2 March 2006
Preview - Phillip Island.
After an entertaining opening round in Qatar less than a week ago, the World Superbike boys re-assemble for round two at Phillip Island in Australia this weekend eager to put on another good show.
While the Australian fans didn't get the domination that some had predicted from Troys Bayliss and Corser after pre-season testing, they can welcome their countrymen onto home soil as championship leaders, having duked it out for race two glory at Losail. Corser came out on top in that encounter, but Xerox Ducati rider Bayliss did enough across both races to ensure that he heads home as overall leader.
In all, it was a solid comeback for the 2001 WSBK champion, as he mounted the podium for the first time since Imola in 2002, and took the points lead for the first time since Assen that same year. Both he and Corser showed that experience still counts for a lot in World Superbikes, despite the influx of youth and MotoGP stars in recent years, with the race two podium at Losail featuring the fifth highest average rider age on record. Corser, Bayliss and Nori Haga combined for an average 34 years and twelve days.
Neither Aussie, however, will be counting his chickens just yet, for there is a strange phenomenon that suggests that the winner of the opening round of the season has a better than average chance of going on to win the title - and both had to give best to a resurgent James Toseland.
The Briton, now with Winston Ten Kate Honda, needed only one lap to secure victory, having not featured at the front for the rest of the race. However, with Haga and Corser's Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra team-mat Yukio Kagayama colliding, Toseland was able to steal a morale-boosting success. It was his sixth win in the WSBK, and his second in an opening round - the last coming in his 2004 title-winning campaign.
Phillip Island is a circuit regarded highly by the riders, and always seems to produce spectacular racing, which bodes well after the opening round's antics. While the two Troys are currently defending the overall lead, however, there appears to be mounting competition ready to beat down the door.
Kagayama will consider himself robbed of victory in Qatar, after friend and rival Haga piled into him on the final lap of race one, while Haga himself will know that he has the potential to move up the order after pushing for victory in both races. The Aussies keep coming too, with Honda's Karl Muggeridge and Yamaha's Andrew Pitt showing well in the desert, the latter taking third on the grid - his best career qualifying result - and then bettering it with the first WSBK podium place of his career behind Toseland and Bayliss. Throw Ducati upstart Lorenzo Lanzi into the equation after a disappointing start to the season - a first-race highside leading to sixth in race two - and the potential for fireworks is there for all to see.
Among those expected to feature in Qatar but not actually doing so, Ruben Xaus will want to banish memories of a difficult first race back in the WSBK. The leggy Spaniard recorded his worst qualifying performance with 21st spot on the Losail grid, and could not better tenth in either race.
Fabien Foret was similarly underwhelmed by his Qatar experience, his Alstare Corona Suzuki breaking down in both races after promising times in practice, while veteran Pierfrancesco Chili heads to Australia already trying to recover from injury after a heavy race two fall last weekend. Despite suffering a broken left ring finger, and a welter of contusions and swellings, the popular Italian is expected to line up for qualifying and the races at the Island.
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