The last round of the 2002 World Superbike Championship is set to be an all time classic. The second half of the season has seen an unbelievable effort by Colin Edwards to get back on top of the championship. Just a few months ago, at Laguna Seca, Troy Bayliss was a huge 56 points ahead of archrival Edwards...

...But since then, the Honda rider has chipped steadily away at this points difference. Then came Assen, and an upset in the second leg, which handed Edwards the series lead by a single point!

While it's anyone's guess as to who will take the crown on Sunday - with every WSBK fan having a different opinion - Crash.Net instead decided to listen to the contenders themselves, and both Bayliss and Edwards air their views below on the build-up to Imola and the season so far...

''I don't think anyone can believe what's happened in this year's championship,'' admits Edwards, Superbike World Champion with Honda in 2000. ''I suppose it was looking like Troy would walk the championship after he won six in a row at the start of the season. It was never easy for me and the team in some of those early races. I'd get a lead in a race and just wait for Troy to come by then have no reply. But since the second race at Laguna Seca in July we've moved up a gear and now we're in the position I think we deserve.''

Even when he was finding it hard to keep up with Bayliss, Edwards was already extremely consistent. His two Assen wins mean that he has now claimed 23 consecutive podiums. The previous record was held by Carl Fogarty with 12 straight podiums in 1995 and 1999.

''The statistics confirm how determined we've been this year to cling on to hopes of winning the title,'' argues Edwards. ''I now want to keep the momentum going with two wins at Imola.''

Edwards is looking strong for Imola, especially with Bayliss a little downhearted after his Assen mistake. ''Now I've got to go out and do it all again at Imola,'' winces the Australian 2001 world champion. ''I'm pretty mad with myself for the crash, but what can you do? I have to admit I'd rather be in front of Colin at this point though.''

But Bayliss remains as determined as ever. ''The day after Assen, Kim and I were checking in at Amsterdam airport,'' recalls Bayliss. ''Then some dude comes past and says, ''Hey Troy, bad luck for yesterday, better luck for next year.'' I just stood there and thought to myself: ''This one's not finished yet...''

Edwards was given a crucial opportunity to test at Imola just before this weekend's brace of races. With a time of 1min 48.10secs, the Texan was faster than the lap record of Ruben Xaus set last year.

''It's great that we could get the test time at Imola,'' confessed the SP-2 rider. ''Since we raced there last year there's a lot changed on the machine - the chassis, motor, oil, Michelin tyres and Showa suspension... In fact, it's a completely different motorcycle to what we raced at Imola 12 months ago.''

"We've had a good test, I've done a lot of miles and now I'm ready to race, The guys from Michelin and Showa have gone home happy and I think we're just about set for the final round here. It's OK going fast but the main reason for the test was to find a good race set-up and we've pretty much done that so you have to say today?s been a success.''

Edwards was able to test because regulations allow each team to choose two test tracks and Team Castrol Honda's choices were Misano and Imola.

''Misano is a good, demanding test track for us and we went for Imola just in case the championship was tight going into the final round,'' explained Neil Tuxworth, Castrol Honda team manager.

Meanwhile, Bayliss completed 68 laps of the Mugello circuit in Italy and set a best time of 1min 53.08secs using racing tyres.

''We came here to test in view of the Imola race,'' Bayliss explained after the session. ''In the last few rounds I've really had to struggle to get good results but, with the modifications we tested, the bike feels the same as it did at the start of the season. I've never lapped so fast around Mugello, and even though Imola is a different track altogether, I'm feeling good about the final round of the championship''.

The Autodromo Enzo and Dino Ferrari is one of few European anti-clockwise tracks (Misano is another). It used to be extremely fast but average speeds were greatly reduced after Ayrton Senna's tragic 1994 crash. Imola now has five chicanes and is located 35 km southeast of Bologna (home of the Ducati factory).

''You need a nimble machine for Imola's three chicanes,'' said Nicolas Goubert, Michelin motorcycle racing manager. ''So the tyres we bring to this circuit are designed to keep the steering light. The chicanes mean that the right-hand side of the tyre doesn't get loaded up much under braking so grip characteristics need to be good. Combining high levels of sidegrip with light steering is hard, especially on a bumpy surface like this one.''

''I like the circuit but it's quite bumpy now," stated Bayliss. "Imola would be a really great track if they resurfaced it. But it's good to come here because it has a lot of history. Last year of course we all know what happened to me, I slipped off and I broke my collarbone. Actually I was trying really hard."

Bayliss then revealed that the reason he crashed out spectacularly, collecting Regis Laconi in the process: "Not many people know but I was having a problem with the bike, something wrong with the engine, and I nearly pulled into the pits, which is something I don't do. I thought I should pull in, and then I said no, that's what I am here to do. I still could possibly win, so I was trying very hard but it caught me up and I crashed. But it's a good circuit.''

When asked about his opinion of the Italian asphalt, Edwards explained: ''Imola is a bit rough, a couple of places can be a little bit dangerous, but it's a good track. You have chicanes, fast fifth gear corners... pretty much everything. It's a good track, good people, good place to have a race.''

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