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Preview – Valencia

11 April 2007

With four different winners from six races, and just five points separating the championship leaders, much is expected at this weekend's Valencia round of the Corona Extra Superbike World championship.

The title chase has been dramatically tightened after James Toseland's Hannspree Ten Kate Honda stuttered to a halt while leading race two at Donington Park. That technical mishap denied the Briton a double home victory, broke a brilliant run of consistency that had seen him finish first or second in the first five races and stripped him of a potential 25 points.

Alstare Suzuki's Max Biaggi looked like to benefit most from Toseland's premature exit, but the former MotoGP star run wide at the very final turn - allowing Yamaha's Noriyuki Haga, who had hounded Biaggi for much of the race, to steal a surprise victory.

Nevertheless, Biaggi is now just five-points behind Toseland heading into this weekend's pair of Valencia races, when the Italian will again be chasing his second WSBK win.

Haga's victory propelled the popular Japanese to third in the points, albeit 22 behind Biaggi, while team-mate Troy Corser's pair of Donington podiums place the Australian a further seven points back. Corser has at Valencia on both twin-cylinder and four-cylinder machinery, and is expected to be fighting for his first R1 win on Sunday.

A lacklustre 2006 season for Ducati Xerox's Lorenzo Lanzi was punctuated by Valencia's twin peaks - his only two podiums of the year - and, having already scored third in Qatar race one this year, the Italian is now looking for his first WSBK win at a circuit he tested particularly well at recently.

Meanwhile, team-mate and reigning double world champion Troy Bayliss has recovered well from injuries to his little finger and groin and fully intends to race. The Australian will thus be presenting himself for medical checks as soon as he gets to Valencia, but his double Donington DNF has left him with a championship mountain to climb.

Suzuki's Germany's Max Neukirchner has been the most consistently fast privateer in race trim this year, despite riding a 2006 machine, and his six strong points scores place him at the head of a very close battle for the last few top ten places. Right behind him, by only a single point, is the top placed Spanish rider so far, Ruben Xaus riding a 2006 factory Ducati for the Sterilgarda team. Another few points behind is Toseland's team-mate Roberto Rolfo now gaining confidence since his swap from a privateer big twin to a full-on four-cylinder.

The last place in the top ten thus far is held by Spanish superstar Fonsi Nieto, but after a great ride at Valencia last year he expects to be in the mix and up the order by close of play on Sunday night. Ironically, the nature of the Spanish circuit will not help his cause too much, as his big PSG-1 Kawasaki is not best suited to the tight Valencia circuit. Nonetheless, both he and his team-mate Regis Laconi are expected to get the most out of their machines at a track they have tested at recently.

Biaggi's team-mate Yukio Kagayama will be at Valencia, with the Japanese rider hoping to be fit once more after another big crash at Donington, following on from his misadventures at the Phillip Island meeting.

SC Caracchi Ducati's Jakub Smrz has been a quiet revelation in the midfield since his move to World Superbike, and now sits 13th, having scored two top ten finishes at Donington Park, and having netted points five times in six attempts. Just behind Smrz, DFX Honda's Michel Fabrizio is out for two solid finishes to get his top-ten challenge on track again, while his team-mate Steve Martin hopes to get his machine performance up to meet his expectations.

Alto Evolution Honda riders Karl Muggeridge and Josh Brookes were among many of the midfield riders who rode at the Official Valencia SBK tests in March, and like many others they also hope that the technical circuit in Spain will level the playing field somewhat up to the top runners.

With two wins and one second place to his credit thus far in 2007, Hannspree Ten Kate Honda's Kenan Sofuoglu has scored an immediate jump on his many rivals in the World Supersport championship - and such was the effect of a pivotal Donington Park meeting that no fewer than three of his main rivals left the UK injured and another two left with no points and one point respectively.

Thus Sofuoglu has a 27-point lead over the rejuvenated Katsuaki Fujiwara and a 31-point advantage on second place Donington finisher Robbin Harms. Gil Kawasaki's two top runners, Fabien Foret and Pere Riba look to get their championship challenges back on the straight and narrow after disastrous Donington outcomes, ruining the good work of pole for Riba and a PI race win for Foret.

The almost traditional big WSS two of reigning double champion Sebastien Charpentier and 2006 runner-up Kevin Curtain are each trying to be fit for Valencia after crashes in Donington first practice, leaving them in the same boat as another modern-day great of Supersport racing, Broc Parkes.

First qualifying at Valencia takes place on Friday.


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