The seventh of 12 World Superbike events on the 2006 calendar takes place at Brno in the Czech Republic this coming weekend, with the promise of even closer racing than has been witnessed in the first half of this action-packed year.
Brno is no stranger to World Superbike competition and offers one of the most majestic venues imaginable, being set in the pine forests above the Czech Republic's second city. The 'modern' design of the current day Brno nonetheless offers the high speeds of the old road circuit which it replaced, and makes great use of the natural features which have virtually dictated its layout of six left and eight right hand corners. A challenge to the riders, a popular destination for the fans, Brno is a true modern classic, boasting a 'family' history few circuits can match.
After an incident-packed Misano round in late June, in which several top contenders crashed out of contention for wins, Andrew Pitt on the Yamaha Motor Italia scored his first ever World Superbike victory, in race two. He joins an illustrious band of fellow SBK race winners, having previously scored the World Supersport Championship outright in 2001. In race one at Misano, this year's most rapacious win-machine, Troy Bayliss of Ducati Xerox scored his eighth full-pointer in a row, to squeeze out a significant 94 point advantage over second place rider, Noriyuki Haga riding the Yamaha Motor Italia. A win is yet to be taken by Haga this year, but after a recent tyre test session at Lausitzring in Germany, Haga showed he is as fast as anyone in the championship when his machine's set-up works to his advantage.
2004 World Champion James Toseland riding his Winston Ten Kate Honda is looking to Brno to make another push in his championship campaign. Having won the first race of the year, at Qatar, Toseland added his first pole win at Misano, before a slip in race two deprived him of a possible race win. At Brno, which should suit his Honda perfectly, he will be all out to leapfrog Haga for second, and dent the points differential to Bayliss. With a Ducati rider leading a Yamaha rider, and with a Honda rider third, Troy Corser on the Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra makes it four manufacturers' machines in the top four. The 1996 and 2005 season champion Corser had a double no score in Misano, and as such will no doubt unleash himself on the Brno circuit at full pace, from first practice to final flag.
Despite some great difficulties getting off the line in race conditions in this his rookie SBK year, multiple MotoGP winner Alex Barros riding for Klaffi Honda has put in some astoundingly polished and forceful rides. His first career SBK win has been tantalisingly close, but at Brno he will have a distinct advantage over his fellow SBK riders for the first time this season, such have been his frequent visits to the Czech circuit. In race two at Misano he finished only behind Pitt, and we can expect each of these class riders to shine under what is expected to be an intense Czech sun.
After some astonishingly impressive rides in his rookie season in 2005, Ducati Xerox rider Lorenzo Lanzi has had to settle for only two podium finishes this year, each at Valencia during round three. His form has been on the rise in recent events, and in the aforementioned Lausitz tests he was a true force once again. From a current factory Ducati rider to a former one, Ruben Xaus on the Sterilgarda Berik Ducati is burning to score his first podium this year, despite his relative lack of factory equipment. Having won nine previous SBK races, he is always one to watch. Arguably the top true privateer in the class currently, Xaus will find Brno the perfect canvas on which to impress his action-painting riding style.
Chris Walker and his team-mate Fonsi Nieto both on the Kawasaki PSG-1 Corse mahcines are separated by a mere three points, with Walker in ninth place and Nieto just inside the top ten. A superb fourth place at Misano is hoped to be conjured into a podium finish of some colour at Brno by Walker, with Nieto also looking for his first podium on the Kawasaki. Third rider in the PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse team, Regis Laconi, missed out on the recent Lausitz tests, and is currently 13th, with a best single race finish of sixth, in race one at Misano.
Ahead of Laconi is a Japanese double act of Norick Abe withYamaha Motor France Ipone and Corser's Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra team-mate, Yukio Kagayama. The top 15 is completed by Toseland's team-mate Karl Muggeridge and Italian rider Roberto Rolfo on the Ducati SC Caracchi.
No fewer than six wild cards are set to take on the world at Brno, adding to an already bursting grid of almost 30 regulars. They will be aiming to make life hard for the midfield, swapping international experience for intimate circuit knowledge.