Latest World Superbike News
The second day of testing saw more drama than had been hoped, with Max Neukirchner highsiding off during practice and suffering fractured vertebrae. But it also saw surprises in the timesheets as well. At the end of the day, it was not Michel Fabrizio who was fastest, as on the first day, but Jonathon Rea, the Ten Kate Honda rider getting faster throughout the session, taking over the lead as the end of the test approached. Rea's resurgence saw Fabrizio forced into second place, ahead of the Texan title rival Ben Spies. But Spies had to rely on his time from Wednesday for his standing in the times, as the Yamaha rider had been unable to improve on his time from the first day of testing.
Spies was beaten on Thursday by Lorenzo Lanzi, the Italian who has taken over the DFX Corse Ducati of Regis Laconi who was seriously injured in a crash at Kyalami, but Lanzi's time on Thursday was not good enough to edge out Spies' faster time from Wednesday.
John Hopkins finished the day sixth fastest, but the American was in some trouble. A near highsider on Wednesday afternoon left the American in pain during the night, and after riding in pain during the Thursday morning session, Hopkins decided to have an X ray done to see if he had caused any more damage to his leg. The X ray revealed that calcium was not building up correctly around the bones injured in his hip, and his doctors in the US diagnosed osteoporosis after receiving the X rays by email. The injury leaves Hopkins in doubt for next weekend's Brno round of World Superbikes: If Hopkins decides to ride and crashes, the consequences of a crash could be much more severe.
Overal times from both days of testing:
Max Neukirchner started the 2009 World Superbike season full of hope, and widely tipped as a potential title candidate. But 2009 has been uncommonly cruel to the Alstare Suzuki rider, and his season has been plagued by injury. A horrific first-corner pile up at the Monza round in May saw the German break bones all the way down his leg, and after a lengthy recovery, Neukirchner made a return to riding at the official Imola World Superbike test this week.
His return was not to be long-lived. Neukirchner crashed heavily on just the second day of testing, losing control of his Brux Alstare Suzuki as he exited the Tamburello corner and highsiding on to his back. Neukirchner was examined at the Clinica Mobile, then taken off to a local hospital for further examination. At first he thought he had escaped relatively uninjured, saying "that was a proper crash, but nothing like Monza." But X-rays revealed fractured vertebrae, further endangering his season.
According to the UK's Motorcycle News, Neukirchner's injuries mean that he will be out for either a month or for the rest of the year, depending on the treatment. Given that Neukirchner has already missed over half the season, it may make more sense for the German to have surgery to correct the problem fully, without risking further injury. But riders being riders, he is more likely to want to return to racing as soon as possible, and get back into racing rhythm.
Cal Crutchlow continued his dominance of the World Supersport class in the searing heat of the Imola test. The Yamaha rider set a time over 6/10ths faster than the second fastest man, Ten Kate Honda's Kenan Sofuoglu. Crutchlow's main title rival, Eugene Laverty was a tenth behind Sofuoglu, and another tenth ahead of Crutchlow's Yamaha team mate Fabien Foret.
Testing continues tomorrow.
Michel Fabrizio topped the timesheets after the first day of testing for the World Superbike field at Imola, edging out Yamaha's Ben Spies in the final laps. Fabrizio and Spies were followed by a brace of Hondas bracketing a BMW, Johnny Rea finishing the day ahead of BMW's Ruben Xaus, who was in turn just a few thousandths faster than Rea's Ten Kate Honda team mate Carlos Checa.
The test took place in searing conditions, as the typical summer heat of the lower Po valley took its toll on men, machinery and the tires which Pirelli have brought along for testing. Slightly cooler conditions are expected for tomorrow, for which the Superbike riders will be most grateful.
While most of the attention this week will be on the 9th round of the MotoGP championship at the Sachsenring in Germany, the World Superbike paddock will also be back in action, though on a much more modest scale. This week, the series will be holding its official test at Imola, as part of the familiarization process for the return of the classic Italian track to the calendar.
The track is not completely unchanged, however. A new chicane has been put in in front of the pit garages, the New Variante Bassa, replacing the fast left kink which was there before. Further alterations are expected after the test has completed, moving fencing back and creating extra run off.
The first day of the test on Tuesday will be given over to the two Superstock classes, the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup and the European Superstock 600 Championship. The World Superbike and World Supersport field will be in action on Wednesday and Thursday. So should you happen to be in the vicinity of the Imola circuit, it will be worth your while to drop in and see just how hard the teams and riders have to work outside of race weekends.
In all the discussion of silly season, there are a few names which keep cropping up and are starting to form the bottleneck preventing the rider line-up from shaking itself out. One of those names, Marco Simoncelli, cleared his part of the deck by announcing he had signed for Gresini Honda for 2010. That move also cleared the way at Yamaha, as both the Gresini and the Tech 3 Yamaha rides are the most keenly sought after in the paddock.
With Simoncelli out of the way, that leaves Ben Spies and Alvaro Bautista as the other main stumbling blocks. Spies had previously told the press that he already knew where he would be going next year, but declined to share that information with the press. But the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport is now claiming to know just what Spies has signed up to.
According to a story in today's edition of the paper, Ben Spies has signed a new two-year deal with Yamaha. Under the terms of the deal, Spies will stay in World Superbikes for one more season, and will then move up to MotoGP in 2011. According to La Gazzetta, Spies has a guarantee of a ride in MotoGP for 2011, but also has an option to move up earlier, if he wins the World Superbike title this year, or if Jorge Lorenzo leaves Yamaha. The new rookie rule prevents Spies from going straight to the factory team, but the deal is said to guarantee full factory support for Spies in any satellite structure, making a mockery of the rookie rule, as has been predicted here and elsewhere.
Noriyuki Haga seems to have had a lucky escape at Donington, after his huge crash at Coppice Corner saw him being slammed multiple times by his tumbling Ducati 1198F09. The cracked vertebrae he was suspected of suffering turned out to have been older injuries which had already healed, and scans in the local hospital in Derby revealed just a broken arm and a fractured shoulder blade. The Japanese star had surgery today to fix his arm, and looks set to rejoin the series at Brno to defend his championship lead against Ben Spies. The silver lining to Haga's crash is the four-week break between the Donington round and Brno, which should allow his injuries to heal sufficiently for Haga to race well enough to limit any points damage to Spies in the Czech Republic.
The details of Haga's surgery and expected recovery were released in a press release from Ducati, which follows:
At 5pm this afternoon Ducati Xerox rider Noriyuki Haga underwent successful surgery at the Derby City Hospital. Having fractured the ulna in his right arm in yesterday's crash at Donington Park, Noriyuki today had a plate and screws inserted to set the bone. The surgical team deemed the surgery a success and there were no unforeseen complications.
Prior to the operation, medical staff took a closer look at his right shoulder blade and an x-ray unfortunately confirmed that he has multiple fractures to his left scapula. The scapula will not necessitate surgical intervention and the bone should knit itself back together in time; this complication should not prolong Noriyuki’s recovery time. The Japanese rider should be discharged from hospital tomorrow (Tuesday) and he and his family will fly back to Italy so that Noriyuki can begin the necessary physiotherapy treatment.
The Ducati Xerox rider will not participate in the next tests at Imola but it is foreseen that he will compete in the next round at Brno.
So far this year, Noriyuki Haga has been praised for his consistency, finishing every race but one until Donington, his one DNF so far down to a bird strike rather than rider error. But in the UK, his run of consistency came to an unfortunate end. Haga scored good points in race 1, unable to match the pace of Ben Spies and Max Biaggi, but in race 2, Haga was not so lucky. The Japanese Xerox Ducati rider crashed out in race 2, falling at Coppice in a crash which was all too reminiscent of Troy Bayliss' horrific crash there two years before. But Haga's crash was even worse than Bayliss', as Haga's Xerox Ducati tumbled through the gravel with him, landing on top of him at least once before coming to a standstill.
After the incident, Haga was seen walking away, and was thought to have come away relatively unharmed, though clearly very beaten up. Sadly, this was not to be the case: Examination at the trackside medical revealed a suspected fractured vertebrae, and Haga was immediately airlifted to a nearby hospital in Derby. At the hospital, Haga was stabilized and had fluid drained from around the injury as a preventative measure. Initial reports indicated that the Japanese rider had indeed suffered a fractured vertebra, and would be out for at least 2 to 3 months.
A CAT scan later revealed more promising results. The scan did not find any indication of recent fractured vertebrae, meaning that the worst of the danger has probably passed for Haga. However, the scan confirmed the results of earlier examinations, which showed that Haga had fractured his left shoulder blade and broken his right ulna, one of the two long bones in the forearm. Haga is due to have surgery to fix the broken arm, while the fractured shoulder blade is still being examined at the time of writing (10pm CET, Sunday 28th June).
In the heart of the motorcycle racing season, time pressure becomes so great that some things have to make way, and this week, it's the preview of the Donington World Superbikes round that will have to go. Instead, there are few notes on what to watch at this weekend's World Superbike race.
While everyone is expecting another Ben Spies vs Ducati (and especially Nori Haga) rematch, there's a couple of wildcards who may have other ideas. The Airwaves Yamaha team will be racing in the World Superbike series, and despite team manager Colin Wright's protestations, the Yamaha R1s that Leon Camier and James Ellison will be riding at Donington are anything but bikes rolled straight off the shop floor. Word in the British Superbike paddock, where Camier and Ellison are cleaning up after Sylvain Guintoli's nasty accident, is that the Airwaves Yamahas are full-fat factory bikes, and the same spec as Ben Spies' R1. Camier is having an outstanding season, no doubt helped by his equipment, and is going to be a factor to be reckoned with at Donington. A podium is very much on the cards.
As for Spies himself, words have clearly been spoken in the Yamaha Motor Italia garage, for the Texan is to be joined by one of his former Yoshimura Suzuki mechanics, Greg Wood. The US press has noted that when he raced in the AMA series, Spies never suffered a mechanical DNF, but so far this year, the Texan has had mechanical problems which cost him points in three races. Wood is a highly respected mechanic, who spends his spare time restoring Volkswagens to show standard. For more information on Wood, Superbikeplanet.com has some background on the American. Spies is evidently hoping that Wood will help bring some reliability to the R1.
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.