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WSBK Mid-term report - Honda

11 June 2009

Honda rider standings after 7 rounds, 14 races

Jonathan Rea, Ten Kate Honda - 4th
Leon Haslam, Stiggy Honda - 6th
Ryuichi Kiyonari, Ten Kate Honda - 8th
Carlos Checa, Ten Kate Honda - 9th
John Hopkins, Stiggy Honda - 21st
Tommy Hill, Althea Honda - 23rd
Roberto Rolfo, Stiggy Honda - 27th
Jake Zemke, Stiggy Honda - 32nd
Vittorio Iannuzzo, Squadra Corse Italia Honda - N/C

While they are yet to win a race this season, four entrants inside the top ten at the half-way stage of the season actually makes Honda the best represented brand in the upper echelons of the standings. Not that they will be entirely enamoured with their performances, which haven't quite lived up to the initial hopes of a title challenge.

Indeed, the bosses in Japan may be a little surprised to see that it's WSBK rookie Jonathan Rea and Stiggy's Leon Haslam that fly their flag after 14 races in fourth and sixth positions overall, with the more experienced Ryuichi Kiyonari and Carlos Checa keeping a watching brief in eighth and ninth.

For Rea, the season has been gathering pace significantly in recent races. Although he made a bold full-time debut in Australia with a front row start, it has been his performances at Monza, Kyalami and Miller Motorsports Park that have helped him scale the standings to currently acquire the status of 'best of the rest'.

It could be a whole lot better too, Rea being let down slightly by qualifying before putting in some marvellous race performances when it matters. It's interesting to note that Rea has displayed all of the traits most would have expected from Kiyonari and Checa, in that he has been consistent, showed great determination and even displayed his racing nous at Miller with a bike that wasn't as quick as his third place finish. A first win, potentially on familiar ground at Donington Park, must be the target now for Rea.

Team-mates Kiyonari and Checa, however, look less likely to taste the winner's champagne. Kiyonari has shown he can literally be on the podium one weekend and outside the top ten the next, form that has certainly raised some eyebrows in the Ten Kate fold. In his favour, when Kiyonari is quick he can be devastatingly so – he just need to find it more often.

Checa, meanwhile, gave a glimpse of his old form with his podium at Miller, but for the most part 2009 has been a disappointment. The Spaniard was being mooted for a title challenge at this stage in 2008, but this is unlikely to happen in 2009 – he'll need to make in-roads on Rea if he is to save his place in the team.

By contrast, for many, Haslam has been the revelation of the 2009 season so far. Making his return to the series with the fledgling Stiggy concern, Haslam has shown front running pace nearly every round this season, even if qualifying has been rather patchier. Still, given this is an entirely new experience for the Stiggy team, Haslam's three podiums by the mid-way stage in the season is an immense achievement.

While he has slipped to sixth in the standings at the wrong moment, Haslam is still in the hunt for fourth overall and would be further up the road were it not for his retirements at Monza, Kyalami and Miller, all of which came whilst running in decent top ten positions. Even so, Haslam seems to have found a good home in the WSBK paddock and Stiggy is certainly taking to the series considerably better than many were probably expecting.

Still, their season has been fraught with various changes too having dropped Roberto Rolfo in favour of MotoGP exile John Hopkins. A big name addition to the series, it is a shame we have barely had a chance to see what Hopkins is capable of having injured himself at the start of only his second event with the team. It's hard to judge a man on just one event, but these injuries are unlikely to aid his cause when he does eventually make his return – the jury will have to be out for a little bit longer…

In the meantime, Jake Zemke attempted to live up to the hype, but one point in four races won't have endeared him to future employers outside of the USA.

Of the remaining Honda riders, Tommy Hill's season has hit a rough patch of late following a promising start to the season. A failure to score in the last nine races has pushed him and Althea Honda down to 23rd in the overall standings, a disappointment given how well the team have been performing at Supersport level.

Still, he has fared better than Vittorio Iannuzzo on the Squadra Corse Italia machine, the Italian proving a tail-ender for the vast majority of the year and currently yet to score.


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