Preview - Valencia
20 April 2005
After season-opening rounds at the long-haul destinations of Qatar and Australia, the 12-round World Superbike championship returns to more familiar territory for the remainder of the championship season starting with Spain this weekend of the 22nd-24th April.
Valencia, now something of a regular stop off point for WSBK races and test sessions, is round three in the current series. First introduced to the championship in 2000, the 4.005km Valencia race circuit is a largely twisty and is known by the teams and riders to offer little grip as well as the added bonus of changeable grip conditions thanks to the sea breeze that blows dust onto the circuit randomly. However it was built with the spectators in mind, and many grandstands offer the paying public a good view of most of the circuit.
Several of the current crop of World Superbike contestants have already taken race wins there, most notably James Toseland, Troy Corser and Noriyuki Haga in the days gone by.
A glance at the current championship standings tells the story of the early 2005 series, with Alstare Suzuki riding duo of Troy Corser and Yukio Kagayama having scored the a majority of the points on offer. With 91 from a possible 100 for Corser and 85 for Kagayama, the Suzuki squad could hardly be better placed as they enter the Valencia round. Added to this their total domination during the official test after Qatar, the pair are seemingly unstoppable. Corser currently has three wins (26 in his career) while WSBK new-boy Kagayama has a single success; race two in Qatar.
The closest challenger to the dominance of the Suzukis has been the Xerox Ducati of 2004 season runner up, Regis Laconi. His two podium finishes so far in 2005, and two gritty rides against adversity in Australia leave him third in the championship table, with 54 points.
Meanwhile his team-mate and 2004 World champion is having an even tougher 2005 so far, running in an unaccustomedly lowly eighth place, James Toseland is struggling after some dreadful misfortunes and high-speed crashes. As a winner at Valencia last year, his rivals know that he could well bounce back to be in running for honours again come raceday.
Youth has been given chances in high profile teams once more this year, as fourth placed rider Chris Vermeulen on the Winston Ten Kate Honda and Max Neukirchner on the Klaffi Honda battle it out for unofficial status of top Honda rider of 2005.
Neukirchner, a promotee from WSS last year, will join Vermeulen on the 22-year mark, shortly before the Valencia weekend.
In marked contrast, Neukirchner's team-mate – the most experienced World Superbike riders there is – Pierfrancesco Chili is suffering from a broken collarbone from the Phillip Island event. Despite this Chili fully intends to ride in Spain, once more showing the grit that has underlined his long and glorious racing career.
Meanwhile Vermeulen's Ten Kate team-mate, Karl Muggeridge enjoyed a stellar WSS career, and joins the premier series for the first time this year as the reigning WSS champion. Having fielded the worst effects of illness at Qatar and misfortune in Australia, the 30-year-old Gold Coast rider, now based in Andorra and Switzerland, has a lot to look forward to at a track he has already tested on this season.
Of the five top Honda entrants in the field, Ben Bostrom with the Renegade Honda team will see his Valencia results most likely influenced by machinery, as his team continues to catch up time after an unavoidably late start to their 2005 preparations.
Thanks to four strong points scoring rides in real race conditions, Yamaha Motor France rider Norick Abe has secured the status of top Yamaha rider at this point, sitting sixth, just ahead of the Yamaha Motor Italia rider Andrew Pitt. A former World Supersport champion himself, and yet another Aussie, now plying his trade in the new-look Superbike series, Pitt has impressed with his hard riding style and overall commitment.
A double no-score from Pitt's team-mate Noriyuki Haga at Phillip Island has dropped him down the order to 11th, while Sebastien Gimbert, riding riding alongside Abe, is a true star of pre-season qualifying, but has yet to find his feet in race conditions. A return to the scene of some of his extreme pre-season competitiveness may be just what the Frenchman requires to get back on terms.
Yamaha Sterilgarda's Jose Luis Cardoso will be looking to the familiar setting of Valencia to score his first points since joining the championship. His fellow Spaniard, Fonsi Nieto riding the SC Caracchi Ducati had a superb ride to fifth in the aggregate race at Phillip Island, securing for himself a top ten championship placing thus far, in what is also his rookie WSBK season. His team-mate, Ducati's favoured son Lorenzo Lanzi, is yet another rider attempting to overturn some bad luck and show his true abilities in the biggest class of Superbike racing there is.
Chris Walker and Mauro Sanchini of the PSG-1 Kawasaki team look like battling it out for supremacy in the ZX-10 camp, with Walker the pre-season favourite in this internal battle, yet suffering some outrageous misfortune thus far. The Bertocchi Kawasaki squad, comprising Giovanni Bussei and Ivan Clementi, are also capable of upsets on machinery supplied by the fourth major Japanese manufacturer represented in the championship this year.
A previous version of the unique and technically innovative Petronas three-cylinder machinery, similar to that utilised by Aussie duo Garry McCoy and Steve Martin in 2005, enjoyed some success at Valencia last year. It will be difficult to emulate this once more, given the huge increase in the numbers of potential winning machines on the grid, but in McCoy and Martin, Petronas has two battling competitors, ready to take any opportunity that comes their way. Also with new engine developments ready for Valencia in the form of a higher revving motor, and new exhaust system to cope with the added heat, the team hope to be able to challenge its competitors down the straights as well as round the corners.
In World Supersport Winston Ten Kate Honda rider Sebastien Charpentier scored the win at Phillip Island, to take the lead in the championship from his team-mate Katsuaki Fujiwara. The Honda duo have been the best of the bunch so far, each with a win, but Yamaha Motor Germany pilot Kevin Curtain has been a strong force throughout the early championship stages. Team Italia Megabike Honda runners Fabien Foret and Michel Fabrizio, are another talented pairing, the experience of 2003 WSS champion Foret contrasting and complimenting the exuberance of 2003 European Superstock champion Fabrizio. After a difficult start to the year, Jurgen van den Goorbergh on the lead SL Ducati 749 got his season off to a better footing with a fifth place finish in Australia, at one of his favourite circuits.