2 August 2006
Preview - Brands Hatch.
With the pitlane and main straight surrounded by gently rolling hills, Brands Hatch is arguably the greatest naturally formed Motorsports amphitheatre in the world.
The fact that Brands is also the biggest event on the World Superbike calendar is subject of little argument, with the enthusiastic and knowledgeable local crowd helping to make Brands the highlight of the 12-round championship trail.
The magnificent 4.197km circuit, first used for cycle races in the 1920s, is stunning mix of undulations and variety of corners. From the up and down hairpin at Druids, to the high speed sections in the woodlands towards Hawthorn and Westfield, Brands offers a unique challenge to every level of rider, in this its 14th appearance on the SBK calendar. Such is the importance of this meeting that when an additional venue had to be found to complete the scheduled 2000 season, Brands got the nod, and therefore hosted two SBK events in the same season - one in August and the other in October.
Despite championship leader Troy Bayliss on the Ducati Xerox having blasted his way to an impressive mid-season lead after the sixth round at Misano (including an eight-race unbeaten record only one short of the all-time best) the fates have now skewed the plot - in favour of everyone outside the official Ducati Xerox pit garage. Bayliss still enjoys a more than useful 73-point lead, but compared to the previous run of events, the last two rounds have certainly shuffled the face cards in the SBK pack.
Seldom is the World Superbike series predictable for any length of time, and the surprise beneficiary at the most recent round at Brno proved to be the mercurial Japanese Yukio Kagayama riding for Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra. Robbed of a chance of an early season win at Qatar, Kagayama hit the bull's-eye not once but twice at Brno, scoring his first SBK double ahead of a host of more fancied riders, including his own team-mate Troy Corser, the 2005 season race winner, who now sits fourth overall.
Of the riders still active in World Superbike, none can challenge the recent Brands Hatch record of Yamaha Motor Italia rider, Noriyuki Haga. Winner of the three of the last four SBK races at Brands (two on Ducatis in 2004 and one on a 2005 Yamaha) Haga was pole man at Brno, and still sits second in this year's championship fight overall. His team-mate Andrew Pitt has gone one better than Haga in race trim thus far, and despite sitting sixth overall, was a race winner at the second Misano leg, in late June. Two Brno retirements, from strong front-running spots, have merely fed his hunger for more wins and podiums, on what is a spectacularly resurgent Yamaha R1.
James Toseland on his Winston Ten Kate Honda enters his home round with the knowledge that he has returned to podium-scoring form, and that his much-desired improvement in qualifying has already paid dividends in terms of recent points scores. The 2004 champion has proven already that he can win in 2006, and alongside is his team-mate, the ever-improving Karl Muggeridge he will be a force to be reckoned with in front of a partisan home crowd.
World Superbike may be a long-term dance partner with Brands, but for the hugely experienced ex-MotoGP rider, Alex Barros on the Klaffi Honda, it is a step into the latest unknown during his rookie SBK season. Having never raced at Brands Hatch, he will possibly find it the steepest of all his learning curves this year, but after two disappointing races at Brno, plagued by technical problems, he and his determined team are sure to bounce back into podium contention. Another top rider without a win so far, Barros is certain to show why he is such a highly rated player in SBK, irrespective of the obstacles he may have to overcome on the way.
Having amassed experience in many forms of racing over the past three years, 2003 European Superstock Champion Michel Fabrizio on his DFX Honda scored not just his first but a pair of podium finishes at Brno, setting himself up for two more strong showings at the rigorously-challenging Brands Hatch circuit. His first two podiums since his move up from World Supersport were audacious in the extreme, proof that being partnered with the vastly experienced Pierfrancesco Chili is now paying dividends for Fabrizio and his entire Honda team.
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