Set in a former Royal park on the outskirts of Milan, Monza is the fastest circuit on the World Supersport calendar.
It features a series of long straightaways and fast corners, broken up by some dead stop chicanes, brought in mainly to slow down the Formula One cars on their annual pilgrimage to this Mecca of motorsport.
Built in 1922 in only 100 days by the Automobile Club of Milan, Monza is Europe's oldest permanent circuit still in use. The old oval track no longer operates but has been preserved as a reminder of the pioneering days. Despite many alterations throughout the years, modern Monza has retained much of the feel of the grand old circuit that has seen so many famous battles on both four wheels and two.
Monza is also home to the Tifosi, the colourful, passionate and hugely knowledgeable supporters who will cheer on anything built in Italy and painted red. It is also the local round for Yamaha Belgarda Team, whose headquarters are just a few kilometres from the circuit.
Even though the R6 has been the fastest bike through the speedtrap at each World Supersport race this season, the teams have been working on set-up strategies that they hope will gain a few more kmh advantage over the opposition down the long Monza straights.
The R6's big strength is the power delivery between 8,000 and 12,000rpm, which has been significantly improved over the 2002 machine, but many of the teams will be willing to sacrifice some of this flexibility in order to make gains at the top end of the rev range. That's not easy in such a tightly regulated class, but there are still a few ways in which the teams can optimise the machines' performance.
Belgarda Yamaha Team riders Jurgen van den Goorbergh and Simone Sanna have already tested at the circuit, using engines fitted with camshafts reprofiled for greater duration (Supersport rules prohibit teams from changing the camshaft lift from that of the stock bike) and the riders will also be able to experiment with the air intake system. A range of air box bellmouths are available and many riders are likely to opt for shorter than usual items as these will give a slight increase at over 13,000rpm, again at the expense of the mid-range.
With top speeds approaching 280kph, aerodynamics will play a big part in maximising the slipstream effect and squeezing every last ounce of performance from the bikes. Again, Supersport regulations are very strict and the shape of the production R6 bodywork must be retained - however, teams can change the screen and many will opt for a larger than usual item to allow their rider to tuck in and maximise the slipstream effect. The slow corners offer an opportunity to outbrake rivals, making stability over the bumps, another legacy of the Formula One cars, and front-end feedback vital to rider confidence in the white hot heat of the battle.
Good qualifying, or more precisely a good start, will be vital if a rider is to be in with a chance of victory at Monza and the first gear Prima Variante chicane will resemble rush hour Milan as the riders charge into it for the first time. At best a rider stuck in the mid-pack will lose several seconds to the front runners as he gets held up through here, at worst he can find himself running through the gravel trap as 25 bikes and riders jockey for position.
With four long straights, riders will be ''towing'' each other along and constantly swapping positions as they look to ride in the slipstream of the rider ahead, as the lack of air resistance allows them to reach higher speeds than they would unassisted. Making a bad start and failing to join the train of leading riders will make it difficult to gain the ground required to challenge for a leading position, although this effect also makes it hard for one rider to break away from the pack. As such races at Monza are usually close, exciting and difficult to predict. Last year's race was a typical example of this, with the top six riders covered by 3.3 seconds at the flag. In 2001, Yamaha Belgarda Team riders James Whitham and Paolo Casoli finished first and second - with six riders crossing the line immediately behind them!