2 April 2009
WSBK Preview – Valencia
While anticipation is continuing to grow ahead of the new MotoGP season, the 2009 World Superbike Championship is, by contrast, very much in full swing ahead of its return to European shores.
The Valencia Ricardo Tormo circuit is the venue for the third round of the year and while it may lack the heritage of Phillip Island, or the majesty of Losail, there is likely to be a collective sigh of relief for many of the riders and teams as they pull into Spain's coastline city.
Indeed, while Valencia, with its tighter corners, slender tarmac and brightly coloured kerbs, is a far cry from the sweeping curves of Phillip Island and the wide-open spaces of Losail, it is certainly more typical of the circuits coming up on this year's European-centric calendar.
It means those who have struggled in the first couple of rounds are likely to treat this round as being more indicative of how this year's championship will pan out – 'those' refers to everyone beyond Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga.
Between them they have won all four races so far this year, while only one other rider (Max Neukirchner) has been able to snatch a second place away from the pair. It means there is already a 35 point gap between second and third position; a daunting task for the chasing pack.
Although he doesn't lead the standings, three-time winner Spies is the man with momentum on his side. With that messy opening race in Australia blotting his copybook, Spies has otherwise been imperious on the well-sorted Yamaha R1, prompting fans, observers and rivals alike to praise his achievements.
However, while many predicted the previously unknown Losail circuit would be his biggest test – one he passed with full marks, an A* and a first-class degree -, it is probably Valencia that will pose an equally significant challenge. However, Spies shrugs this off, claiming most of the circuits he grew up on in the USA are similar to European configurations – given his success rate so far, there is little to suggest he will be wrong.
Nonetheless, this is the ideal opportunity for Ducati to steal back some of the initative from Yamaha. It must be remembered that Haga does continue to lead the standings, while Valencia has been a good circuit both team and rider in the past. On the flip-side, if Haga and Ducati can't beat Spies and Yamaha here, then where can they? It may explain why Haga is, somewhat perplexingly, playing down his chances by merely targeting the podium in Spain – Ducati is clearly having a sobering effect on the 'Samurai of Slide'.
Despite the rather familiar look at the top of the results sheets in Australia and Qatar, it cannot be ignored that how close lap times were on occasion. A few tenths can really mean the difference between the front and fifth rows – just ask Jonathan Rea!
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