Noriyuki Haga's exclusion from South Africa and his subsequent one month ban which has ruled him out of this weekend racing at Misano, has given Colin Edwards some breathing space at the top of the table.
Despite being disappointed with his final results at Hockenheim which promised so much but delivered very little compared to his expectations, Edwards left the German track with a comfortable points lead of Frankie Chili. With Haga out of action for four races, only an injury or a remarkable run of retirements can now deny the American his first World Superbike crown.
Misano may not suit Edwards' Honda as much as Hockenheim did but that doesn't mean that the bike will not be highly competitive. Both Edwards and Aaron Slight know their way around Misano and the Italian track's combination of fast straights, sweeping corners and tight turns offers a great challenge to the WSB teams. Edwards needs just two more Superpole victories to secure the £200,000 bonus on offer to any rider who achieves six successive pole positions while Slight is still playing himself in after his brain surgery. Hockenheim was a good example of where each rider stands in terms of pace and fitness and Slight was very near to the leaders all afternoon.
Misano is one place where the nimble Yamaha has a distinct advantage over the brute power of the Honda which makes it more of a pity that Haga will not be present. The team, now sponsored by West cigarettes, now rests its chances on the shoulders of Vittoriano Guareschi who has been steadily improving of late but is still nowhere near the pace of Haga. If the Italian can gain some TV exposure for the new sponsors at his home track then the team will be pleased.
Ducati also run well at Misano and Troy Bayliss could prove to be Edwards biggest threat once again. The lack of track knowledge doesn't seem to hinder Bayliss one bit although Misano is somewhat trickier to master than Hockenheim. Once again the Australian will be partnered by Juan Borja who was comprehensively out performed by Bayliss at Hockenheim. The Spaniard must get on the pace of the leaders if he is to stand any chance of retaining the factory ride when Carl Fogarty returns.
Suzuki and Kawasaki also have bikes which suit the characteristics of the Italian track although both teams' effectively only have one factory rider this weekend. Pierfrancesco Chili needs to outscore Edwards to remain in contention in the championship while Akira Yanagawa on the lead Kawasaki proved that the bike still had the tendency to be fast but fragile at Hockenheim.
Katsuaki Fujiwara on the second factory Suzuki was once again mired amongst the privateers in race one at Hockenheim although he did show a modicum of spirit in race two when he battled gamely with Ben Bostrom and Simon Crafar on his way to tenth.
Crafar will not be present at Misano, his place on the second factory Kawasaki being taken by Australian veteran Peter Goddard. Goddard was chosen for the ride as he is a contracted Kawasaki rider in the British Superbike championship and therefore more marketable to the Japanese concern. He also has the benefit of Kawasaki experience in the year 2000 but despite the fact that he gives nothing less than 100%, Goddard can hardly be expected to set the world on fire at such short notice.
Goddard's 1999 outfit, Aprilia will be relishing the prospect of Misano after an encouraging performance at Hockenheim. The Italian bike was built for turns, of which Misano has plenty, not straights but even so both Troy Corser and Alessandro Antonello were very competitive at Hockenheim. If anyone is going to stop Edwards from scooping the lucrative £200,000 bonus it will be Corser.
Of the privateers, Andy Meklau and Robert Ulm are once again going to be the closest threat to the works bikes although last year Giovanni Bussei on the Bertocchi Kawasaki caused a few stirs. The British Total Team Kawasaki had reserved an entry for Goddard but with his promotion to the factory ranks, the door could be left open for Stephen Plater to make his second WSB appearance.