs the question of how far ahead he would have been at the first corner had he qualified on the front row like he was threatening… Nonetheless, the RSV-4 remains a work in progress, Biaggi complaining of stability into corners, potentially as a result of the bike's outstanding straight-line pace, as shown by a number of failed overtaking attempts when he ran wide. Nakano, meanwhile, was looking the possibility of a podium in the first race after his incredible start from tenth, when he fell and couldn't compete, but seventh in the second race, despite an injured hand, keeps his points ticking over with another decent result.


Kawasaki SRT
Jamie Hacking – 7th, 19th
Broc Parkes – DNF, 11th

It has been a while since we have seen a 'green machine' – let alone two – competing at the front of the World Superbike field, but Miller Motorsports Park certainly seemed to suit the ZX-10R this weekend. While much can be made of the fact stand-in Jamie Hacking had prior experience of the circuit, he didn't know much about the team and the Pirelli tyres beforehand, more than negating any kind of advantage. Nonetheless, the American was superb throughout the weekend, qualifying eighth and finishing seventh in the first race – the manufacturer's best result in 44 attempts! Ben Spies has already tipped Hacking for big things should be come to WSBKs – Kawasaki could do a lot worse than snapping him up while they can… Although overshadowed slightly by Hacking, Parkes deserves an honourable mention too, matching Hacking for the most part – and out-qualifying him too – around a circuit he has not ridden before. Tyre problems in race one and contact at the start of the second prevented anything better than 11th, but the Australian was certainly capable of a top eight result unhindered. Now the challenge is to maintain this form at the upcoming events…


Guandalini Ducati
Jakub Smrz – 8th, 6th
Gregorio Lavilla – 14th, DNF

Jakub Smrz's weekend followed something of a trend at Miller, the Czech qualifying well in fifth, starting badly in both races before launching late comebacks to score a pair of otherwise respectable results. Indeed, Smrz's pace over a single lap is no secret, but his race pace has only occasionally been noted too. However, it was more his starts, rather than his actual speed over a long distance, that let him down in the USA, his eventual eighth and sixth place results looking very impressive in isolation when his grid slot is not taken into account. Nonetheless, tenth in the standings marks another upward trend for one of the series' favourite underdogs. Seemingly retaining his place at Guandalini for the duration of the season, Gregorio Lavilla had a tough weekend in the USA, his 14th place finish in race one being followed by a crash in the second. Still, it's points on the board again for the Spaniard.


Sterilgarda Ducati
Shane Byrne – 11th, 10th

A much improved weekend for Shane Byrne and Sterilgarda Ducati, even if the final results don't really reflect it. A split second error in each race would prevent Byrne from showing what was otherwise top five pace, but he can most certainly mark this one as his best weekend of the year nonetheless. Qualifying on the front two rows for the first time, despite crashing during Q1 and snaring a shootout spot in light rain during Q2, a terrible start in race one left him down in 16th, before an intense tussle with Noriyuki Haga prevented him from making up much aggregate ground as he would have done in clear air. Race two started better, but a mistake whilst running eighth dropped him to last, although it did prompt an excellent fight back to tenth. So, while the results on paper look fairly average, the reality is much more encouraging. Attention now turns to Misano, where Sterilgarda scored a historic 1-2 last season…


Stiggy Racing Honda
Leon Haslam – 10th, DNF
Jake Zemke – 18th, 15th

Frustrating is probably the word that Leon Haslam would use at the end of his first visit to Miller Motorsports Park, after coming away with a mere tenth place to show for. Trialling the circuit for the very first time, Haslam found himself on the cusp of the top ten all weekend throughout practice and qualifying, and while he sneaked into the top half with tenth in race one, it was still only a two place improvement on where he started. Race two, on the other hand, he was a revelation, pulling off a series of impressive overtaking moves to get up to fourth position behind Jonathan Rea in the fight for a podium. As it happens, it was one move too many, Haslam clipping the kerb with his engine casing and being sent sliding into the scenery on the very final lap. Hugely disappointing on paper, Haslam is taking plenty of heart from the level of improvement the team made over the weekend – a positive thing indeed. Ironically, the demise of Haslam proved a blessing for Jake Zemke as it promoted him to 15th to snatch the final point in the second race. However, given the pace of fellow AMA Superbike riders Ben Spies and Jamie Hacking, he should have been finishing higher…


Suzuki Alstare Brux
Yukio Kagayama – 12th, 12th
Fonsi Nieto – 16th, 13th

Suzuki had the indignity of being classified the sixth quickest manufacturer at Miller after more injury woes came to haunt them. Managing a best of 12th position with Yukio Kagayama – who clocked up two finishes in that place -, the Japanese rider's effort is nonetheless made all the more impressive by the fact he suffered two broken bones in his ankle in a crash during provisional qualifying. Urged not to race by his team, Kagayama nonetheless soldiered on and even enjoyed an enjoyable tête-à-tête between himself and countryman Noriyuki Haga during the opening race. On a better note, Fonsi Nieto enjoyed a better performance in the USA, reaching Superpole this time and finishing just behind Kagayama in race two on a bike that is evidently proving to be more of a handful than expected. For a team that had both riders on the podium in the first race of the year, this is very much off what they had expected by the time the season reached the mid-point… Misano, where they won last season, will be a particularly interesting weekend for the team and its fortunes for the rest of the year.

DFX Corse Ducati
Lorenzo Lanzi – 17th, 14th

Lorenzo Lanzi joined Fonsi Nieto and Gregorio Lavilla in making his belated return to the World Superbike paddock as the replacement for Regis Laconi at DFX Ducati. While results similar to what Laconi has been achieving this year was perhaps a lot to ask, Lanzi will probably have expected better than two points by the end of Sunday. Nonetheless, Lanzi followed an upward trend throughout the weekend, hauling himself into Superpole before putting an indifferent first race behind him to score a 14th in the second. Having gotten two finishes under his belt, a return to Italy for both his and the team's home race could give him the opportunity to make a better impression of himself.


BMW Alpha Racing
Troy Corser – 15th, 17th
Ruben Xaus – 21st, 16th

Having failed to score at all in Kyalami, BMW didn't manage much better at Miller, with Troy Corser sneaking a solitary point for them in 15th position, while Ruben Xaus didn't make the top fifteen at all. The start of the weekend looked promising, Corser going second quickest in free practice and while he'd drop back in provisional qualifying, he was still comfortably inside the top twenty. However, both he and Xaus would struggle through the deciding session, finding themselves both unable to participate in Superpole. For a team not renowned for their one-lap pace, even this was a new low… The races weren't much better either, Corser – ailing with his Monza inflicted shoulder injury - and Xaus rooted firmly in the mid-field and unable to make much progress beyond Corser's 15th position. A pretty disastrous flyway stint for the manufacturer, big improvements will be required for when the series returns to Europe and Misano – the scene of Xaus' last WSBK win.


Pedercini Kawasaki
David Salom – 20th, 18th
Luca Scassa – 19th, DNF

Pedercini Kawasaki could have - and should have - scored points at Miller Motorsports Park. If anything, this promised to be their strongest round of the season, with the Kawasaki ZX-10R seemingly well suited to the rigours of the flat circuit, while Luca Scassa was one of the few to have raced there previously following his tenure in AMA Superbikes. A seventh place in practice suggested good things, while both he and David Salom made it into Superpole, ahead of many more fancied entrants, to qualify 15th and 18th. However, Salom's pace in both races tailed off to leave him with 20th and 18th by the end of the weekend, while Scassa was caught out by the aggregate format in the opening encounter to finish 19th. In his defence, the Italian was running a strong 13th in the second race when he was tipped into spectacular high-side by a somewhat rash move by Jamie Hacking. Breaking metatarsus in his left foot, Scassa nonetheless expects to be back for Misano.


Yamaha France Ipone
Erwan Nigon – 22nd, DNF

Having given Shuan Whyte a chance to race in Kyalami, Yamaha France donated their bike to former grand prix competitor Erwan Nigon for Miller. Although his inexperience told with him languishing at the back of the field throughout the weekend, it is possible Nigon will be back to compete for the team at various times in the year, so this can be seen as valuable track time at least.


Celani Race Suzuki
Karl Muggeridge – DNF, DNS

A bit of a missed opportunity for 'Muggas' in the United States, having shown 'Assen-like' form at times over the weekend, even creeping into the top ten at the end of second qualification. Although he'd drop back to 20th in Superpole, Muggeridge was running a strong 12th in the first race when he suffered a big high-side on lap five. Bruised, winded and stricken on the circuit, his fall necessitated a red flag, but he came away otherwise unharmed. He wouldn't make the start of the second race.


Althea Honda
Tommy Hill – DNS, DNS

A fall during second qualification ruled Tommy Hill out for the remainder of the weekend at Miller Motorsports Park to prolong his current run of dismal luck. The crash occurred when a vicious rumble strip at the Attitude chicane – scene of several big accidents – caused him to lose control of his Althea Honda. While Hill is otherwise fine, the decision was taken to watch this one from the sidelines, but he should be back for the team's home round at Misano in three weeks time.


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