Crash.Net WSBK News
Preview - Phillip Island
2 March 2006
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.
Another comparative veteran, albeit of bike racing rather than the WSBK itself, Alex Barros knows that his early-season struggles could continue for a while yet as his Klaffi Honda lacks the latest spec engine, but is looking forward to returning to Phillip Island, a circuit he knows well from his MotoGP days.
On the flip-side, however, Losail witnessed an unexpectedly assured display from Superbike rookie Michel Fabrizio, who pushed his DFX Honda forward all weekend. The Italian could be another contender this weekend.
With superbike racing proving to be a closely-fought affair everywhere, however, it would be foolish to rule out a challenge from the likes of Chris Walker, Regis Laconi, Roberto Rolfo, Fonsi Nieto or Max Neukirchner, while the performance of Foggy Petronas duo Steve Martin and Craig Jones remains under observation for signs of a threat.
In the accompanying World Supersport class, there was just one name on everyone's lips in Qatar - Sebastien Charpentier. The reigning champion introduced himself with an pole lap that left even his team-mate 0.9secs adrift - the second biggest gap on record - and the Frenchman proceeded to rack up the fourth grand chelem of his career, annexing the pole, victory and fastest lap while staying in front of the pack for the entire race.
For that reason, it has to be hard to look past the Winston Ten Kate Honda star at Phillip Island, but there will certainly be a host of rivals attempting to stop the rot - not least local favourites Kevin Curtain, Josh Brookes, Anthony Gobert, Dean Thomas and Broc Parkes, who all endured differing fortunes at Losail. While Curtain claimed the second step of the podium, and Brookes and Gobert scored points, Thomas and Parkes were listed among the DNFs - something they will want to put right this weekend.
Also out to build on his opening round performance will be Kenan Sofuoglu, who produced a maiden podium for both himself and his native Turkey on his WSS debut.
Missing from action this weekend, however, will be expected frontrunner Katsuaki Fujiwara, who will have to wait to make amends for the tumble that put him out of round one. The Japanese Honda rider broke his scaphoid in Qatar, and is likely to be replaced by Team Megabike Honda's Yoann Tiberio, despite the 19-year old suffering the lingering effects of a cycling injury that put him out of the Qatar round before it had even started.
The race weekend returns to 'normal' in Australia, with practice and qualifying days on Friday and Saturday, and all races taking place Sunday.