12 June 2003
Preview - Silverstone.
Silverstone will host a World Superbike race for the second year in succession this forthcoming weekend and completion of the pair of Superbike races on Sunday 15 June 2003 will mark the mid-point of the 12-round season.
Commencing at Valencia, Spain in early March, the SBK season has wound its way across the globe, from Australia to Japan, from Italy to Germany and now across less than 50km of water to the British mainland.
Silverstone, albeit somewhat featureless in terms of elevation changes, is one of the fastest and most evocative circuits on the SBK calendar, providing an object lesson in fast cornering - for the main part. Track modifications for safety reasons mean that the fastest laps set in the races will automatically become new lap records. A very slow chicane reduces speeds onto the main straight, improving safety but presenting a challenge to even the best riders - as they have to make the best speeds possible through this section of track on chassis settings more suited for the fastest corners.
Until the second race at the previous Oschersleben round, Neil Hodgson (Ducati Fila 999 F03) had monopolised the top step of every single one of all nine podium ceremonies to that point. Official factory rider Hodgson had to give best to his former team-mate James Toseland (HM Plant Ducati998 F02) riding a year old factory bike to great effect on Dunlop tyres. The resurgence of the tyre battle, in a class with Michelin, Dunlop and Pirelli all represented by strong entries, is one of the most welcome developments in the 2003 season, during which a total of seven riders have found themselves on the podium.
Only Toseland and Hodgson may have won races, but for Ruben Xaus, Hodgson's team-mate, the top step of an SBK ceremony is familiar territory from previous seasons. In third place overall, only six points adrift of Toseland, Xaus is one of many riders disputing the second spot in the championship standings. Regis Laconi (NCR Caracchi Nortel Ducati 998RS) is the highest placed 'pure' privateer rider in fourth, just a quartet of points behind Xaus, with the factory Alstare Suzuki of Gregorio Lavilla just 21 points from second place man Toseland.
This year's SBK rules allow 1000cc four cylinder machines into the fray for the first time, running air intake restrictors downstream of the throttle bodies to limit the potentially vast power output such an engine could make under normal Superbike rules. Despite this regulatory handicap Lavilla has taken his GSX-R1000 - still at the beginning of its ultimate development path - to a handful of podium places, and has pushed Hodgson to the line on two occasions.
Having suffered some injury and misfortune in races this season, Chris Walker, Toseland's team-mate in the HM Plant team, has earned to third places and led an SBK race for the first time at Oschersleben.
On home tarmac all British riders are expected to perform at their absolute best, but one more rider is almost as popular in the UK as he is in his native Italy. Pierfrancesco Chili (PSG-1 Ducati 998RS) has shown some quite breathtaking form for one of 39 years of age, and has finished on the podium in the majority of the races his bike has allowed him to complete.
A 'home' race for the Anglo-Malaysian Foggy Petronas FP-1 team will give the British public its first chance to see the unique three-cylinder in serious action, after its unveiling in front of a packed Brands Hatch grandstand last season. Troy Corser and James Haydon have had rollercoaster seasons so far; with front row start for Corser at round one the highlight of their combined ceaseless endeavours.
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