2011 Brno World Superbike Saturday Round Up - The Heat Is On

With Max Biaggi on pole for tomorrow's World Superbike races, normal order has been restored. The Czech circuit is Biaggi's favorite track, and the extra horsepower of the Aprilia RSV4 comes into its own round the fast and hilly circuit - much, much steeper in real life than it looks on the TV - which added to the bike's agility, makes it a formidable package. So coming out on top in Superpole - with a masterful lap at the start of the final session - is exactly what you might expect at Brno.

Prior to Superpole, however, things were not running as expected: Carlos Checa and Jakub Smrz had both topped practice sessions, going fast at a track where the Ducatis are supposed to suffer due to the horsepower deficit the twins have against the fours here. Though the four cylinder bikes were clearly competitive - the Yamahas of Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty have right at the front alongside the Aprilia of Biaggi - it has been the Ducatis which have been most impressive at the flowing Czech circuit.

The weather has been the key. Temperatures have been positively sweltering at Brno, with track temperatures regularly topping 50°C. With the track greasy from the heat and hungry for tires, the Ducatis have come into their own, the V-twin being kinder on tires than the rev-happy fours. And tires could well end up being crucial on race day: in that kind of heat, the rider who has the most tires left at the end will be the rider with the best chance of the win. With Carlos Checa coming into Brno expecting only to be doing damage limitation, the championship leader is looking remarkably chipper. He is keeping his plan for the races under wraps, though letting slip that it does not involve riding defensively.

Biaggi must also attack, especially as he still trails Checa by 43 points in the title race. Tires are the Italian's biggest concern, the RSV4 suffering more wear on the tires than the Ducatis - something that Biaggi has complained about all season so far - and though the Italian should be able to get away from the start, the question is whether he can hold on for the full race distance. If the Aprilia gets through its tires too quickly, Biaggi may find it harder than he hoped to close down the gap to Checa.

The wildcards are the Yamahas, both Melandri and Laverty having shown promise, though the Yamahas are also using their tires up a little more quickly than they would like. Melandri could turn out to be Carlos Checa's trump card, for if the Yamaha man can run with Biaggi, then that might give Checa enough room to at least follow the two Italians, and possibly even sneak his way past. Laverty, too, could come in useful for the Spaniard, though the risk is that the two Yamahas insert themselves between Checa and Biaggi, and the Althea Ducati rider could suddenly find himself losing buckets rather than handfuls of points.

Then of course there is Jakub Smrz, the local man having put on a strong showing throughout practice. The Effenbert Liberty Ducati rider has had a couple of strong outings this season, and his motivation in front of his home crowd is beyond question. Smrz is very much the Joker at Brno, and could well cause a bit of an upset on Sunday.

In the Supersport class, the Kawasakis have looked strong all weekend. The Ten Kate Honda man Fabien Foret starts from pole, Broc Parkes and David Salom have been at or very near the front throughout practice for the WSS class, and Parkes could make up some ground on the Yamahas on Sunday. Parkes' case is being helped by the Yamahas' uncharacteristic struggles at Brno, Chaz Davies and Luca Scassa looking vulnerable for the first time this season. Davies starts from 7th, the middle of the second row, on Sunday, teammate Scassa a row behind him in 12th. The Yamahas have been fighting chatter all weekend, and have so far failed to find a solution to the problem. With Parkes looking very comfortable on his ZX-6R in the Czech Republic, the championship could be opened right up again on Sunday.

The weather could have one more trick up its sleeve though, as thunderstorms and rain are predicted for some time on Sunday. Conditions are going to be very hot and humid whether rain falls or not, making for three punishing races on Sunday. But a thunderstorm around lunchtime - though the more likely scenario is for rain to start to fall some time during the WSBK race 2 - could shake things up considerably, especially as nobody has had any wet track time (apart from a few spots of rain on Friday, which barely slowed the riders at all). WSBK often throws up interesting racing (the Pirellis much more amenable to entertaining racing than the Bridgestone tires) and Brno has all the makings of a cracker. Especially if the rain comes to add to the fun.

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Looking at the early practice and qualifying times, and the first Superpole session, it seems Tom Sykes was doing well on the Kawasaki ZX-10R and Mark Aitchison was also a bit of a surprise. Earlier in the season the new Kawasakis were regularly being bested by the factory BMWs but now the tide seems to have turned toward the Green Team. Meantime, Leon Haslam must really be wondering why he ever got off the Alstare Suzuki: has he turned a lap at any track this year better than what he managed on the GSX-R1000 last year? Fabrizio may finally be getting to grips with with a normal in-line four after three years on the V-twin Ducatis and Melandri & Laverty continue to impress. So far the Yamaha has won more races in 2011 than all of 2010. But as you so clearly point out, tyre management will be the key for all of them, if it is as hot on race day as it was on Saturday. Isn't it wonderful to have such a variety of brands and different engine configurations to consider!