Latest World Superbike News
The success of Ben Spies in the World Superbike series has rekindled interest in American riders, after several years where the lack of cross-fertilization between the series left World Superbike and MotoGP teams wary of signing riders from the AMA. Since Spies' arrival, whe have had a spate of riders racing as replacements and wildcards in the World Superbike series: John Hopkins took the place of Roberto Rolfo, Jake Zemke filled in for Hopkins after his injury at Assen, Jamie Hacking is tearing up the track replacing Makoto Tamada at Kawasaki, and the Miller round saw a host of American and Canadian wildcards running in the World Supersport race.
Now, rising star Blake Young looks set to join their number. The 21-year-old Yoshimura Suzuki rider has been very impressive since becoming Mat Mladin's new team mate, and the veteran Australian AMA champion has tipped Young for success. Young is a protege of Kevin Schwantz, who still has excellent connections to Suzuki worldwide and in both the MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks. According to GPOne.com, it was Schwantz who persuaded Alstare Suzuki's Francis Batta to give Young the chance to replace the injured Max Neukirchner at Donington next weekend.
Fonsi Nieto is currently in for Neukirchner, but Batta is reportedly trying to build a team that could regain the World Championship for Suzuki which they last won in 2005 with Troy Corser. Batta is believed to have been talking to both James Toseland and Chris Vermeulen about a return to World Superbikes, though rumors currently place Toseland back in the Ten Kate garage rather than with Suzuki, and a switch to Alstare would make more sense for Vermeulen. But Batta could also be looking for another young rider capable of making a big impact in the series, and given Young's excellent results in the AMA Pro Racing Superbike series so far, Young could potentially be that man.
A starting line incident in the first race of the day at Misano has forced some minor rescheduling for the World Superbike Championship event. In the downpour currently playing over the Misano circuit, Italian rider Domenico Collucci stalled his Ducati 1098R off the line at the start of the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup race, and one of the riders from the back of the grid came through and hit the hapless Italian, ripping his rear wheel off and spreading oil and debris all over the grid. The race was immediately red-flagged (fortunately for title contender Xavier Simeon, who had folded the front of his Ducati going into the Rio corner while leading), and efforts were started to clean the track.
The new schedule just announced sees the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup race moved to the slot between the World Supersport race and race 2 of the World Superbike class, which is usually occupied by the European Superstock 600 class. The European Superstock 600 race will now be run after the second Superbike race.
Here's the revised schedule:
12am: World Superbike race 1
1:25pm: World Supersport race
3:30pm: World Superbike race 2
4:40pm: FIM Superstock 1000 race
5:30pm: European Superstock 600 race
There's a host of talented rookies scratching at the gate of the MotoGP paddock, and the veterans are getting nervous. Ben Spies, Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista are all tipped to enter MotoGP next year, and with the number of available seats unlikely to increase much above the existing 18 (or 19, depending on how you count), the series' current crop of underperformers are looking around for fallback positions.
Right now, their prospects look brightest in the World Superbike paddock, and so the WSBK paddock will be welcoming a couple of extra guests this weekend, in the form of Carlo Pernat and Roger Burnett. Not names the casual fan may be all too familiar with, but key players in MotoGP nonetheless. Pernat manages a large stable of top Italian talent, including Loris Capirossi, Marco Simoncelli, Alex de Angelis and Niccolo Canepa, while Burnett is the personal manager of British rider James Toseland. While Capirossi looks relatively safe at Suzuki, and Simoncelli is a dead cert to move up to MotoGP, the prospects of Alex de Angelis and Niccolo Canepa are far from certain, and Toseland has come in for a barrage of criticism after his dismal start to the season.
After the collapse of the Hoegee Suzuki team, the question was how long Barry Veneman would go without a ride. The answer, it seems, is not long: As we reported earlier this week, the Dutch Supersport veteran has secured Ten Kate Hondas to allow him to continue in the World Supersport championship for the rest of the season. And not just any old Ten Kate Hondas, but the two 2008 model CBR600RRs which Andrew Pitt used to win the World Supersport championship on last year, and which Pitt and Sofuoglu started the season on.
But though he will be supported by Ten Kate, Veneman will not be part of the Ten Kate team. The Dutchman has enough support to compete in the next three races, and is currently engaged in gathering sponsorship for the rest of the year. With a long history of personal sponsorship from electronics giant Pioneer and Shoei helmets, he should be able to raise the funds to keep the team running. Having Ten Kate donate both the bikes and providing support will help keep the racing affordable.
Gerrit ten Kate, owner of the Ten Kate team together with cousin Ronald, made it clear that they felt obliged to help Holland's best active motorcycle racer get back on the grid. "After we heard that Barry Veneman was without a ride, we put a plan together quite quickly to provide him with competitive material," Gerrit told Racesport.nl. "The news may come as a bit of a surprise to many people, but Barry has been successful on Ten Kate Hondas in the past, winning the Dutch Championship in 2003. We parted ways shortly after that, after Barry decided to ride for another manufacturer, but that's behind us now, and we want to concentrate on the future."
The demise of the Hoegee Suzuki World Supersport team left Barry Veneman in a difficult situation. Veneman has very strong links with Suzuki, having worked for the company in Holland for several years, as well as having ridden for Suzuki in World Supersport and the Dutch ONK national championship since 2004, limiting his options for finding a ride for the rest of the season. Hoegee Suzuki were the only team running Suzukis in the World Supersport series, meaning that Veneman would either have to switch series or leave the Suzuki connection behind.
Veneman's name had been linked to a number of rides: Alstare Brux Suzuki in World Superbikes, as well as Crescent Suzuki in the British Superbike series; but there had also been rumors linking the Dutchman to the Spanish Holiday Gym team in World Supersport, riding a Yamaha.
But word is now emerging that Veneman is to stay in World Supersport after all. According to the well-informed Dutch magazine MOTO73, the Ten Kate Honda team will be fielding a third Honda CBR600RR for Veneman for the rest of the season. No further details are currently available, but this would not be the first time that the Ten Kate team fielded three bikes. In 2007, Andrew Pitt was given an extra bike for the Assen round of World Supersport, after having replaced Sebastien Charpentier in the previous race.
Melissa Paris' participation in the World Supersport race during the US round of World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah generated a lot of interest in women racing, and attracted plenty of press coverage. Once at the race, Paris performed pretty well, improving her lap time by some 3 seconds from the first session of practice on Friday to qualifying on Saturday. Sadly, her race was not so successful, a mechanical issue sidelining Paris on lap 7.
If you'd like to hear more of how her weekend went, then you're in luck. The stalwarts of American roadracing, Dean Adams and Jim McDermott from Superbikeplanet.com, interviewed Melissa Paris after the race, and put the interview online as part of their regular Soupkast podcast. The interview is a fascinating view into what it takes to put on a World Supersport ride, the practicalities involved, and just what and how much you can learn from the experience. You can either subscribe to the Soupkast podcast here, or download the MP3 file directly here.
Kawasaki has been rather successful with its substitute riders. After former GP winner Makoto Tamada broke a bone in his wrist, both South Africa's Sheridan Morais and the American Jamie Hacking have posted outstanding results in his place, Morais scoring a 13th and 11th place at Kyalamin, and Hacking taking 7th and a DNF at Miller Motorsports Park. So good have been their results, in fact, that both men are ahead of regular rider Makoto Tamada in the World Championship standings.
Now, Jamie Hacking is to be rewarded for his strong showing in Utah with the chance to compete in two more World Superbike rounds as Tamada's replacement. Hacking has been drafted in to race at Misano, on June 21st, and at Donington Park, a week later. The American impressed the team with both his riding and his feedback, though some of his fellow competitors were less impressed by some of the rough passes Hacking put on them.
The official reason given by the team for the choice to replace Tamada with Hacking is to allow the Japanese rider to recover fully before returning to full time duty at the Imola test in mid-July, and then the Brno round 10 days later. But rumors have been emerging from the team almost from the start of the season that the team are not happy with Tamada, and that the rider has been forced on them by Kawasaki headquarters back in Akashi, Japan.
Jamie Hacking has been angling for a ride in the World Superbike series, and now that his best friend in the paddock Ben Spies is in the series, he has someone else putting his case for him. Spies has said numerous times that Hacking belongs in the WSBK series, and it is entirely conceivable that the support of the Texan has helped Hacking's case. Hacking is looking more and more like the next American to make the jump to the World Superbike paddock.
Just as the global financial crisis appears to be approaching its nadir, it has claimed another victim in motorcycle racing. As we reported yesterday, the Hoegee Suzuki World Supersport team has withdrawn from the World Supersport Championship with immediate effect. The team has simply run out of money, and the potential sponsors which the team had been talking to had been unable to provide the funding which the team needed to continue for the rest of the season.
Marc Hoegee, team owner, manager, and the driving force behind preparing the race bikes, said in a press release: "I started this great adventure in 2005, and togethe with the whole team and everyone involved, we've had a chance to demonstrate just what we are capable of in a very short time. Despite all our efforts, we have not been able to find new sponsors fast enough to be able to continue both responsibly and competitively. That competitiveness is very important to me. The fact that we have to stop now really breaks my heart. Everyone has invested a huge amount of energy into this project, but this is reality and we just have to accept it. I'd like to thank the riders and the other team members for the fantastic effort they have shown again this season. We really fought for this, but the sponsorship climate is extremely unfavorable - and not just in racing. I would also like to thank all of our sponsors and everyone who has supported us over the years."
Suzuki's efforts in the World Supersport class suffered a serious, and possibly fatal blow today. Lead rider for the Hoegee Suzuki team, Barry Veneman announced on his personal blog that he would be leaving the team with immediate effect after the race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Veneman made it clear that the reason for the split was a dispute over contracts, rather than over the machine or the team, and made it clear he hoped to be back racing soon.
"Over the past few days I have been a little vague in my blog postings, so I shall be clear now," Veneman wrote. "This was my last race aboard the Hoegee Suzuki. And let me make it clear from the start that this has nothing to do with the bike or the team or the sponsors. This is about a dispute between myself and the new team management which center around contracts. It's a terrible blow, because after last season, I was really determined to score some good results, and had quit my job (Veneman had a PR position with the Dutch Suzuki importer - Ed.) to focus full time on racing. I don't know what the future will bring, I want to keep racing and show that I belong among the top racers in the world. I hope I get that chance. When I'm ready to, I'll explain what led up to this step."
Rumors inside the Dutch motorcycling world suggest that the "contractual dispute" revolves around money. The Hoegee Suzuki team parted ways with its main sponsor, RES Software, at the start of the season, the Dutch maker of desktop administration software moving over to sponsor the Veidec Racing team fielding Robbin Harms, Arie Vos and Jesco Gunther. Since then, the team has run without a title sponsor, funded mainly through Suzuki's racing program.
Sunday was all about Ben Spies' domination of his home WSBK round as the Texan was simply unstoppable. Once again we had weather that started clear and grew increasingly cloudy as the hours passed.
Spies lead each of the three starts into the first corner.
Within a few laps he'd gapped those chasing him and seemed to be running away into the distance.
Last year's double-winner Carlos Checa was able to repeat on the podium for the first race while Michel Fabrizio cemented his position as contender for top three in the championship.
In a terrific Supersport race, Eugene Laverty led every lap, followed closely until lap 14 of 18 by Cal Crutchlow, championship points leader, and Joan Lascorz.
But it was Kenan Sofuoglu who would go from third to first on the last lap to take the Supersport win.
Race 1 of the two World Superbike races at Miller Motorsports park was red-flagged, after Celani Suzuki's Karl Muggeridge suffered a strange highside which saw his bike and himself left lying on the track. With the riders lying on the track, the race directors had no option but to red flag the race.
After lying on the track for a few minutes, Muggeridge got up under his own power, and walked to the ambulance, where he was whisked off to the medical center for examination.
The race is due to be restarted in a few minutes, with the winner to be decided on aggregate times, meaning the times from the two races will be added together, the winner being determined by the total time from both heats.
Excellent news from South Africa, where Regis Laconi is recovering in Sunninghill Hospital after the horrific crash at Kyalami, which saw him fracture to vertebrae in his neck. The Frenchman's DFX Corse team issued a press release on Sunday saying that Laconi is making remarkable progress in his recovery, and has even walked without assistance during his physical therapy sessions.
The doctors are now optimistic that Laconi will be able to return to his native France very soon, and Laconi is scheduled to fly straight to his home in Aix en Provence on Tuesday, June 2nd. The doctors feel that Laconi will no longer need to stay in a specialist clinic for his recovery, as originally planned, but will be able to recover at home instead. The Frenchman still has a long way to go before he is back to full fitness, and will still need several weeks of absolute rest for the remains of the intercranial hematoma to disperse.
But the best news is that the outlook is good for Laconi. Though he still faces a long path ahead of him, Regis Laconi looks like making a full recovery, eventually.
After Friday afternoon's lightning and thunder had threatened the final session of the day, Saturday started off clear, though the forecast was for sunny skies until 11, when chances of thunder storms were 60%.
By mid-morning the clouds were growing, though rain still seemed unlikely.
But as Superpole approached, we were clearly in for some weather as falling rain could be seen in the distance.
Haga took a big spill in the morning, but recovered to ride without missing any action.
Some of the notables from the day's practice and qualifying were: Parkes and wildcard Jamie Hacking putting the Kawasakis 6th and 7th respectively on the grid.
Nannelli and McCoy put their Triumphs fourth and seventh on the SuperSport grid.
As Saturday's first Superbike session came to a close, Noriuki Haga crashed heavily in turn 11. As the huge cloud of dust cleared, Haga lay motionless while track marshals rushed to his aid, placing a medical safety barrier in front of the prone rider. It took several minutes for Haga to rise and enter the ambulance. Fifteen minutes later, a WSBK official announced in the Media Center here at Miller Motorsports Park that Haga had suffered some bruises, but had returned to his garage. He has approximately two hours to recover before the pre-Superpole practice session.
Friday started out sunny and clear, but by the end of the day we had huge clouds and even some lightning in the distance. Fortunately, no rain arrived before the final session, but there is a chance of thundershowers tomorrow. Miller is set in a valley surrounded by mountains, and even in late May some snow remains on the highest spots. As the clouds gathered in the distance, the setting grew more and more spectacular.
Several riders from the AMA Pro Superbike series are here on wild card rides. Jake Zemke made his WSBK debut last season, but now is filling in for injured Stiggy Honda rider John Hopkins. Hopper is here this weekend and looking pretty fit. He should return soon.
Another notable AMA rider is Melissa Paris, wife of Josh Hayes, who recently ended Yoshimura's 55-win streak at Infineon Raceway. Paris is competing in the Supersport class and making a respectable showing so far.