Assen always provides spectacle, whatever the classes are racing here, but today, there was perhaps a little too much of a good thing. The World Supersport race saw two horrific-looking crashes, and required two restarts before the race finally got done. The crashes were truly gut-wrenching, the kind of incident that makes you fear another Shoya Tomizawa or Craig Jones, but amazingly, everyone came away relatively unscathed.
The first crash was doubly disconcerting, involving Sam Lowes of the Parkalgar Honda team. It was the same team that Craig Jones was riding for when he died in a crash at Brands Hatch. The Parkalgar team boss Simon Buckmaster has an uncanny ability to spot young talent, Lowes just the latest in a line of promising riders, and seeing Lowes tumbling end-over-end through the gravel after an inexplicable highside was a sickening sight.
But medics responded immediately and effectively, and Lowes was quickly conscious again. The young Englishman suffered a concussion and a broken collarbone, and the whole paddock breathed a collective sigh of relief when World Superbike press officer Julian Thomas passed on the news that Lowes was OK.
What a strange and interesting weekend the World Superbike round at Donington has given us. That Carlos Checa should win at least one race at Donington was to be expected, but the strong results from the Yamaha camp - in both Superbikes and Supersport - was a bit of a surprise, while the complete meltdown by Max Biaggi was shocking.
To Biaggi first. The Alitalia Aprilia rider started off well, sitting on provisional pole after the first qualifying session on Friday, and joking about how it was both unusual and nice to have people talking about him on a Friday. It all went downhill from there: an on-track run-in with Marco Melandri saw a furious Biaggi stalk into the Yamaha garage, issue a couple of comedy slaps on Melandri's cheek (both meant and received as an insult), getting himself hauled in front of Race Direction and issued a fine (for the slap) and a warning (for blocking Melandri on track, a punishment Melandri also received).
After the second day of practice at Donington Park, we should be talking about the way that Carlos Checa blew everyone away on the Althea Ducati. About the way that Checa got perilously close to posting a lap of 1'27 round the revised Donington track. About Leon Haslam's strong 2nd spot on the grid after qualifying, or Tom Sykes' outstanding 3rd fastest time. Maybe we should even be talking about Eugene Laverty's narrow escape when he had a huge crash at Craner, writing off his Yamaha R1. But we're not.
Tonight, all the talk is of a minor scuffle in the Yamaha pitbox, when Max Biaggi strode in to complain about being balked by Melandri during superpole and issued his fellow Italian with a light double tap, before stalking back to the Aprilia garage:
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.
Well, the presses have stopped rolling, and a stack of MotoMatters.com 2011 Motorcycle Racing Calendars are sitting at the printers waiting to be delivered. That means shipping will start some time on Monday (or Tuesday morning at the latest), and the calendars will start winging their way to their lucky owners.
It also means that the pre-sale period will come to an end, and the price will go up, from $19.95 plus S&H to $21.95 plus S&H. So if you want to take advantage of our pre-sales discount, secure in the knowledge that your calendar is just a few days away from dropping onto your doormat, then you have to hurry. The prices go up on Monday night.
There may only have been four riders at the Phillip Island World Superbike test - Max Biaggi and Leon Camier of the Aprilia team, and Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri of Yamaha - but that was reason enough for our good friend Andrew Gosling of TBG Sport to go shoot a few snaps. As always, it was well worth the effort. Enjoy!
The rain that had been hanging over the World Superbike test for the first two days finally came on the third and final day. But the factory Yamaha and Aprilia squads were still lucky, with the rain only starting to fall late on Thursday morning at Phillip Island, before disappearing again in the afternoon, giving the riders a couple more dry sessions at the Australian circuitl. It was Eugene Laverty who made best use of the session, putting on a set of soft tires to set the fastest time, with a lap of 1'31.5. The Yamaha rider finished ahead of Max Biaggi, once again the fastest of the two factory Aprilia riders, while Laverty's teammate Marco Melandri matched the pace of Aprilia's Leon Camier,
The rain did not go to waste, however. Marco Melandri took the opportunity to get some time on the Pirelli rain tires, having no experience on the Italian rubber, after having spent his career in the Grand Prix paddock racing Dunlops, Michelins and Bridgestones. His teammate Laverty was the only rider to test the softer tires, the two Aprilia riders using the harder race tires.
The weather finally turned halfway decent for a test, with the sun out and temperatures rising for the World Superbike test at Phillip Island in Australia. The improved conditions saw Max Biaggi once again top the - admittedly very limited - timesheets with a lap of 1'32.3, but 2010 World Superbike champion - out on an Aprilia bearing the #1 plate - was only a couple of tenths faster than both Yamaha's Eugene Laverty and Biaggi's Aprilia teammate Leon Camier. Slowest man of the day was Laverty's teammate Marco Melandri, but even Melandri was just three tenths off Biaggi's fastest .
Biaggi and Camier spent the day testing the 2011 Ohlins forks once again, as well as a new swingarm, fuel tank and engine update, aimed at smoothing power delivery. The pair also tested new Pirellis, though whether those tires will be ready for the season opener on February 27th remains to be seen.
The day was spoiled by a couple of crashes, both happily ending without serious injury. Marco Melandri crashed and hurt a finger, though that did not slow him down, while Leon Camier came away from his crash unhurt, only to suffer a bird strike, the Englishman hitting one of Phillip Island's ubiquitous seagulls at high speed. That incident was painful enough for Camier to call an early halt to the test, after Camier suffered swelling in his arm
Whichever hemisphere the World Superbike riders choose to test, finding somewhere warm and dry remains an almost impossible task. While BMW, Suzuki and Honda shelter from the rain in Portugal, Aprilia and Yamaha are circulating in less than ideal conditions at Phillip Island in Australia. Though the track was dry, Max Biaggi described conditions as "like winter," according to GPOne.com.
Despite the cold, it was Biaggi who as the fastest on the first day of the test. The 2010 World Superbike champion tested the 2011 Ohlins forks (which he liked) and some Pirelli race tires (which it was too cold to make a judgement on), as well as working on the Aprilia RSV4's engine, now reduced to using chain-driven cams again, after the rule permitting the fitting of a gear drive for the overhead cams was changed, making them illegal again. Yamaha newcomer - and World Supersport runner up - Eugene Laverty was 2nd fastest, half a second off the Italian's time, and four tenths ahead of his new teammate, former MotoGP rider Marco Melandri. Biaggi's teammate Leon Camier brought up the rear of the field, just over a second slower than his Aprilia teammate.
Unofficial times from the test:
On Tuesday, Miller Motorsports Park organized its final teleconference of the year with the stars of the World Superbike championship. This time, it was the turn of Max Biaggi to talk, and he fielded questions from the press on a range of subjects, from the role of electronics in World Superbikes, on the development of the Aprilia RSV4, on his thoughts on retiring, and on the prospect of a return to MotoGP. Here's what Biaggi had to say:
Moderator: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us today. My name is John Gardner, and I am the Media Manager for Miller Motorsports Park. This will be our final teleconference of the year with riders from the Superbike World Championship. Today, we're happy to have the 2010 Superbike World Champion, Max Biaggi, with us. Max, as you know, won 10 races this year, riding the No. 3 Aprilia RSV4 1000F for Aprilia Alitalia Racing. He swept the weekends here at Miller Motorsports Park as well as at Misano, Monza and Portimao. He also had single victories at his favorite track, Brno, as well as at Magny-Cours.
So Max, welcome, again.
Max Biaggi: Yeah, well, hi. Thank you. Thank you. How are you?
Moderator: Good. And congratulations on your championship.
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:
After a seemingly endless holdout, and countless rumors of an imminent signing, Aprilia have finally announced a new deal with 2010 World Superbike champion Max Biaggi. The deal had been long anticipated, and the announcement was expected to come at Aprilia's special championship celebration, which took place at Noale on Saturday, but was delayed until after the weekend so as not to get snowed under in a deluge of news from this weekend's MotoGP round at Phillip Island. And so the announcement finally came on Monday.
The deal sees Biaggi remain with Aprilia for the next two season, meaning that the Roman Emperor intends to be racing until he the age of 41. There had been some speculation that Biaggi had decided to retire, but the most important factor behind his decision to renew is the fact that Aprilia are keeping the team together, which is based around the team that helped the Roman to his four 250cc World Championships. If Biaggi wins the title again in 2011, it would make him the oldest World Superbike champion ever, taking that honor from Troy Bayliss.
Below is the text of the press release from Aprilia:
The World Superbike rider carousel kicked into high gear around the final WSBK round at Magny-Cours, but there was one notable name absent from the flurry of contract signings. Despite having wrapped up the 2010 World Superbike title the weekend before, Max Biaggi kept remarkably silent on his future plans, leading to speculation that the Roman Emperor might even be considering retirement.
Biaggi himself dismissed talk of retirement, though he refused to comment on what his intentions might be. With every factory seat but one taken in WSBK, though, there was little debate about where he would end up: Back at Aprilia, with the factory that had brought him his first WSBK title, and his first championship in 13 years. The question was surely just a matter of when the new contract would be announced.