Results of qualifying for the World Supersport class:
Michel Fabrizio led the sole session of qualifying for the World Superbike class at Imola, though he swapped the lead with Shane Byrne and Ben Spies throughout the session. Jonny Rea ended the session in 2nd, ahead of Spies in 3rd, but there is just 0.070 separating the top three. Shane Byrne finished in 4th, just under quarter of a second behind, while Noriyuki Haga drastically improved on his performance in yesterday, leaping up into 5th place, ahead of the 250cc World Champion Marco Simoncelli, who is showing up his veteran team mate Max Biaggi after the Roman has just become a father for the first time.
The riders in bold progress to this afternoon's Superpole session:
Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow dominated practice for the World Supersport class once again, but unlike yesterday, he didn't have it all his own way. Ten Kate Honda's Kenan Sofuoglu shadowed Crutchlow closely, occasionally closing to within one hundredth of a second before Crutchlow pulled out a gap again. Joan Lascorz was the perennial 3rd place man on the Motocard Kawasaki, while Massimo Roccoli finished the session in 4th. Crutchlows main challenger for the title, Parkalgar Honda's Eugene Laverty could manage only the 6th fastest time, 1.2 seconds off the Yamaha.
In the wake of actions by superbike riders protesting an allegedly slippery Imola track surface that some have been likening to a strike or a revolt, the SBK website has issued a press release that essentially blames the riders for the snafu. Without naming names, the release claims that there were some riders and team managers that wanted practice to continue so that a fresh coat of Pirelli rubber could be laid down on the track. The article continues by claiming that after the rewashing of the track conditions hadn't changed as evidenced by the lack of crashes in the subsequent practice sessions. All those who had actually ventured out on track in the first session gave dramatically different accounts of track conditions. To this commentator's eye, these statements, coming from the promotors of this event, are roughly equivalent to the commander of the firing squad telling the condemned prisoner to quit sniveling about conditions.
It's no secret that the wretched global economic crisis has taken its toll on motorcycle racing. Unfortunately, teams dropping out of series or curtailing their involvement have become distressingly commonplace. The latest casualty of this war of attrition in the WSBK paddock is reportedly the Stiggy Racing Team. Already reduced to 1 rider in superbike and supersport for the rest of the season due to tight money woes, Stiggy, according to caradisiac.com, will not field a superbike squad in 2010. This is an especially cruel blow for the team who had been rumored to be switching over to Yamaha machinery and, according to some conjecture, taking over the Yamaha factory squad. However, Stiggy will reportedly be fielding the Yamaha R6 in WSS next season. Lead rider Leon "Pocket Rocket" Haslam has been having a stellar year and should have no difficulty finding a ride for next season and has been rumored to be in discussions with Alstare Suzuki among others. The future in World Superbikes for American John Hopkins, who has had a mostly abysmal injury-ridden year, looks to be in grave doubt.
World Superbikes are currently on track at Imola for their 1st practice session after a track re-cleaning and a WSS practice session. This session will not be termed a Qualifying session. Saturday's "Qualifying 2" will control who will compete in Superpole.
The World Supersport field were the first class to take to the field at Imola, after the state of the track had caused chaos for the Superbikes. After the track had been cleaned, the riders took to the track, and it was Kenan Sofuoglu who took an early lead. Cal Crutchlow sat in the pits for the first half of practice, but once he hit the track he devasted the rest of the field, regularly being over 2 seconds faster than anyone else on the circuit. In the end, Sofuoglu got within half a second, but the man in 3rd, Joan Lascorz, was 2.1 seconds behind Crutchlow, with Eugene Laverty another few tenths slower than the Spaniard.
With track conditions at Imola too slippery to practice on, SBK race organizers are facing the very real possibility of a race cancellation. A combination of a freshly washed track and oil allegedly rising from the asphalt to the surface culminated in the first practice session being suspended and probably cancelled. Points leader Ben Spies reckons that the available traction is worse than a full wet track. Apriia rider Max Biaggi says that if conditions aren't improved then it is not possible to race on the surface, even at a much slower pace. In the opinion of Xerox Ducati team manager Davide Tardozzi, the only possible soluton is a complete reconfiguration of the racing line as another track washing might worsen the situation. A casualty of the abbreviated practice session was Sterilgarda Yamaha rider Tom Sykes, who suffered an as yet unnamed injury to his right foot.
UPDATE: Gpone.com is reporting that the track is being re-washed and dryed and there will be an attempt to have bikes out on track at 16:30 Imola time.
UPDATE 2: World Supersport bikes are currently on track.
Ten Kate Racing announced this morning that 22 year-old Ulsterman Jonathan Rea has been signed to ride with the Dutch team in the World Superbike series for another 2 years. Rea, a former standout in British superbikes and World Supersport had been widely tipped to retain his ride. The recent switch by Ten Kate to Ohlins suspension components has apparently complemented Rea's style, resulting in his recent race win at the Nurburgring. Ten Kate, who have previously revealed that the team intended to cut back to 2 riders for 2010 are reportedly considering current rider Carlos Checa and former employees Chris Vermeulen and James Toseland for the second seat.
What was supposed to be a triumphant return to a track steeped in history has turned into a farce. Action at the World Superbike round at Imola ground to a halt after just two laps of practice, with Tom Sykes crashing and riders complaining of a complete lack of grip. The track is incredibly slick from last weekend's WTCC car racing, with some confusion over whether there is still oil on the track or whether the lack of grip is due to an overly aggressive cleaning process which removed all the rubber from the track.
According to BikeSportNews.com, the riders and teams have gone into a meeting with FIM safety representative Claude Danis to discuss how to solve the problems. So far, it looks like there'll be no action today, while the circuit organization finds a solution to track conditions, in the hope of getting the riders back out onto the track tomorrow.
More as it comes in.
The hardest thing in the world for a professional sports star is to retire. When the thrill and drive of competing falls away, sportsmen and women in every discipline tend to fall into a black hole, and spend a long time thrashing around trying to find new meaning in their lives.
Former World Superbike star Troy Bayliss seemed to have his retirement already planned out. His future, he had decided, would lie in Australia's extremely popular V8 Supercars series, and he would channel all of his considerable talent and drive into that sport, and forget all about motorcycle racing.
But according to leading Italian magazine MotoSprint, Bayliss just can't forget about two wheels. MotoSprint is reporting that Bayliss told them at Imola that he wanted to come back to World Superbikes. His outings in V8 Supercars had been a disappointment to him, he told MotoSprint: "The car and the team are good for twentieth place, no more."
And so he had set his mind to World Superbikes again. "I want to race in Superbikes again," he told MotoSprint. "I'll be looking around here at Imola. It's a shame that Ducati have already signed two riders for 2010, I feel that I could have done well next season."
Ducati team boss Davide Tardozzi confirmed that Bayliss had approached him about racing. "Troy asked me if he could race when he landed, last Tuesday. But how could we satisfy his request? We don't have the resources for three riders," Motosprint quotes Tardozzi as saying.
Lately, the flow of racing endorphins has dried up for motorcycle junkies. There hasn't been any bike racing on the world scene since Labor Day weekend (OK, so there has been BSB and *yawn* endurance racing). The sight of once-proud motorcycle journalists posting trivia like a list of the ages of racers as news items is a pitiful one and the most heated topic of discussion is the silly season. Cold Turkey is an ugly experience indeed.
Luckily for us, the drought is nearly over and the World Superbike series will resume this weekend at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, near Imola, Italy. When we last met at the Nurburgring, American rookie sensation "Big" Ben Spies had wrested the lead in the series from Xerox Ducati's "Nitro" Noriyuki Haga as a result of the Texan's win in race one and second place in race two while Haga
was knocked went down as a result of contact with Ten Kate Honda's Jonny Rea. At the end of the day, Spies found himself atop the leader board, 18 points ahead of Haga.
With 6 races left in the season, the championship has become Spies' to lose. The Yamaha Italia team tested at Imola last July and Spies was at or near the top of the time sheets most of the time. Spies was also fast at the season-ending Portimao test last year on a bike he'd never seen before. That leaves Magny Cours as the only track that the American has no prior seat time at, not that lack of track knowledge has been much of an impediment to his meteoric rise to the top.
Nori looks to have mostly recovered from the broken wrist and shoulder blade incurred at Donington Park in June. Haga finished a close second to Spies in Race one in Germany and was running at the the front before he was taken out. Haga's Xerox Ducati team mate, Michel "Mr. Fabulous" Fabrizio hasn't provided much of an assist to Haga, other than his failed pass in race 1 at Brno that sent both himself and Spies into the kitty litter.
Since the start of the season, MotoMatters.com has been trying to bring you news and analysis from both MotoGP and World Superbikes, but with the limited resources we have at our disposal, it's been hard. We have not been able to give the World Superbike series the attention it deserves, and so we have called in some help. From now on, Mike Walt will be helping out with the World Superbike series, while David Emmett focuses on the world he knows best, the world of MotoGP.
Many of you will already know Mike, as he posts around the world under the moniker Yooperbikemike. His knowledge of all forms of motorcycle racing is encyclopedic, and his style is both informative and entertaining, a very, very difficult balancing act to manage. So for all of you who love World Superbikes, and I know there are many, we hope to start to give the series much better coverage.
The MotoGP silly season is just about played out. With four races left in the season, the rider line up for 2010 is almost complete. As expected, once Jorge Lorenzo finally made up his mind, the remaining pieces in the puzzle fell into place, leaving just a few gaps to fill.
All of the factory seats are now full, and largely unchanged, with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo back at Yamaha, Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden at Ducati, Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa (albeit reluctantly) re-signed with Repsol Honda, and Loris Capirossi joined at Suzuki by the only newcomer to the factory line up, Spanish rookie Alvaro Bautista. Though next year's seats are settled, plenty of excitement still remains over what will happen next year: Everyone but Andrea Dovizioso and Alvaro Bautista is on a one year contract, which means that the Fantastic Four will all be on the market at the same time next year and looking to move, almost certainly precipitating a bidding war and making a mockery of all the cost-cutting measures already put in place.
Of the satellite teams, only the Gresini and LCR squads are completely set. Fausto Gresini got his Italian Dream Team with the two Marcos, Melandri and Simoncelli, and helping him extend the team's sponsorship contract with snack manufacturer San Carlo, while Lucio Cecchinello has re-upped with Randy de Puniet. But even among the remaining teams, the seats are largely taken. Mika Kallio is back with Pramac, and Colin Edwards returns to the Monster Tech 3 team, though reportedly taking a half million dollar pay cut for the privilege. No official word as yet from Team Scot, but as Gabor Talmacsi is the only person likely to be bringing significant funds into the team, the Hungarian must be a safe bet for that seat.