1 March 2007
Preview - Phillip Island.
After a dramatic and unpredictable start to World Superbike racing's 20th year of all out action, no one could have predicted the out come at Losail a few days ago, now it's the turn of Phillip Island to form the backdrop to what will hopefully be just as momentous a weekend.
The Corona Extra Superbike World championship will have it's Australian visa stamped at Phillip Island for the 17th time this time around, making the seaside circuit one of the longest serving - and most popular - in Superbike's 20 years of racing life. Its entire 4.445km length is littered with challenges to any rider's abilities, with wind and weather also capable of playing their part in any individual race outcome.
With Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra's Max Biaggi winning on his Superbike debut and with James Toseland of Hannspree Ten Kate Honda scoring the second leg win the series is currently tied. However, more important to the local Aussie fans is the question of how the European based Australian riders will fare after Qatar's disappointments.
Reigning champion Troy Bayliss aboard his Ducati Xerox machine was in the rare position of having his team-mate Lorenzo Lanzi step on the podium instead of Bayliss himself, but on his home track the technical and tyre choice issues that dogged him at Losail should be eradicated before race day. Lanzi is currently third in the table, with Bayliss seventh.
The other double championship winning Aussie Troy, Troy Corser now with Yamaha Motor Italia, scored pole and a podium for third place in race two in round one, and at his all-time favourite circuit, all things seem possible - even in what will only be his second meeting on the new Yamaha. The good news for the Aussie duo is that not just home advantage but also previous form favour them - with Corser and Bayliss each winning a Phillip Island race in 2006.
Despite some brilliant showings in practice at Losail, Noriyuki Haga riding for Yamaha Motor Italia was unfortunate on race day, but few would write off Haga on the eve of a meeting as important as Phillip Island. He will be joined by a fellow Japanese rider in the list of PI possibles, Yukio Kagayama from Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra, who is only two points ahead of Haga in the points table. Another Suzuki rider, Max Neukirchner who is riding for Suzuki Germany will be out to repeat his stunning sixth place from race one at Losail, which helped make him the best-placed rider on a non-factory bike in Qatar, of any vintage.
An unfortunate clash with his team-mate put Fonsi Nieto and his PSG-1 Kawasaki out of race one at Losail, but a brilliant fifth place in the second running showed Nieto's true mettle when it counted. Another Spanish rider Ruben Xaus on the Sterilgarda Ducati is one place ahead of Nieto, after two top tens in Qatar on the 2006 factory-spec 999 Ducati. Roby Rolfo on the second Hannspree Ten Kate Honda had one solid seventh and a DNF at Losail, but the talented Italian is well on his way to better things. The current top 12 is rounded out by the second factory Kawasaki of Regis Laconi.
Steve Martin and Michel Fabrizio both on DFX Corse Honda CBR1000RR will be two riders to watch in Australia, while more Aussie talent resides in the Alto Evolution Honda team, with Karl Muggeridge and Josh Brookes looking to overcome a relative lack of pace from their current spec of engines. Shinichi Nakatomi riding for Team Yamaha YZF scored a point in only a single race at Losail, but in his second SBK season, Phillip Island should not be so daunting a challenge as last year.
After the long trek back to Europe is completed, the SBK paddock reforms in Spain, but not quite in readiness for the Valencia race. On 17, 18 and 19 March, there will be an official FGSport test at Valencia, but this year the first European race will be held at Donington Park, with race day itself taking place on 1 April. This will be the first Donington SBK race since 2001 and the first of three SBK rounds in the UK in 2007.
The rapid development of Kenan Sofuoglu of the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda squad in World Supersport was remarkable at the tail end of the 2006 season, and his winning curve got higher at the first round this year, after his team-mate Sebastien Charpentier fell from their battle for the lead. In Australia, Charpentier is sure to shine again as he goes for three race wins in a row at Phillip Island, while Losail's second placed rider, Kevin Curtain on the SSP Yamaha is ready to push all the way for his second home victory. Curtain's team-mate Broc Parkes is looking for his first points of the 2007 season at his home circuit.
On all-new machinery GIL Kawasaki riders Fabien Foret and Pere Riba had superb fourth and fifth place finishes in round one, while Gianluca Nannelli of Team Caracchi Ducati SC 749R struggled after a bright qualifying battle. For Suzuki, a winter test at Phillip Island will help their official duo, Barry Veneman and Vesa Kallio, from the Hoegee Suzuki team. Practice for Supersport, like in Superbike, gets underway on Friday 2 March.
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