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Preview – Magny Cours

5 October 2006

The World Superbike title may already be decided, but this weekend's Magny Cours season finale will still settle the fight for second in the championship, the manufacturers' title and the World Supersport crown.

Troy Bayliss completed a dream SBK return by wrapping up his second world title in race one at Imola last Sunday, but for most other riders there is still everything to play for - from the very top to the very bottom of the championship table. Bayliss, who has now scored 11 wins, is head and shoulders over the rest in terms of maximum scores, but no fewer than eight riders have won at least one race in this frequently unpredictable season.

All five major global manufacturers have also scored at least one victory, proving the depth of competition, but Ducati will start Sunday's two races with a dominant, but not yet decisive, 39 point lead over Honda in the manufacturers' standings.

But the fight for second in the riders' championship is much closer, with Winston Ten Kate Honda's James Toseland - who clinched his world title at Magny Cours in 2004 - holding a slender two-point lead over Yamaha's Noriyuki Haga - also a previous Magny Cours winner - after beating the Japanese in both races at Imola.

Holding fourth and fifth are Haga's rejuvenated team-mate Andrew Pitt and Klaffi Honda's Alex Barros, both of whom have now become WSBK race winners. Barros - a former 500cc and MotoGP winner - took his first SBK win in race one at Imola, then backed it up with a close second behind Bayliss in the final outing to close to within eight points of Pitt. However, the Aussie rider is nonetheless on good form, having scored third and fourth in Italy.

2005 Champion Troy Corser sits sixth after another meeting to forget at Imola, but will be hoping to improvement his 2007 employment opportunities by bouncing back on what could be his last ride with the Alstare Suzuki team. The Australian obut he will be attempting to narrow an eight-point gap to Barros, and possibly the 21-point margin to Pitt.

Some 25-points behind his own team-mate Corser, Yukio Kagayama will have to pull out two special race finishes to catch and pass Corser in the final standings - but only Bayliss has won more races than Kagayama this year and the Japanese already looks to have secured his seat alongside new signing Max Biaggi.

Kagayama's three 2006 victories could well be improved on in France, and realistically, one of last year's race winners, Lorenzo Lanzi is almost certainly too far behind to make up the 41-point gap to the Japanese. Lanzi, a winner last year at Magny Cours, is under intense pressure to perform, although it may already be too late to keep his factory Ducati seat alongside Bayliss.

The Italian is also under attack for his eighth in the championship, with PSG-1 Kawasaki riders Chris Walker and Fonsi Nieto both within 13 points. Walker, dropped by the PSG-1 team for 2007, will be looking to finish his season on a similar high note to his Assen race win, while Nieto goes for win number one, to follow up his podium finish in race two in Holland. Only a single point separates Walker and Nieto as they fight for top Kawasaki honours.

Further back, DFX's Michel Fabrizio and Winston Ten Kate's Karl Muggeridge are about to experience the denouement of their own Honda civil war, while Yamaha Motor France's Norick Abe is out to leapfrog both of them on what could be his world championship farewell.

A double no-score for Sterilgarda Ducati's Ruben Xaus at Imola dropped him down the order but as a former race winner in France (in 2003) he knows his way around Magny-Cours on a Ducati. Third PSG-1 rider, Regis Laconi, is used to being the top placed French rider in SBK, but as he is currently only 15th in the championship and has never won a race in France his motivation will have a keen edge to it this weekend. The fact that he has yet to score a podium of any colour in 2006 is another reminder to watch the number 55 in action at his home track.

Former grand prix rider Roberto Rolfo has had occasional high points in his 2006 SBK rookie season, but Magny-Cours will be the final chance to end a disappointing recent run. Well behind Laconi in the current point standings, the Ducati rider is nonetheless well ahead of another SBK rookie, Shinichi Nakatomi, of Yamaha Motor France.

Despite missing some of the season, and no-scoring in Imola, Alstare Engineering Suzuki rider Max Neukirchner is overall 18th, with Petronas rider Steve Martin and third YMF competitor Sebastien Gimbert close behind. Magny-Cours will be the final outing for the Petronas FP-1 triple and both Martin, who will ride for DFX Honda next season, and rookie team-mate Craig Jones will be aiming to close the first chapter of Carl Fogarty's race team on a high.

The Petronas project has now run for five years, but a far longer WSBK career will be coming to an end on Sunday when Pierfrancesco Chili will start his record breaking 278th race, before finally hanging up his racing leathers for good, ending a glittering career in top flight racing. Arguably the most globally popular rider in the near 20-year history of the SBK series, Chili is sure to receive an emotional send-off, irrespective of his final race or championship positions.

In the World Supersport championship, a first place for Sebastien Charpentier and a second for Winston Ken Kate Honda team-mate Kenan Sofuoglu Imola has kept the battle for supremacy alive until the very last round of the year. With Yamaha Motor Germany's championship leader Kevin Curtain third at Imola, the Australian had his lead trimmed back to 18 points - but is still very much in the driving seat to take his first World Supersport crown, and Yamaha's first riders' championship since 2000.

Another fight, for third overall, is more finely balanced, with Sofuoglu on 137 and Curtain's team-mate Broc Parkes on 129.


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