Preview – Brands Hatch
29 July 2004
The scale and excitement of recent World Superbike events at Brands Hatch has propelled the entire weekend to the status of a must-see on the British sporting calendar.
Since the first Brands Hatch SBK races in the early nineties, the close proximity to the tens of millions ringing the London Metropolis and the superb natural viewing offered by the historic circuit have made Brands one of the most eagerly awaited audience participation events imaginable, with weekend crowds often over 120,000 and an atmosphere somewhere between a football game and an open air music festival.
However, cyclists of a different kind were first to compete at what is now one of the world's classic racing venues, when in 1926 a bunch of local cyclists used the natural bowl of grassland for their time trials.
In 1947 the first ever televised motorcycle racing – a grass track event – was transmitted from Brands, notching another topic to its long and glorious list of unique features. After constant updates and recent safety changes, Brands would be unrecognisable to the previous generations of racers, but the essential atmosphere and soul of remains firmly intact.
The previous WSBK event at Laguna Seca (middle pic) was hardly the most successful ever for the traditional class leading Ducati Fila team, but nonetheless the two-rider attack of Briton James Toseland and Frenchman Regis Laconi still heads off the increasingly close challenge of their nearest neighbours in the points table.
Some outstandingly aggressive and committed riding at Laguna from Toseland saw him re-take the championship lead from his team-mate, but their almost season-long lead was trimmed back once more, making Brands one of the most unpredictable weekends of the year. Toseland has a total of 201 points, Laconi 198.
One of the biggest threats to the factory Ducati riders looks like coming from Chris Vermeulen and the Ten Kate Honda team. The Australian's brand new CBR1000RR seems to have benefited from the blanket 1000cc rule and spec Pirelli tyres – propelling him to just 14 points off the lead.
The ever more impressive Vermeulen has also won the last three races in a row, and is now tipped to be in the championship fight all the way to the end at Magny Cours in October.
Meanwhile, Ducati 999RS customers have also found the Superbike playing field more level than ever this season, allowing the exciting Noriyuki Haga to run his Renegade Ducati at the front. Haga is well versed in racing at Brands but recent track revisions may make for a short period of acclimatisation for the mercurial Japanese rider.
Lying fourth overall, Haga has not had things all his own way in the Renegade Ducati team, as his rapidly developing team mate Leon Haslam has been asserting his authority in his first full SBK season, taking a podium finish in Germany - and more significantly this weekend he has already won a round of the domestic British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch this year.
Another rider who has led the championship this season, Pierfrancesco Chili, sits fifth in the championship race having secured a win at Misano, and most recently a second place at Laguna Seca.
The 40-year-old elder statesman of the class is still as hungry as a teenager, even if he is now the most experienced SBK rider in history. He will be joined at Brands Hatch by Giancarlo De Matteis, drafted into the PSG-1 team to ride the 999RS Chili has eschewed in favour of his 999cc-engined Ducati 998.
Malaysia may be the country of birth and support for the unique three cylinder Petronas FP-1, but with its team headquarters and team principle Carl Fogarty firmly entrenched in the UK, the Brands Hatch race is the second home event for the aquamarine dream team.
The up and down form of the team and the machine has shown that it is far from straightforward to make an all-new 900cc three cylinder machine a competitive SBK package, but both local favourite Chris Walker and 1996 World Champion Troy Corser will be out to repeat their podium successes from the early season rounds.
The Superbike regulars will be joined at Brands this weekend by Silverstone SBK success story James Ellison (Jentin Yamaha), who will make his second wild-card appearance for Jentin Yamaha.
Meanwhile, Brands has always delivered noteworthy World Supersport races (lower pic), with some of the top 2004 competitors having already secured wins in England.
Ten Kate Honda's Karl Muggeridge is one such rider, and this year he leads the championship after a superb run of three wins from Misano to Oschersleben, and a second place at the most recent round at Silverstone.
Yamaha Italia's Jurgen van den Goorbergh has a single win this year, but in a clear second place -15 points behind Muggeridge - he is the most credible threat to the Aussie's most recent form.
Muggeridge's team-mate and compatriot Broc Parkes will also benefit from a recent Oschersleben test, while fourth placed Kevin Curtain, yet another fast Aussie, is the premier Yamaha Motor Germany runner.
Despite some problems setting the all-new Suzuki GSX-R600 Stephane Chambon is the most successful WSS rider ever at Brands, and another Frenchman, second Yamaha Italia rider Fabien Foret is a proven force at Brands, and is also the most recent race winner of all this year.