Kenan Sofuoglu has taken the first steps towards securing his second World Supersport championship this weekend by dominating the first session of free practice at Imola. The Ten Kate Honda rider was nearly a second faster than his closest rival, teammate Michele Pirro, but more importantly, Sofuoglu was 1.2 seconds quicker than the man he has to beat to take the championship, Parkalgar Honda's Eugene Laverty. 4th fastest in FP1 was Intermoto Czech's Gino Rea, with Triumph's Chaz Davies just behind in 5th.
The Althea Ducati combination Carlos Checa and Shane Byrne kicked off the Imola World Superbike round by controlling the top of the timesheets for most of the first session of free practice for the World Superbike class. Only a brief interruption by Kawasaki's Tom Sykes kept Checa and Byrne from dominating. Xerox Ducati's Michel Fabrizio made it a Ducati 1-2-3, while Ten Kate's Johnny Rea put his Hannspree Honda into 4th. The first blow in the title race was struck by Max Biaggi, who went 0.13 seconds faster than the only man who can stop him from winning his first WSBK crown, Leon Haslam. But with Biaggi in 9th and Haslam in 11th, both the Aprilia and Suzuki man have plenty of work to do.
After the Misano round of World Superbikes, the WSBK paddock packed up and headed a few miles up the road for two days of testing at Imola. Sterilgarda Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow ended the test on top of the timesheets, breaking the track record along the way. The young Briton finished the test ahead of Xerox Ducati's Michel Fabrizio, while Leon Haslam ended in third. After a difficult weekend at Misano, third fastest was a big improvement for the Alstare Suzuki rider. Ten Kate Honda's Johnny Rea showed a similar improvement, ending testing just a couple of hundredths behind Haslam.
The test also saw a couple of big crashes. Haslam had two big crashes, though it did not prevent him from setting the 3rd fastest time. In the second crash, Haslam slammed into Shane Byrne, the Althea Ducati rider coming off worst, Byrne being examined for a suspected fractured metacarpal bone in his hand.
The World Superbike paddock now heads to the Czech Republic, and the following round at Brno in 10 days' time.
Calendar for the 2010 World Superbike Season:
At the same time as they announced the provisional entry lists for World Superbike and World Supersport, the FIM also released a revised calendar for the series. The revisions consist of a single change: The British round at Donington has been moved to Silverstone.
The move is the final episode in a long saga, both tragic and farcical in equal measure. It started with the ambitious plans of altering the Donington Park circuit to allow the return of Formula One, and ended with the bankruptcy of DVLL, handing the lease and a torn-up track unsuitable for racing back to the circuit's owners, the Wheatcroft family. It also sees Silverstone completely replace Donington as the main venue for world-class motorcycle racing.
The contrasts between the plans of the two circuits are key to their outcomes. DVLL, the company that ran Donington Park, had a huge and ambitious plan to build a new track and new world class facilities, at a cost of over 130 million pounds. Silverstone, on the other hand, made a few strategic changes to the track layout and spectator areas at an estimated cost of just 5 million. DVLL is bankrupt, and Silverstone has MotoGP, Formula One, World Superbikes and BSB. Such is the price of hubris.
There's just something about Italy and motorcycles. The culture and economy are suffused with the love of all things two-wheel. Chances are, if you are a motorcylist at least a bit of your kit is produced in Italy or maybe your garage is populated by machines that were designed and built by people who have a preternatural passion for motorcycles. Italians love racing, too, and when you combine the two on Italian soil you always have the opportunity for something special. Italian riders feed on this passion and the energy and intensity they absorb makes them try just a bit harder than they might at, say, Sepang or Motegi. Of course, that energy and intensity can have a flip side as well, just ask Colin Edwards, he'll give you a profane mouthful about Italian riders in Italy.
Coming into Imola, 2 riders not from Italy but who have been virtually adopted by the paisanos as their own and whose teams are from the country, came into ths round in a dogfight for the world title. Amercan Ben Spies had clawed back from an 88 point deficit to lead the series by 18 points on the back of 2nd place man Noriyuki Haga's crash in race two at the Nurburgring. This capped a misbegotten string of mostly mediocre races that saw Haga slipping in the points spread, partly due to injuries to his shoulder and arm.
Race One: Old Age and Treachery
Results of World Superbike race 2 at Imola:
Results of the World Supersport race at Imola:
The World Supersport race at Imola was red-flagged after 11 laps, when Joan Lascorz' Kawasaki blew up and trailed oil round the track. The Spaniard had just taken the lead from Kenan Sofuoglu, and the engine let go as he got on the gas coming out of a corner. The race is due to be restarted at 2:20pm local time, and the result will be decided by aggregate result.
Result of the World Superbikes Race 1 at Imola:
It has been increasingly clear that James Toseland is on his way out of MotoGP, with Roger Burnett tacitly acknowledging in the Motorcycle News that Toseland's only option in MotoGP is the second seat at Pramac. And so Toseland's manager is currently at Imola, hoping to find a seat with one of the many leading World Superbike teams which have expressed an interest in having the former two-time WSBK Champion ride for them in 2010.
Despite the interest, it may not be as easy as Burnett and Toseland have been hoping. Speaking to Italian TV channel La7, Alstare Suzuki team boss Francis Batta admitted he was interested in signing Toseland, but thought it was unlikely to happen. "James' demands are a bit too high," Batta said. "In times like these, maybe other teams have more money than I do."
The reason for Batta's refusal could be that he already has a second rider in place to race alongside the German Max Neukirchner. According to GPOne.com, Batta may already have signed Leon Haslam. The young Briton is known to be chasing a factory ride in World Superbikes, and as rumors of Stiggy Racing's withdrawal from the Superbike class due to a lack of funds continue to circulate, it is entirely credible that Haslam may already have a done a deal for 2010. If Haslam has already signed, then he could be aboard the bike as soon as the post-race tests after the final race at Portimao.
In a video interview on onthethrottle.com with SBK commentators Jonathan Green and Steve Martin, it was revealed that Xerox Ducati tested a form of "Launch Control" at their recent Mugello test. Historically, Ducati has reportedly never used a starting aid on their superbike. Details of the method of operation of this mechanism were not forthcoming but it could be assumed that a combination of mechanical bits and electronics control the throttle and clutch to make for a smooth wheelie and wheelspin free start. As we have seen in MotoGP, launch control can help someone with poor startiing skills become a consistant fast starter. It is not known if Ducati was satisfied enough with the operation of the system to risk using it in a critical race situation, but with Haga and Fabrizio on the front row, a clean error-free start could concievably give the team a leg up on Ben Spies, who has had trouble at times getting a smooth launch on the R1.
To paraphrase pole-setter Michele Fabrizio, it's good to see three young guys at the top. Fabrizio, who said at the post-race press conference that he used his anger at being mis-timed on a previous lap as motivation, set his first pole in the Superbike class on the back of a blindingly fast last lap. Fabrizio is in the enviable position of being an Italian rider on an Italian bike on an Italian track, which should provide him with ample motivation for Sunday.
Ben Spies looked a bit chagrined at being pipped by Fabrizio, wryly noting that he would have thought that Fabrizio would have let the American take the pole in repayment for Fabrizio taking him out in Brno. Spies claimed to have made a few mistakes on his fast lap that cost him a few tenths, not that the casual observer could detect any errors. Spies was his normal smooth unflappable self, in contrast to Sterilgarda Yamaha teammate Tom Sykes, who looked at times like the Urban Cowboy riding the mechanical bull at Gilley's, his R1 bucking and snorting through the corners.
Third-place man Jonny Rea also claimed errors on his best lap but was happy overall, citing a number of new parts that needed to be evaluated over a shortened practice schedule.
Noriyuki Haga elevated himself up from the depths of midpack to come fourth, which isn't a bad place to be for an old guy. Haga has always had the ability to summon forth a bit of extra speed on race day, so he should be able to hang with the kids at the front.
Ducati mounted Shane "Shakey" Byrne and Jakob Smrz have been fast all weekend, but have been unable to muster the extra couple tenths necessary to stay with the front-runners. Smrz might have some splainin' to do to Team manager Frankie Chili, who looked livid after Smrz' last lap crash.