28 February 2008
Preview - Phillip Island.
Last Saturday's season opener saw factory Ducati hero Troy Bayliss fend off Max Biaggi to take the new 1098's first WSBK triumph - but an equally thrilling climax to the second outing saw Fonsi Nieto regain four-cylinder pride by fending off Biaggi's Sterilgarda Go Eleven team-mate Ruben Xaus to clinch his debut WSBK victory, at the end of his first race weekend with Alstare Suzuki.
Fourth place for Bayliss in race two handed the double world champion the early title lead heading into his home round, where the Australian was also on devastating form during pre-season testing - until he fractured his collarbone.
"We are very pleased with the result of the first race. We didn't expect to be so competitive, especially because as the Suzuki showed in race two, we think the four-cylinder bikes are still the favourites, at least at the Losail circuit," reflected Ducati Xerox team manager Davide Tardozzi. "As for Phillip Island, I think things will be a bit different because we are sure that our bike, both judging from the past and the winter tests, adapts well to this track…and also because Troy makes all the difference!"
Bayliss, who was forced to share wins with eventual champion James Toseland one year ago at Phillip Island, is certain to be up front during what could well be his final competitive appearance at 'The Island' - should Troy, as he himself has suggested, hand up his leathers at the end of this season.
But if Bayliss wants a dream home double he'll need to overcome the likes of fellow home star Troy Corser, third and seventh last Saturday, while satellite 1098 riders Biaggi and Xaus have both proven they are more than capable of slaying the factory riders.
Meanwhile, Nieto's team manager Giacomo Guidotti admitted he was surprised by the Spaniard's instant GSX-R form - but points out that Alstare enjoyed a promising winter test down under.
"As for the race in Qatar, we're still clearly on a high, but we are starting to 'mindset' again for Phillip Island," said Guidotti. "We only expected to be in the leading group, to be close to the front but not to win. We were very pleased with the performance of our rider and our bike, and the tyres worked perfectly.
"We did six days of testing in the winter at Phillip Island, three with the new bike, which formed the basis for the bike that won in Qatar and which we have here. The engine is very powerful, with a controlled delivery, and is very good at getting the power down. This is our current package," he added.
With Bayliss injured on the last day of the official Phillip Island test, Nieto's team-mate Yukio Kagayama was fastest of all - but the unlucky Japanese will miss this weekend's event due after sustained a broken collarbone at Qatar.
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