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Vallelunga - Preview

18 September 2008

Having been heading in that direction for much of the season, the 12th round of the World Superbike Championship at Vallelunga finally brings up the first match point for long-time leader Troy Bayliss.

After creeping over the three-figure mark with a victory at Donington Park, Bayliss just needs to outscore his key rivals in Italy to ensure that he signs off from a glittering career clutching one final WSBK title.

If he did wrap it up at Vallelunga, he'd have chosen a good place to do it, as the sweeping circuit proves one of the three home rounds for Ducati Corse (Misano included).

Situated on the northern outskirts of Rome, Vallelunga arrived on the World Superbike calendar in 2007 after undergoing a significant revamp in 2005, one that lengthened the track and brought it up to international standards.

With several long 'straights' (they are actually subtly curved straights) and a few slow corners, Vallelunga has been described as somewhat 'Mickey Mouse', but with its mid-September setting expected to still draw out the fans, it remains a mostly popular venue.

Most will be out to see if Bayliss can put the title out of official reach at Vallelunga, although it is his namesake Troy Corser who has now become his main rival after moving up ahead of Max Neukirchner in the standings.

Indeed, while a win and a retirement for Bayliss at Donington was far from ideal, it was still enough to increase his lead over most notable rivals Corser, Neukirchner, Carlos Checa and Noriyuki Haga, all of which endured shockers in comparison.

While third place in the second race made up Corser's headline, the fact he was off his bike on six occasions shows it was still a weekend to forget for the Aussie rider. Whether his bruises let him forget, however, is another thing…

Neukirchner was anonymous all weekend, falling in the first race before ambling about in the mid-field of the second race, the German eventually coming home 14th and scoring two meagre points.

Checa had to settle for ninth in the second race, despite qualifying on the front row of the grid for both races, while Haga came away with absolutely nothing when he retired in the first race and was then black flagged in the second due to an apparent mix-up regarding a drive-thru penalty.

As such, Bayliss has 101 points over Corser now with 150 remaining. Provided Bayliss has another Brno, rather than another Miller Motorsports Park, we could be celebrating another title come Sunday.

The ever consistent Fonsi Nieto retains sixth overall heading to Vallelunga after managing a seventh place at Donington Park, although he is very much under pressure from two of the form-men in the championship now: Max Biaggi and Ryuichi Kiyonari.

Biaggi actually ties with Nieto on points currently, but having scored a podium in the last four rounds, he is very much on course to take away that place. He needs to show well too having seen his much expected switch to Ducati Xerox come to nothing and with seats being snapped up quickly, he is running out of options.

He too has to keep his eyes on what is going on behind him as Kiyonari is looming just two points further back. Kiyonari could have been in the fight for second place in the standings had he not thrown it off whilst leading at Donington Park, but three wins in four races has still seen him turn a mediocre rookie season into a stunning one.

Now comes the big test though: Kiyonari has shown how quick – and spectacular - he can be around circuits he knows well, but can he translate that confidence into a less familiar venue? Luckily for him, Vallelunga isn't a completely new setting after several teams tested there earlier in the season, so Kiyonari has a great chance to carry that momentum on.

His resurgence has since pushed Michel Fabrizio and Ruben Xaus down to ninth and tenth in the standings, the former rider once again only showing good pace in the final laps of the second race, while the latter hit the headlines for his outburst to team-mate Biaggi when he was removed from the podium.

With several top names failing to shine at Donington Park, some of the lesser heralded riders came to the fore, not least Gregorio Lavilla, who reminded everyone of his ability on the Vent-Axia VK Honda with a fourth and seventh place finish. Moving him back up to be the best true privateer on the grid, Lavilla has now finished all but one race this season in the points – an impressive feat.

He, however, remains under pressure from Jakub Smrz, who matches Lavilla on points but sits behind in 13th overall on count-back.

Elsewhere, Roberto Rolfo and Lorenzo Lanzi will be looking for strong results on the home ground, as will the factory-supported PSG-1 Kawasaki squad, which have scored just one point in the last 16 attempts if you add Regis Laconi and Makoto Tamada's races together.

Beyond Superbikes, the Supersport Championship remains a draw, with Andrew Pitt now very well placed to secure this year's title after his charging ride up the order at Donington Park. Although Joshua Brookes claimed victory on the Stiggy Honda, second for Pitt puts him comfortably ahead of team-mate Jonathan Rea with only three races remaining.


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