Having been denied victory by the narrowest of margins in the opening race of the World Superbike Championship curtain-raiser at Phillip Island in Australia, Michel Fabrizio is keen to break his 2010 duck at Portimão this weekend – around a circuit where only five months ago he ascended the very highest step of the podium.
After being pipped to the chequered flag by Alstare Suzuki adversary Leon Haslam in race one Down Under by a scant four thousandths of a second – not even the blink of an eye, and the closest finish in WSBK history – Fabrizio added to that with a second consecutive podium finish later in the day, winding up less than half a second adrift of winner Carlos Checa, similarly aboard a Ducati.
Having tested positively around the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve over the winter break, and with his Ducati Xerox team boasting a strong pedigree in Portugal – with previous success there not only for himself but also for triple WSBK Champion Troy Bayliss, who did the double in the 2008 season finale – Fabrizio is clearly revved up to overturn Haslam's nine-point advantage at the top of the title standings.
“We made a good start to the championship a few weeks ago at Phillip Island and took some good points,” reported the Italian, the lap record-holder at Portimão. “It's a pity I lost out on the race one win, but the racing was great fun – it sure was a close finish!
“I'm in second position in the standings which isn't bad, and now we move to Portimão, another track that I really enjoy racing at, and I'll be looking for race wins. I need to consolidate the strong start that we've made, because this year will inevitably a very long and hard-fought competition.”
That is a fact of which team-mate Noriyuki Haga is all-too aware, having duelled tooth-and-nail with Yamaha rival Ben Spies over the course of a similarly 'long and hard-fought' season in 2009 – only to agonisingly miss out by a mere six points, thereby confirming the Japanese rider's unenviable reputation as the eternal bridesmaid, having now classified as runner-up in the championship on no fewer than three occasions.
A crash in race one in Portugal last year saw Haga squander the ten-point margin he had carried over Spies heading into the meeting, meaning that even a second-place finish behind Fabrizio in race two was ultimately not enough to undo the damage he had done. Lying fourth in the chase for the crown following a third and a fifth place at Phillip Island – his cause hampered by an injury resulting from an 'off' in the morning warm-up – 'Nitro Nori' is palpably ready to bite back when the lights go out for seconds out, round two.
“I had a few problems during the races at Phillip Island as I had crashed that morning in the warm-up, hurting my right arm and lower back,” acknowledged the 35-year-old. “The injuries made it hard for me to keep pace with Michel, Checa and Haslam, so I was fairly happy with my results and the points gained.
“Now I'm feeling a lot better and am looking ahead to the coming weekend – I haven't had the best luck at the track over the last two years, so it's not my favourite but we hope to score two good results.”