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Preview - Losail

21 February 2005

The first race of the 2005 World Superbike season kicks off this weekend at Qatar, but following the recent preseason test at the same track there could be quite a few surprises in store for race fans.

The Alstare Suzuki pairing of Yukio Kagayama and Troy Corser came out on top of the test with the WSBK 'new-boy' Yuki-san being the surprise fastest rider. The pair never left the top of the time sheets over the test, suggesting the all new 2005 GSX-R1000 K5 machine is likely to be quite strong in Saturday's races.

Yukio was happy with his performance in the test but pointed out that he still had more to come for the races as he is still not totally comfortable with the Pirelli tyres.

“At the moment, I am still learning about the Pirellis and the limit so I know there is more to come from me,” he commented. “For the race, my plan is the same as always: Head down, full gas and ride my maximum. It is the only way I know!"

Yuki's team-mate and former 1996 WSBK champion Troy Corser is another hot favourite for the first round, constantly leading the time sheets at the test until the dying stages, he has the advantage over Yuki of experience of the WSBK riders.

"There are still a couple of sections on the track where I know I can go quicker, so Yukio had better watch out!” commented Corser at the end of the test. “Each day the track has felt different, so it's been really good to have some understanding about how it behaves. If it changes next week, hopefully we'll have the info to respond quickly and keep ahead of the rest. Here's to it!"

Another surprise performance came from the Spaniard Jose Luis Cardoso. Former Yamaha 500GP rider and 2004 Spanish National Formula Extreme champion, also on a Yamaha, Cardoso enjoyed his fair share of time at the top of the time sheets, never leaving the top three over the two day test.

The DFXtreme Sterilgarda rider was consistently the top Yamaha, beating the likes of Andrew Pitt, Noriyuki Haga, Sebastien Gimbert and Norick Abe. Having a great deal of experience on the R1 will give him an early advantage that may last to the races next weekend as the other Yamaha teams try to find speed as they play catch-up.

The Xerox factory Ducati team had their work cut out at the test with only fourth place being managed by either Regis Laconi or defending champion James Toseland during the test.

They may have a great deal to do before the racing begins to find the extra speed which will be hampered by Toseland's bruising he picked up from a high-side during the final day of the test. The 2004 champ set the overall tenth fastest time.

"I was going into the second of the three successive fast right-handers and the rear let go," explained the young British rider. "I just looped over and landed on my side. I've never been up that high before!”

Yamaha France rider Gimbert is likely to be a high performer after finishing the test a final fifth fastest. He entered the final round of WSBK 2004 on the Yamaha where he surprised the field by securing two strong fourth place finishes. This recent test has served to underline his and Yamaha's capability of challenging for race wins.

A joyful Chris Walker attained the highest placed finish for Kawasaki on the PSG-1 machine, taking seventh overall in the test. With his old Foggy Petronas team not fairing too well at all only managing to take the 24th and 27th fastest times by the end of the test.

Haga, on his much anticipated return to Yamaha, made great in-roads on the set-up of his R1 machine, going from the back of the time sheets to securing the ninth fastest time overall by the close. His legion of fans hope to see him battling for the title before too long, but still has some way to go following his out-side top ten performance for much of the test.

However Haga did not resort to testing a qualifying tyre like most of the field, believing that the race set-up is far more important.

"The track was quite slippery but not really any worse than I expected,” he said following the test. “So we should be OK. It was just common sense to make more time testing on the race tyre than use a qualifier because that only means a fast time today, not for the race."

The highest placed Honda was that of Pierfransesco Chili and his new Klaffi Honda team, he managed to take the 14th fastest time, which is a good effort considering the team had to test recently using standard engines as their race items had not yet been built. This will be little respite though for Chili who is used to battling for the top five positions in the championship.

The Winston Ten Kate boys had a less than beneficial test with both riders succumbing to the same flu virus. 2004 championship contender Vermeulen only managed 39 laps over the weekend but still managed the 15th fastest time.

“Some riders have done well over 100 laps, but I've barely done 40,” said Vermeulen, “And I've struggled to do those!”

“I know there's more to come but only when I'm feeling better. The circuit's good and the bike has had a lot more to offer than I've had over the last two days. It'll be different when we're back here on Thursday.”

Former AMA and WSBK star Ben Bostrom, who is Renegade Honda's sole rider this season, will need to find a great deal of speed from his Koji backed Fireblade before the first race after only setting the 23rd fastest time at the teams first test.

Bostrom commented before the start of the season that he had unfinished business in the WSBK championship after leaving in 2002 following a very disappointing year to go back to the AMA.

He may well have a disappointing start to the year unless he gains the three-seconds needed to get back to the top, a feat he is unlikely to do without much needed testing time.

Former MotoGP rider Abe and 250GP rider Fonsi Nieto had a mixed introduction to Superbike racing, setting the 11th and 20th fastest times respectively.

Yamaha Motor France's Abe was surprised by the level of competition and closeness of the whole field's times, obviously something he is not used to in the MotoGP championship.

“The level here is very tough,” he commented. “For me this was the first time to ride together with most of the other riders. Everybody is so close and it is not just the top riders who can go fast. This was a surprise. When I made a little improvement my position would go up, but when I was not able to make a good lap time I went down a lot! It was all so close in the top 15.”

Meanwhile in World Supersport, Sebastien Charpentier with his new Ten Kate Honda team has dominated testing, showing his clear plans for this season.

Fabien Foret also looks strong, setting the second quickest time in the test, on his Megabike Honda. Kevin Curtain was the fastest Yamaha completing significantly less laps than his competitors with the top five being completed by the Hondas of Michael Fabrizio and Katsuaki Fujiwara.

World Superbike and Supersport fans will not have long to wait to see who will come out of the box fastest with the first race of the season only days away.

The first round of the season takes place at the Losail circuit in Qatar, on Saturday 26th February.


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