Preview - Donington Park
4 September 2008
A month is usually a long time in motorsport. Whether new deals are being announced, intensive testing is taking place or sponsorship commitments are being adhered to, a 'break' rarely means an actual break for those in this industry.
However, the World Superbike summer break is something different. After a relentless spring and summer, the month-long gap is a great chance for reflection, relaxation and an opportunity to keep out of the limelight for once.
Not for much longer though as the championship roars back into action at Donington Park for the second of the two British rounds.
Ten down, four to go, this year's series is entering the closing stages, even if the title has all but been decided if you ask most people. Troy Bayliss isn't one of them though as he refuses to admit he is something of a champion-elect, although with 82 points in his pocket, the Australian is teetering on the verge of bidding farewell to his career in the most comprehensive way possible.
Still, anything can still happen - as Bayliss knows only too well after crashing at Donington Park last year, prompting the amputation of a little finger and forcing his withdraw from the second race. Crucial to his title bid, Bayliss doesn't want history to repeat itself this year.
After a season spent bubbling under the surface of the leading riders, Ryuichi Kiyonari burst into the winner's circle at Brands Hatch, not once, but twice after showing exactly what he is capable of when he isn't spending a weekend learning the twists and turns of a circuit. Ominously for his rivals, Kiyonari heads to Donington Park with equal knowledge of the track's challenges, only this time he has even more confidence attached to his armoury.
As such, the Japanese rider must be the favourite to triumph again this weekend, but with Donington Park proving one of the more classic circuits on the calendar, the competition for honours is likely to be fierce.
Currently, Bayliss' closest rival in the championship standings is Alstare Suzuki's Max Neukirchner, who enjoyed a relatively quiet Brands Hatch weekend that nonetheless consolidated his position in the overall standings.
However, he is under pressure from the 'other' Troy, this time Corser, who is becoming increasingly desperate to win some proper silverware aboard the Yamaha. Nonetheless, despite the lack of wins, Corser's consistency has still put him just ten points behind the Suzuki rider in the championship. A double podium winner last year, is this the weekend Corser finally breaks his Yamaha duck….?
Yamaha Italia's Noriyuki Haga, a winner of one of the races last season, is also a strong bet for victory. The Japanese rider looked very competitive at Brands Hatch - save for his fall in the first race - and remains just 22 points off second place overall.
Similarly, Carlos Checa is only 19 points off Neukirchner in fourth overall after a lacklustre weekend around one of the few circuits the Spaniard doesn't know. This time, however, the MotoGP-hosting Donington Park is a familiar venue for the two-time winner, while he will be hoping to steal back some of the thunder taken by the younger, in-form Ken Kate Honda team-mate…
Outside the top five, things remain close, with the gaggle of riders have now expanded to six following Kiyonari's vault up the championship table. Currently, Fonsi Nieto leads the way after a better performance at Brands Hatch than we have seen of late, while Max Biaggi will also be hoping the summer break hasn't disrupted his decent run of form.
Indeed, Corser wasn't the only double podium winner back in 2007 at Donington Park as Biaggi stood on the rostrum twice as well. The Italian was one of the stars at Brands Hatch after his charging ride in the first race, even if he did undo most of that good work with a fall in the second.
He is seventh in the championship at the moment, with Kiyonari eighth, while Michel Fabrizio and Ruben Xaus, who is fit again after picking up the flu at Brands Hatch, complete the top ten.
Away from the likely suspects, British eyes will undoubtedly be on the five wild-card entrants of Tom Sykes, Cal Crutchlow, Leon Haslam, James Ellison and Gary Johnson, not to mention Vent-Axia rider Chris Walker.
For Sykes, it is a second appearance on the world stage after a hugely successful outing at Brands Hatch that has been duly rewarded with a second attempt at Donington Park. He will be joined by Ellison, riding the Hydrex Bike Animal Honda, while Crutchlow and Haslam lead the factory-backed HM Plant team for their first outing this year. Meanwhile, TT racer Johnson will race a Honda this weekend too.
Beyond the obvious festivities, thoughts will also be centred on Craig Jones. The first event to be held since his tragic death at Brands Hatch, tributes are planned throughout the weekend to honour the fallen rider.
Meanwhile, in the World Supersport Championship, Jonathan Rea will look to make it three wins in a row on home ground, while there will also plenty of attention for Eugene Laverty, riding the Yamaha for the first time this weekend, as well as a number of wild-card riders.