Nurburgring - Preview
3 September 2009
The 2009 World Superbike Championship will be back in action after the summer break with the eleventh round at Germany's Nurburgring circuit this weekend.
The German round is the first of four events - the others being Imola, Magny-Cours and Portimao - which will lead to either Noriyuki Haga (Ducati Xerox), Ben Spies (Yamaha World Superbike) or Michel Fabrizio (Ducati Xerox) being crowned world champion for the first time.
The memories of Haga's double victory twelve months whilst riding with a recently broken collarbone could be just what the Ducati rider needs to galvanise him into action, as he arrives in Germany with a slender seven point lead and still recovering from multiple injuries he suffered two races ago at Donington.
The Japanese rider will have to be on top form to hold off superstar rookie Spies, who is currently on the crest of a wave with three wins in the last four races for Yamaha - and poised to take the title lead.
But Haga's Ducati Xerox team-mate Michel Fabrizio could play a key role in proceedings.
The young Italian still has an slim title chance, sitting 53 points behind Haga and 46 behind the Texan (with 200 points still up for grabs), and unwittingly took Spies out of the action at Brno, allowing Haga to keep the championship lead.
Fabrizio is unlikely to make the same mistake, but may soon be called upon by Ducati to assist Haga with more careful race tactics.
After a breakthrough victory in Brno, Max Biaggi and Aprilia could also be key players this weekend. The win helped boost morale in the Italian team and even though it came at a circuit where the RSV4 had already been tested, the four-cylinder machine from the Noale factory is clearly making progress towards the top in WSBK.
The Hannspree Ten Kate Honda team have had an up and down season so far but at least they have seen the rise of Jonathan Rea, the only winner for the Japanese manufacturer this year and surely one of the men to watch in WSBK in the future.
Rea is a true fighter and the German track, which he is familiar with after racing in Supersport, is another chance for him to shine. Carlos Checa has shown signs of a renaissance in recent races, while over in the Stiggy Racing Honda camp Leon Haslam aims to put in another solid performance to become top Honda man ahead of Rea.
Further possible surprises could come from Shane Byrne (Sterilgarda Ducati), who is having an excellent second half of the season.
The BMW Motorrad team showed major improvement at Brno, with Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus both capable of getting onto row two in Superpole and the Australian bringing home the best result of the season for the team, with a fifth place finish.
The German squad is working hard to close the gap on the frontrunners, but will be without the injured Xaus this weekend - his place being taken by Briton Richard Cooper.
It certainly hasn't been an idle summer for Kawasaki as the Paul Bird Motorsport team raced successfully in a BSB round at Brands Hatch, giving an opportunity for Broc Parkes to try out some new material, while the injured Makoto Tamada remained at home to recover for the race.
Over in Suzuki Alstare the Belgian squad cannot count on their top rider Max Neukirchner, who was injured again in Imola testing. After racing singleton at Brno, Yukio Kagayama will be flanked by Karl Muggeridge, released from his contract by the Celani team, which will not be present in Germany.
World Superbike has been to the Nurburgring three times: twice before the track underwent modifications (1998-1999) and then last year. The winners were Aaron Slight (Honda) and Pierfrancesco Chili (Ducati) in 1998, while the following year Ducati scored a double with Carl Fogarty and Troy Corser.
Nine years later the German track was witness to another double win, this time by Haga (Yamaha Motor Italia), who pulled off this incredible feat just two weeks after breaking his collarbone in the previous US Round at Miller Motorsports Park.
Meanwhile, just when everything appeared to be going Cal Crutchlow's way in the World Supersport Championship, the gremlin that sidelined the Yamaha man at Brno has meant the battle for the title is wide-open once again.
The Coventry rider now has just a 17 points advantage over Eugene Laverty (Parkalgar Honda), the only man who can realistically take the title away from him.
Kenan Sofuoglu (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) is still in with a mathematical chance but the 2007 champion is 57 points down with four rounds remaining and has little chance of making up that disadvantage.
Crutchlow will hope for support from his team-mate Fabien Foret, who scored his first win of the season in the Czech Republic. Another frontrunner will surely be Spain's Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki Provec), who is having an excellent season, while following his re-emergence at Brno, Anthony West (Stiggy Racing Honda) will be hoping to continue his good run of form.
Andrew Pitt (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) officially abdicated the title he won in 2008 one race ago, but wants to salvage something from this season in a race he won last year.
Other Supersport men to watch will be evergreen Garry McCoy on the dark green Triumph ParkinGo 675 bike, and Italians Massimo Roccoli (Intermoto Czech Honda) and Michele Pirro (Yamaha Lorenzini), who comes to Germany just days after taking his first-ever domestic title in the category.