By Neil Morrison
It's been seven long weeks since the opening round of the 2013 World Superbike Championship in Australia.
The action restarts in the isolated setting of Aragon, North East Spain, where everyone will be hoping for a repeat of the fantastic racing witnessed last year.
Here are some of the questions that were presented after Phillip Island...
1. Can Aprilia continue their early season form?
- As if the performance of Laverty and Guintoli in Phillip Island wasn't enough, they had Red Devils “privateer” Michel Fabrizio confirm their superiority with an excellent front row and podium display. They now head to arguably their strongest circuit of the year. Biaggi won R2 in 2011 & R1 last year while only an inspired Marco Melandri overcame the Roman, Laverty and Davies in R2. A test in Jerez last month allowed the pair to work on rear grip, and although Laverty was over a second off his testing time there in November, he remains confident the bike's electronics are evolving from last year.
2. Just how well are Ducati's walking wounded?
- The grid in Australia was somewhat depleted by the absence of Ayrton Badovini. The Italian was already riding in discomfort, suffering from a haematoma on his liver, before a crash at the final turn broke his foot and fractured some ribs. Rehabilitation has been slow but he feels it shouldn't affect him once on the bike. Teammate Checa had difficulties before the Australian round with a blocked intestine and medical inspections revealed he cracked some bones in his right foot during his Race 1 clash with Marco Melandri. Aragon's long back straight should offer some respite to their injuries.
3. Is Sykes ready to start his title tilt?
- The Yorkshireman made an inauspicious start to the campaign by breaking his left wrist and three ribs at the official test before round one. The injury left him 80% convinced he wouldn't be able to ride. He duly collected a pair of consistent finishes and heads to Aragon after topping the private test there last week. He feels his “wrist is 80% and ribs 98% back to normal” and will look to make strides into the Aprilia's championship lead.
4. Will Marco's shoulder prove to be a hindrance?
- When Marco Melandri completed over 100 laps at a damp private test in Jerez last week, his BMW team exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Despite his race one mishap with Checa at Phillip Island, he still broke up the Aprilia monopoly in race two by finishing a distant third. He did this despite feeling intense shoulder pain when changing direction, a problem that had hampered his preseason preparation. Corrective surgery in February was deemed a success but it was only last week when he expressed concerns over its strength. Three days at Aragon will be an accurate gauge of how the shoulder has healed.
5. Can Suzuki finish on the podium?
- The Crescent Suzuki duo showed the GSX-R's potential at the test prior to round one. Camier finished second overall and declared himself extremely happy with the bike's handling and chassis. Cluzel showed great promise in Race two in Australia by clinching an encouraging 7th place finish, despite riding with several testing injuries. Both have agreed the bike's electronics need some refining and have a new test engine from Japan to play with. Although Suzuki had a disaster at the same round last year, Camier took a podium there in 2011 and Cluzel was competitive in the Supersport class.
6. Can Chaz Davies maintain his excellent Aragon record?
- Having won here on his way to the World Supersport crown in 2011, Chaz mixed it at the front of a WSBK field for the first time here in a thrilling second race last year. He eventually finished third after gallantly attacking Biaggi at the final chicane for his first podium in the big class. Early signs aboard the BMW have been positive and he achieved a fantastic 4th in the first race after qualifying in 12th. The team tested at Jerez twice since then and Chaz claimed they have made solid progress with their electronics package. He's aiming for a podium repeat of last year.
7. How will Honda respond?
- It was notable how uncomfortable Jonny Rea looked throughout the Phillip Island weekend. He complained of not having the correct feeling with his electronics and engine braking and both he and new teammate Haslam complained of making little progress at the Aragon test last week. Despite positive results at a private test in Alcarras, Rea still believes they can only measure progress against their rivals. Last year aside, Rea has yet to start a season in WSBK with any great distinction. If they aren't careful, another championship challenge may pass the Ten Kate Honda team by.
8. Have Effenbert Liberty Racing got their house in order?
- The will they, won't they saga of the World Superbike paddock finally announced they are to return to the series at Aragon with Australian rider Mark Aitchison aboard a Ducati 1098. The outfit enjoyed a tumultuous and unsettled 2012 with all three riders (Smrz, Guintoli and Berger) losing their seats and the team didn't travel to the final round at Magny Cours. Rumours abound they approached both Smrz and Noriyuki Haga for the ride but have since settled on the Aussie, whose BSB ride folded prior to now. Whatever happens, it's bound to be entertaining.
9. Has Sofuoglu met his match?
- “At the moment Sam Lowes' pole time is something quite incredible for a Supersport bike” was reigning champ Sofuoglu's assessment of the Englishman's qualifying performance in Australia. It's rare to hear the Turk handing out praise but he upped his game in the race and set a marker for the season ahead. Having met more than his match with British challengers in the past in the shape of Laverty and Crutchlow, this years WSS class could provide another classic yearlong battle.
10. Just how good are the Supersport Rookies?
- Michael van der Mark arguably outshone his peers at Phillip Island with an aggressive and super quick ride to a debut podium. Sofuoglu and Lowes were expected to ride off into the distance, but not many had taken the 20 year-old Dutch into the equation. Jack Kennedy surprised everyone with an excellent 5th place qualifying and only a destroyed rear tyre prevented him from finishing higher than 10th. Aragon is a chance for them to continue their progress.