At Imola last year, shortly after Ducati had announced it would not be entering a factory team for the 2011 World Superbike series, hardcore Ducatisti and WSBK adepts hung a range of banners along the front straight, with such messages as "Senza SBK, Ducati Vale Meno" and "Ducati-SBK, the 46 reasons for pulling out." The withdrawal of the factory team was widely regarded as a terrible betrayal by Ducati, which had built its reputation and much of its brand on the success of its World Superbike team, creating legends such as Carl Fogarty, Giancarlo Falappa and Troy Bayliss along the way.
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when Ducati announced they would be not be fielding a factory team in the World Superbike series in 2011, and much fingerpointing and dark mutterings of the price of signing Valentino Rossi. The general consensus was that this was a huge mistake, and would cost Ducati dearly in terms of exposure in their most crucial market.
But there was no sign of that on the first day of the final test of the year at Phillip Island, less than a week before the first race of the 2011 season. At the end of day 1, a red-and-white Ducati - bearing an all-too-familiar resemblance to the former factory color schemes - topped the timesheets, with a former factory Ducati rider - albeit in MotoGP - aboard. Carlos Checa did not so much as stun the field on Monday, as completely destroy any illusions that his competitors may have had of keeping up, smashing the lap record and taking a 1 second lead over the rest of the field. Ducatis followed in spots 2 and 3, with the Liberty Racing team of Sylvain Guintoli and Jakub Smrz completing the top three, the teammates separated by just one hundredth of a second.
As we reported earlier, Kawasaki's Chris Vermeulen has been forced to skip both the test at Phillip Island and the World Superbike season opener which follows this upcoming weekend. The problem is Vermeulen's knee, which he damaged in two crashes last year, and which is preventing him from being able to bend his knee sufficiently to ride the bike properly. Vermeulen posted a video on his Youtube channel explaining his decision not to ride, but pronouncing himself hopeful that he will be back at Donington and Assen. Here's what he had to say:
The huge crash Chris Vermeulen suffered during race 2 of last year's World Superbike opener at Phillip Island has had a major impact on his career. The crash caused severe damage to Vermeulen's knee, and the Australian has had problems ever since, eventually opting to have surgery in the middle of the 2010 season, forcing him to miss the rest of the season while recovering from the operation.
But Vermeulen's problems are not yet over. The former World Supersport champion has struggled during testing with the Paul Bird Kawasaki squad, managing to ride for just one day at Sepang before pain and swelling in his knee forced Vermeulen to pull out of the test. Vermeulen is still unable to bend his knee sufficiently to sit comfortably on the bike, despite intense physiotherapy to try to help the problem.
Since its inception, the Red Bull Rookies Cup (and its predecessor, the MotoGP Academy) has proved to be a rich source of talent for the MotoGP series. Top riders such as Bradley Smith and promising youngsters such as Sturla Fagerhaug and Jonas Folger have come through the system, with a steady flow of more youngsters coming through all the time.
In a bid to tap into the same vein of young talent, the World Superbike series is about to set up its own rival to the Red Bull Rookies Cup. As we reported back in November, WSBK is to run the European Junior Cup, series open to 14 to 17-year-olds, and will run at six of the European World Superbike rounds. The youngsters will be picked from entries consisting of riders with at least one year of experience in any motorcycle discipline, and will compete aboard specially prepared - and identical - Kawasaki Ninja 250R machines, Kawasaki's entry level 250cc four-stroke twin sports bike.
The press release announcing the European Junior Cup is displayed below:
European Junior Cup launched in 2011
Testing continued on Thursday for the World Superbike grid at the Motorland Aragon circuit, and with Carlos Checa having taken his leave early to head to Estoril for an outing aboard the Pramac Ducati MotoGP bike, it was Max Biaggi's turn to top the timesheets. Biaggi took nearly seven tenths of his time from Wednesday, after having spent the session testing new brakes from Brembo. The Italian judged them to be a big improvement, but the increase in braking power made the bike difficult to control on the brakes. More setup work will be required, according to the Italian, which will continue tomorrow.
The absence of precise timing saw four men tie for the 2nd fastest time, Alstare Suzuki's Michel Fabrizio, BMW's Troy Corser, Pata Aprilia's Nori Haga and the Kawasaki of Tom Sykes. Biaggi's Alitalia Aprilia teammate Leon Camier was just a tenth of a second slower, while Leon Haslam was 1.3 seconds slower than Max Biaggi.
Testing concludes on Friday.
World Superbike day 2 testing times, courtesy of WorldSBK.com:
With the World Superbike paddock mostly reassembled at Aragon, for the three-day WSBK test there, the teams are taking the opportunity to make any announcements which they still have outstanding. Most of those - such as the announcement earlier that James Toseland would be riding for the BMW Italia team - are merely confirmation of news which had leaked out earlier, and the press release from the factory-supported Kawasaki WSBK and WSS teams was no exception.
In it, Kawasaki confirmed that they will be running three riders in the PBM Kawasaki squad, with Spaniard Joan Lascorz joining 2010 riders Tom Sykes and Chris Vermeulen for 2011. Lascorz was outstanding all year in World Supersport until his season-ending crash at Silverstone, but his early performance was good enough to earn promotion to World Superbikes.
Taking Lascorz' place in WSS is Australian rider Broc Parkes, who will be joined by another Spaniard, David Salom. Parkes had a disjointed season in WSBK and WSS in 2010, starting out with the Echo CRS team, then later switching to the Kawasaki squad in place of the injured Lascorz. Salom spent 2010 aboard a Triumph Daytona 675 triple, and was impressive enough to earn the Kawasaki ride.
Below is the text of the Kawasaki press release:
The World Superbike riders have been hard at work for the 2011 season, with a large group gathering at the Motorland Aragon circuit to test their new bikes for next season. Carlos Checa was the fastest of the bunch by over a second, the Althea Ducati rider due to set out for Estoril on Thursday.
Michel Fabrizio's switch to the Alstare Suzuki team has gone swimmingly so far, the former Xerox Ducati rider the 2nd fastest rider on track, ahead of a bevy of Aprilia's, led by 2010 World Superbike Champion Max Biaggi, though new convert Noriyuki Haga interposed himself between the two factory bikes of Biaggi and Leon Camier.
Work continues for the Kawasaki team on their brand new bike, with Tom Sykes and Katsuaki Fujiwara testing the 2011 version of the ZX-10R, with Sykes also running back-to-back comparisons with the 2010 bike. But the BMW pit has been busiest, with a host of experienced mechanics being brought in to work on the bike for next season. So far, it has not produced the results hoped for, as Troy Corser and new signing Leon Haslam were well down the timesheets.
Unofficial times, courtesy of GPOne.com:
WSBK Silly Season Update: Haga With Aprilia, Sykes With Kawasaki, Toseland To BMW, Biaggi To Retire?
After the final World Superbike round of the 2010 season, news has inevitably started to filter out of Magny-Cours about the shape of 2011. There were official announcements, cryptic hints and barroom gossip concerning who will be doing what for next year in World Superbikes and World Supersport. A round up of the latest rumors is given below:
Nori has not been very "Nitro" at all this season, and his less-than-explosive form may have helped contribute to Ducati's decision to scrap the factory team, but despite that, Haga has found sanctuary with the newly assembled Pata Racing Team Aprilia. The team consists of the former DFX Corse squad, the CEO of Pata (the Italian snack company who funded Jakub Smrz this year), and Marco Borciani, who ran the Pata B&G team for Smrz. The team is to field a single Aprilia RSV4R for Haga, and many believe that a return to riding a four-cylinder bike is just what Haga needs. The Aprilia is clearly competitive, so Haga will be hoping for a better season in 2011.
Sunday's World Supersport race at Silverstone was marred by an ugly crash shortly after the start. Eugene Laverty accidentally clipped the rear wheel of Joan Lascorz' Motocard Kawasaki, and the Spaniard went down. Lascorz was then hit full on by wildcard rider Roberto Tamburini on the Bike Service Yamaha, in turn throwing Tamburini off his bike and sending him tumbling through the grass at the side of the track, and hitting the unprotected wall just a few feet from the edge of the track. Both Tamburini and Lascorz were removed from the track by ambulance for examination at the Clinica Mobile, where early reports suggested that both men had come away virtually unscathed, with Tamburini reported as having a dislocated shoulder.
The World Supersport race at Silverstone was red-flagged before the first lap had been completed, after a nasty incident in Copse corner. Motocard Kawasaki's Joan Lascorz, who had taken the lead off the line, had his rear wheel clipped as he cut inside by Parkalgar Honda's Eugene Laverty. Lascorz fell, and was hit by Roberto Tamburini's Bike Service RT Yamaha R6 in the back. That impact also launched Tamburini off his bike, tumbling nastily through the grass.
Both Tamburini and Lascorz were removed from the track by ambulance, Lascorz apparently sitting up in the ambulance. Both men were transported to the Clinica Mobile, where they are currently being examined.
Both men have been ruled out of the race, which is due to be restarted in the next few minutes. The crash will have a big impact on Lascorz' title chances: the Spaniard was 15 points behind leader Kenan Sofuoglu in the championship standings, and 7 points ahead of Eugene Laverty in 3rd place.
Reports from Silverstone indicate that both Lascorz and Tamburini are relatively OK. Lascorz is beaten up and bruised, with bruising to his chest and a concussion, while Tamburini has a dislocated shoulder, and bruising to his lower back.
PBM Kawasaki's Chris Vermeulen has released another chapter in his personal video reports from the racing. In Saturday's episode, Vermeulen talks about how his leg is healing, how Superpole went and what happened during his very nasty looking crash.
After this weekend's double-header of races, with both World Superbikes in Valencia and MotoGP in Qatar, OnTheThrottleTV put on their usual excellent live video show, featuring interviews and news. The interview subject for the World Superbike series was Roger Lee Hayden, who talks to Dave Williams about the Valencia weekend and living in Ben Spies mountain hideaway in Como, Italy. Here's what Hayden had to say: