Result of the World Superbikes Race 1 at Imola:
Sterilgarda and the Yamaha Factory World Superbike team have announced that the sponsorship agreement forged partway into the 2009 season will continue through 2010. This announcement puts a stake squarely through the heart of rumors that the team would cease to exist if lead rider Ben Spies defected to MotoGP, which it is widely believed he will almost certainly do. The Italian dairy giant will reportedly cease sponsorship of the BRC Racing Ducati team, which has failed to produce consistently good results this season.
Ever since news broke that Casey Stoner would miss three MotoGP rounds to recover from the mystery illness which has laid the Australian low, rumors that the move has raised the ire of both Marlboro and Ducati have raged around the paddock and the internet. Ducati have publicly expressed their support for Stoner, professing their understanding of his situation, and doing their best to suppress any impression of dissent within their ranks, at least in public.
While Ducati have publicly stood by their rider, little has been heard from Marlboro, the people who pay Stoner's wages. Until now, that is: Maurizio Arrivabene, the most senior figure inside Philip Morris' motorsports sponsoring arm expressed his irritation at Stoner's decision. Speaking at the Singapore F1 Grand Prix - Arrivabene is also responsible for the Marlboro sponsorship of the Ferrari F1 team - the Marlboro boss was damning of Stoner's absence. According to Italian media company Sportmediaset, Arrivabene feels an apolology is in order: "I hope Stoner has the decency to apologize to the team in Portugal," Arrivabene said.
Marlboro have taken Stoner's absence very badly, Sportmediaset is reporting. To quote the Italian website, "there are many of Ducati's Borgo Panigale employees who wouldn't stay at home with a stomach ache, especially in times of economic crisis."
It has been increasingly clear that James Toseland is on his way out of MotoGP, with Roger Burnett tacitly acknowledging in the Motorcycle News that Toseland's only option in MotoGP is the second seat at Pramac. And so Toseland's manager is currently at Imola, hoping to find a seat with one of the many leading World Superbike teams which have expressed an interest in having the former two-time WSBK Champion ride for them in 2010.
Despite the interest, it may not be as easy as Burnett and Toseland have been hoping. Speaking to Italian TV channel La7, Alstare Suzuki team boss Francis Batta admitted he was interested in signing Toseland, but thought it was unlikely to happen. "James' demands are a bit too high," Batta said. "In times like these, maybe other teams have more money than I do."
The reason for Batta's refusal could be that he already has a second rider in place to race alongside the German Max Neukirchner. According to GPOne.com, Batta may already have signed Leon Haslam. The young Briton is known to be chasing a factory ride in World Superbikes, and as rumors of Stiggy Racing's withdrawal from the Superbike class due to a lack of funds continue to circulate, it is entirely credible that Haslam may already have a done a deal for 2010. If Haslam has already signed, then he could be aboard the bike as soon as the post-race tests after the final race at Portimao.
In a video interview on onthethrottle.com with SBK commentators Jonathan Green and Steve Martin, it was revealed that Xerox Ducati tested a form of "Launch Control" at their recent Mugello test. Historically, Ducati has reportedly never used a starting aid on their superbike. Details of the method of operation of this mechanism were not forthcoming but it could be assumed that a combination of mechanical bits and electronics control the throttle and clutch to make for a smooth wheelie and wheelspin free start. As we have seen in MotoGP, launch control can help someone with poor startiing skills become a consistant fast starter. It is not known if Ducati was satisfied enough with the operation of the system to risk using it in a critical race situation, but with Haga and Fabrizio on the front row, a clean error-free start could concievably give the team a leg up on Ben Spies, who has had trouble at times getting a smooth launch on the R1.
To paraphrase pole-setter Michele Fabrizio, it's good to see three young guys at the top. Fabrizio, who said at the post-race press conference that he used his anger at being mis-timed on a previous lap as motivation, set his first pole in the Superbike class on the back of a blindingly fast last lap. Fabrizio is in the enviable position of being an Italian rider on an Italian bike on an Italian track, which should provide him with ample motivation for Sunday.
Ben Spies looked a bit chagrined at being pipped by Fabrizio, wryly noting that he would have thought that Fabrizio would have let the American take the pole in repayment for Fabrizio taking him out in Brno. Spies claimed to have made a few mistakes on his fast lap that cost him a few tenths, not that the casual observer could detect any errors. Spies was his normal smooth unflappable self, in contrast to Sterilgarda Yamaha teammate Tom Sykes, who looked at times like the Urban Cowboy riding the mechanical bull at Gilley's, his R1 bucking and snorting through the corners.
Third-place man Jonny Rea also claimed errors on his best lap but was happy overall, citing a number of new parts that needed to be evaluated over a shortened practice schedule.
Noriyuki Haga elevated himself up from the depths of midpack to come fourth, which isn't a bad place to be for an old guy. Haga has always had the ability to summon forth a bit of extra speed on race day, so he should be able to hang with the kids at the front.
Ducati mounted Shane "Shakey" Byrne and Jakob Smrz have been fast all weekend, but have been unable to muster the extra couple tenths necessary to stay with the front-runners. Smrz might have some splainin' to do to Team manager Frankie Chili, who looked livid after Smrz' last lap crash.
We reported a couple of days ago that Troy Bayliss was seriously considering returning to racing in the World Superbike series. We found that a little difficult to believe, and were keen to find out the truth of the situation. Fortunately for motorcycle racing fans everywhere, Superbikeplanet.com's Dean Adams is at Imola, reporting live from the races, and he cornered Bayliss about retirement.
The upshot is that Bayliss finds it easy to accept his retirement when he's back in Australia, but once he hits Europe, "I need to be in my race routine," he told Superbikeplanet.com. He knows he shouldn't really be thinking about it, but he can't help himself. Given that he could be back to race fitness in "three or four weeks," the temptation is very difficult to resist. For the full story, read Dean Adam's interview with Troy Bayliss over on Superbikeplanet.com.
Results of the three Superpole sessions:
Jonny Rea set the fastest time on the final session of practice, snatching the top time away from Ben Spies at the very end of the session. Spies finished ahead of the two Ducatis of Michel Fabrizio and Noriyuki Haga, Fabrizio within a few hundredths, Haga half a second back. Max Biaggi finally beat his team mate, setting the 8th fastest time, a tenth quicker than Marco Simoncelli.
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.