Assen always provides spectacle, whatever the classes are racing here, but today, there was perhaps a little too much of a good thing. The World Supersport race saw two horrific-looking crashes, and required two restarts before the race finally got done. The crashes were truly gut-wrenching, the kind of incident that makes you fear another Shoya Tomizawa or Craig Jones, but amazingly, everyone came away relatively unscathed.
The first crash was doubly disconcerting, involving Sam Lowes of the Parkalgar Honda team. It was the same team that Craig Jones was riding for when he died in a crash at Brands Hatch. The Parkalgar team boss Simon Buckmaster has an uncanny ability to spot young talent, Lowes just the latest in a line of promising riders, and seeing Lowes tumbling end-over-end through the gravel after an inexplicable highside was a sickening sight.
But medics responded immediately and effectively, and Lowes was quickly conscious again. The young Englishman suffered a concussion and a broken collarbone, and the whole paddock breathed a collective sigh of relief when World Superbike press officer Julian Thomas passed on the news that Lowes was OK.
What a strange and interesting weekend the World Superbike round at Donington has given us. That Carlos Checa should win at least one race at Donington was to be expected, but the strong results from the Yamaha camp - in both Superbikes and Supersport - was a bit of a surprise, while the complete meltdown by Max Biaggi was shocking.
To Biaggi first. The Alitalia Aprilia rider started off well, sitting on provisional pole after the first qualifying session on Friday, and joking about how it was both unusual and nice to have people talking about him on a Friday. It all went downhill from there: an on-track run-in with Marco Melandri saw a furious Biaggi stalk into the Yamaha garage, issue a couple of comedy slaps on Melandri's cheek (both meant and received as an insult), getting himself hauled in front of Race Direction and issued a fine (for the slap) and a warning (for blocking Melandri on track, a punishment Melandri also received).
After the second day of practice at Donington Park, we should be talking about the way that Carlos Checa blew everyone away on the Althea Ducati. About the way that Checa got perilously close to posting a lap of 1'27 round the revised Donington track. About Leon Haslam's strong 2nd spot on the grid after qualifying, or Tom Sykes' outstanding 3rd fastest time. Maybe we should even be talking about Eugene Laverty's narrow escape when he had a huge crash at Craner, writing off his Yamaha R1. But we're not.
Tonight, all the talk is of a minor scuffle in the Yamaha pitbox, when Max Biaggi strode in to complain about being balked by Melandri during superpole and issued his fellow Italian with a light double tap, before stalking back to the Aprilia garage:
At Imola last year, shortly after Ducati had announced it would not be entering a factory team for the 2011 World Superbike series, hardcore Ducatisti and WSBK adepts hung a range of banners along the front straight, with such messages as "Senza SBK, Ducati Vale Meno" and "Ducati-SBK, the 46 reasons for pulling out." The withdrawal of the factory team was widely regarded as a terrible betrayal by Ducati, which had built its reputation and much of its brand on the success of its World Superbike team, creating legends such as Carl Fogarty, Giancarlo Falappa and Troy Bayliss along the way.
Well, the presses have stopped rolling, and a stack of MotoMatters.com 2011 Motorcycle Racing Calendars are sitting at the printers waiting to be delivered. That means shipping will start some time on Monday (or Tuesday morning at the latest), and the calendars will start winging their way to their lucky owners.
It also means that the pre-sale period will come to an end, and the price will go up, from $19.95 plus S&H to $21.95 plus S&H. So if you want to take advantage of our pre-sales discount, secure in the knowledge that your calendar is just a few days away from dropping onto your doormat, then you have to hurry. The prices go up on Monday night.
There may only have been four riders at the Phillip Island World Superbike test - Max Biaggi and Leon Camier of the Aprilia team, and Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri of Yamaha - but that was reason enough for our good friend Andrew Gosling of TBG Sport to go shoot a few snaps. As always, it was well worth the effort. Enjoy!
The rain that had been hanging over the World Superbike test for the first two days finally came on the third and final day. But the factory Yamaha and Aprilia squads were still lucky, with the rain only starting to fall late on Thursday morning at Phillip Island, before disappearing again in the afternoon, giving the riders a couple more dry sessions at the Australian circuitl. It was Eugene Laverty who made best use of the session, putting on a set of soft tires to set the fastest time, with a lap of 1'31.5. The Yamaha rider finished ahead of Max Biaggi, once again the fastest of the two factory Aprilia riders, while Laverty's teammate Marco Melandri matched the pace of Aprilia's Leon Camier,
The weather finally turned halfway decent for a test, with the sun out and temperatures rising for the World Superbike test at Phillip Island in Australia. The improved conditions saw Max Biaggi once again top the - admittedly very limited - timesheets with a lap of 1'32.3, but 2010 World Superbike champion - out on an Aprilia bearing the #1 plate - was only a couple of tenths faster than both Yamaha's Eugene Laverty and Biaggi's Aprilia teammate Leon Camier. Slowest man of the day was Laverty's teammate Marco Melandri, but even Melandri was just three tenths off Biaggi's fastest .
Biaggi and Camier spent the day testing the 2011 Ohlins forks once again, as well as a new swingarm, fuel tank and engine update, aimed at smoothing power delivery. The pair also tested new Pirellis, though whether those tires will be ready for the season opener on February 27th remains to be seen.