Latest World Superbike News
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.
The death of 250 class has concentrated minds over at Aprilia. The race department at Italian factory is still fuming over the decision by the Grand Prix Commission to scrap the 250s and replace them with 600cc four strokes. The company is planning its revenge, however, which revolves in large part around a switch to the rival (a description which both Dorna and Infront Motor Sports deny) World Superbike series.
The factory already has two of their new and highly desirable Aprilia RSV4 superbikes running in the series, and according to the German-language weekly, Motorsport Aktuell, they are preparing to expand their involvement for next year. With the resources freed up by the demise of the 250s, Aprilia are looking to field two more RSV4s in a factory-supported satellite team in World Superbikes in 2010.
Prime candidate to run the team is Luca Montiron's JiR team, according to Motorsport Aktuell. Montiron, who previously ran the Konica Minolta-sponsored JiR team in MotoGP, before being forced out by Honda, is currently running two Aprilia RSV4 bikes in the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup, to limited success.
Aprilia's Technical Director Gigi dall'Igna told MSA "Although our 2010 racing program hasn't been finalized yet, I think the JiR team will be running the other two machines in 2010. Our goal is to have another strong Aprilia team in the World Superbike Championship next season. JiR will have the same equipment as the factory team, and will receive full support from Noale."
Stepping up from one series to another as champion can be very hard. Just ask Brendan Roberts. The reigning FIM Superstock 1000 Champion has struggled just to score points since moving up to the World Superbike class, despite riding a Superbike spec version of the Ducati 1098R he won the 2008 Superstock Cup on. To add insult to injury, or rather, adding injury to insult, Roberts was one of the riders caught up in the huge first-corner pile up at Monza, the Australian not breaking anything, but coming away from the incident severely battered and bruised.
At Kyalami in South Africa, Roberts seat aboard the Guandalini Ducati was taken by the former BSB champion Gregorio Lavilla. At the time, speculation abounded that the Kyalami ride was basically an audition for Lavilla, and if his results were good enough, Lavilla would take Roberts' place in the Guandalini team permanently. Lavilla finished 11th and 12th in the two South African races, beating Roberts' best finish of 13th at Assen.
That audition has been successful for Lavilla, as the Spanish veteran revealed to the Spanish magazine Motociclismo that he will be riding with the Guandalini team for the rest of the season. When asked by the magazine if he would be staying in World Superbikes, Lavilla replied: "I can confirm that I am. I am going to stay for the rest of the season." As Lavilla put it, "I've achieved my objective for the season, a return to the World Superbike series."
Regis Laconi's condition continues to improve, as he recovers from the surgery required after his horrific crash at Kyalami. The Frenchman is awake again after surgery, and has already exchanged a few words with the medical staff at the Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg, where he is undergoing treatment. More importantly, Laconi is moving all of his limbs independently, confounding earlier reports that the Frenchman had shown signs of paralysis in his left leg.
The reports of Laconi's recovery was also confirmed by Ducati boss Davide Tardozzi. In a post on Ducati's blog, the Italian refuted earlier reports of Laconi's paralysis. "I spoke this morning to his technical chief who has remained in Johannesburg to support his rider and fortunately the rumours that have spread in the press about Regis' loss of mobility in his left leg are wholly untrue. Regis is a wonderful man who has always given 110%," Tardozzi wrote.
In defense of the press, the reports were more than rumors. MotoGPMatters.com received confirmation from three independent sources that Laconi had signs of paralysis. Of course, the problem is that all of those sources came from inside the World Superbike paddock, and as anyone who has ever had the privilege of spending any time there will be aware, that paddock is a like a miniature Italian village, where everyone knows everyone, and what's more, where everyone gossips with everyone. Try as we might, it is not always easy to distinguish gossip from distortion from fact.
If Regis Laconi's recovery continues as it is, the Frenchman is due to be flown back to France for further treatment in a specialist clinic in France. Once again, we send our best wishes to Regis Laconi, and wish him a speedy and full recovery.
Last year, we complained about the silly season starting early, yet in 2009 it seems to have started even earlier yet. With a host of young riders on the verge of entering MotoGP, there is already a veritable tsunami of speculation concerning who will be filling which seats next year. Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista look almost certain to move up to the premier class from 250s, and over in World Superbikes, Ben Spies is widely tipped to move across to MotoGP, while there are even whisperings of a couple of the standout young British riders - such as Leon Haslam and Johnny Rea - taking a chance.
With all these young guns getting ready to kick the door down, and any increase in the numbers of bikes on the grid extremely unlikely - whether or not the Grand Prix Commission decides to go to a single bike for 2010 - that means that some of the riders already in the series are going to have to make way. Some are safe by virtue of their nationality - James Toseland's seat in MotoGP is safe (though not necessarily his seat at Tech 3) for as long as the BBC has a deal to televise MotoGP, or until another British rider can be found to take his place, and Yuki Takahashi is safe as long as Hiroshi Aoyama decides to stay in the 250cc / Moto2 class next year - but others are less fortunate.
One possible candidate for the transfer list is Colin Edwards. Despite the fact that the Texan is having a pretty good year and is a fair bet for at least one podium this season, the Yamaha veteran is simply becoming too expensive to maintain. The economic downturn has hit motorcycle sales in the US very hard, and as Yamaha is paying for most of Colin Edwards' considerable salary, it looks unlikely that they will be able or willing to do a similar deal for 2010.
More news of replacements at the US round of World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park. After Regis Laconi's horrific crash at Kyalami, an incident in which the charismatic Frenchman fractured two vertebrae and leaves him likely to be out of racing for remainder of the season, speculation naturally turned to who would replace Laconi at subsequent races.
With a host of talented riders currently available due to a dearth of sponsorship, forcing teams to pull out of already signed deals, the list of possible replacements for Laconi is long. The two prime candidates for the ride are former BSB champion Gregorio Lavilla, who filled in for the injured Brendan Roberts at Kyalami, and the Italian Lorenzo Lanzi, who was scheduled to race a KTM for Stefano Caracchi in the Italian Superbike championship, but withdrew after Lanzi claimed he was close to securing a ride in World Superbikes.
It now looks like Lanzi will be getting the ride. According to GPOne.com, DFX Corse manager Daniele Carli told the Italian TV program "Paddock, Uomini e Corse" (Paddock, Men And Racing) that he was already engaged in contract talks with Lanzi to take Laconi's place. Lanzi is very familiar with the Ducati 1098R, having raced one for the R.G. team last year in World Superbikes.
This does not mean that Gregorio Lavilla is definitely out of World Superbikes, however. Rumors have been growing that Guandalini Racing want to drop their current second rider Brendan Roberts, the reigning Superstock 1000 champion having difficulties adapting to the World Superbike spec version of the bike he won his title on last year. According to the paddock gossips, Lavilla is still very much in the frame for Roberts' ride.