The latest in the long line of World Superbike riders to be interviewed by the assembled press in the run up to the US round of WSBK at Miller Motorsports Park at the end of May was Max Biaggi. Unfortunately, MotoMatters.com was not able to participate, as we were on a flight to Qatar at the time the call was scheduled. We weren't missed, and the people who could attend came up with some pretty interesting questions for Biaggi to answer. In the interview, Biaggi talks about his two wins at Portimao, evaluates the relative strengths and weaknesses of the top teams in World Superbikes, explains why he decided against switching to F1 despite having had a test in a Ferrari, and admits that he still misses the two-stroke 500cc Grand Prix bikes. Well worth a read:
Moderator: Good morning, everybody. I'm John Gardner, the Media Manager at Miller Motorsports Park. This is the fourth in our series of teleconferences with riders in the HANNspree World Superbike Championship leading up to the Utah USA round, which will take place here at Miller Motorsports Park on Memorial Day weekend, May 29th to the 31st.
We are very pleased today to have with us Max Biaggi, who rides for the Alitalia Aprilia team and swept both rounds of the recent race in Portugal. He's currently second in the championship and is a legend in this sport. We're very honored to have you here, Max. Welcome.
Max Biaggi: Hi. Thank you.
Moderator: It was a big weekend for you in Portugal. How are things looking for you coming into Valencia this weekend?
Max Biaggi: Well, first of all, I'm very, very happy with the result we did in Portugal. And Valencia, I think, is going to be a good weekend for us. We'll be competitive with everybody there and possibly in the top three all the time. So, I'm quite confident for that.
Moderator: How is your bike different this year than last year?
Max Biaggi: As you know, from one year to the other, the bike improves all the time; sometimes maybe not so much or maybe sometimes a lot. But from '09 to this year, we improve the engine size. The bikes, they have more power than before. And also, the torque is better. Durability is better. We stepped up a little also on the chassis side. Suspension, with the '10 knowledge on the rear shock, we've been improving for sure from last year. So overall, we're getting a better feeling and the bike is better than before. So, we are quite happy for that.
Moderator: You've been at this a long time. You were with Aprilia for a long time earlier in your career and now you're back with them again. Has it kind of been like coming home?
Max Biaggi: You know, I start with them. I became World Champion a long time ago with them. And for the first time, it was 1994, the first year in Aprilia history to be World Champion in the 250 classI would love to give them another world title in Superbike. They are back, after six years, seven years, in World Superbike. And four-stroke is a new story for them, but there are some good people working there, some good engineers. And I think we are going to have a good package this year. This year's going to be important for them. And also, we have a nice important sponsor, too, you know? We need to make good.
Moderator: You've raced here at Miller Motorsports Park twice. Tell me how you feel about the track here and how it compares to some of the other tracks you race at.
Max Biaggi: You know, everyone I talk to, when they're asking me what do you think about the USA Grand Prix, blah, blah, blah, I say I can't believe it. That track is very, very nice. It's very close to European standard. And it is a very wide track, nice. The place is fantastic. I think is viewed that that's the place to be now for racing. It's a great layout. I like very much. Is very safe. You know, I have no worry to say how good it is. Not because I want to be gentle or something like that, but just because it is really a very nice track and the facilities are great.
Moderator: We appreciate that. Do you think the Aprilia is well-suited to this track?
Max Biaggi: It must be. You know, for year one, we've been quite good. But last year, I remember we got in some little trouble during the qualifying, so we run a little bit off the pace. But I'm sure this year it will be much better. We have one year experience. We don't have to think even out of the gearbox, for instance. But we have a lot to do and we are pretty confident. So, we're going to be in Utah fighting for the 25 points.
Moderator: Well, we look forward to having you here. And let's go ahead and open it up to some questions from the journalists.
Operator: Our first question comes from Ron Lieback of Ultimate MotorCycling.
Ron Lieback: During race two in Portugal, you beat Leon Haslam by, like, 0.191 of a second. And in the first race you beat him by 0.200 of a second. What do you think are the biggest contributing factors to the tight race this year in World Superbike?
Max Biaggi: Well, I think Portugal was one of the closest races ever. Australia also was very close for the guy who won. But one-tenth or two-tenths and be the winner of that race is very important for us, because we've been fighting a race. We didn't slow down any moment. Everyone was giving 100 percent and everyone was under pressure. But when it was four laps to go, I was third. I managed to be back in front. And my bike had very good speed. I have to say that this kind of race is the reason also I like to do it, because it gives me some more, you know, happiness to win in this race.
Ron Lieback: Concerning your age, do you find yourself having to do additional workouts to keep up your physical shape? And do you even feel your age? And what disadvantages or advantages do you have due to your age?
Max Biaggi: Yes. I think, honestly, watching back, I'm not 18 years old anymore. And of course through this last part of my career, I'm working harder than before to keep my -- to keep this shape as before. And it is harder and is a lot of sacrifice to be 100 percent in shape and the work must be more -- for more time, longer. So, I've been working to achieve the equal fitness from the past.
But as you know, experience in this sport is very important and to not do the mistake. And also, if you unfortunately have to do a mistake, to do it only once, without coming back to the same problem, the same mistake. And experience has given me a lot and I can make short way to be in better position.
And I know I don't have a lot of time for my career to improve, but I think another couple of years I want to race and be always on top. And the time I will not feel that, of course, I will have to look for another object in my life. But I do enjoy a lot motorcycle race. I like the technique involved with the motorcycle. So, that's also helped me to achieve some goals and maybe some other riders, some other people don't think.
Ron Lieback: Will this be the year that Max Biaggi takes the World Superbike Championship? And with that, are you confident in your skills and in the RSV4, and what are the biggest changes you need to stay on top?
Max Biaggi: Well, of course everyone is confident. Everybody wants to go for the big goal. And myself, all my Alitalia Aprilia squad, everyone is believing that in this year we can do much better than last year. Finished fourth in '09. For sure, we want to do much better this year. And after the race, we are back there and set on the championship and now we don't want to stop there. We want to just be thinking positive and score points at every race. That's our main goal. And if it happen in 2010, is perfect for us. If it doesn't happen in 2010, we're looking for the year after. But anyway, we always give all we have.
Ron Lieback: Are there any particular races that you're looking forward to this year?
Max Biaggi: Oh, yes. Everyone has got some favorite track, as you know. There is the one always I can't wait to go there is the Brno track, in the Czech Republic. That's one of my favorites.
Ron Lieback: Alright.
Max Biaggi: Of course, I won also last year there, but I be winning with every bike I rode. So, it is very fantastic track.
Operator: Our next question comes from Paul Carruthers of Cycle News.
Paul Carruthers: So far, Leon Haslam has been very strong. I have two questions. Do you expect him to be the main competition for the entire season? And also, do you expect Noriyuki Haga to be able to come back after somewhat of a slow season start for him?
Max Biaggi: Haslam has been very competitive, very strong every race we've been in. And also on the tests in Portimao test, Phillip Island test. He's been also in Valencia. Always in top two, top three. This guy is a very good rider. And Suzuki really is hungry to do a good result. Of course, last year they had been nowhere. And with Leon now, they're back on top and look to be competitive for the championship.
I think, honestly speaking, Ducati as an overall package, they're still the best one. And then in Valencia they're going to be there for winning the race. Don't forget last year Haga won both races. Even Ben Spies cannot do anything to follow him one -- and finish second, in one race he crashed. But I think Valencia is a Ducati track; very slow turns, low rpms, so they're going to be in good shape.
But even so, we want to do a very good result, even in the track where maybe we are not at the top. And I think Ducati, they're going to catch up the guys in front soon and they're going to be part of the deal until the end.
Paul Carruthers: Okay. Thank you.
Max Biaggi: No problem.
Moderator: Well, Max, let me ask you this. You spend a lot of time in American, don't you?
Max Biaggi: Yes. I have a house in Malibu and, in my off-season, I always go there, yes.
Moderator: So, how long have you had a house here?
Max Biaggi: Well, like eight years.
Moderator: What attracts you to California rather than being in Italy or something on the off-season?
Max Biaggi: Oh, just because it's California. Just because it's different than the places where I've lived. I live in Monaco for the last 20 years. And California is a very nice place. I call it the wellness city, you know? I like to be jogging on the beach, to be playing sports, on the bikes, on the cycling. They're always doing something for enjoying with my friends or with my girlfriend. And the place where I bought the house, you can see the ocean. It is a very relaxing place, very mellow and I love it.
Moderator: You're on a roll now. The bike is working well. You won the last two races. It must be a happy time for you.
Max Biaggi: Yeah, of course. Is very great time at the moment. I'm enjoying. But I'm also thinking. We don't have to sit and think we did two great races. We are strong, we are cool, right? No. I am thinking that we did just two good race. Now, we're going to have to do even better. Put my head down, work hard, sweat. In my mind, that is the main goal and that's what we are working on.
Moderator: You spoke earlier about maybe looking down the road at the end of your career. Do you think about racing cars once you get done racing motorcycles?
Max Biaggi: Yeah. Honestly, I don't think so. I had an opportunity to drive. I drove a Ferrari, like, almost 10 years ago, this humongous car, back in 1999. And I was one day in Fiorano with everybody, Luca di Montezemolo, Jean Todt, everyone was there. And I have 60 laps, so not one lap. A lot of laps during testing. And my corner was quite good for the first time in Fiorano, never see the track, never jump in the F1 car. But even so, I don't use that for speculation to do, oh, I gotta do this, I gotta do that. Because my time was -- if you remember Johnny Herbert -- it was the same time that he did the track. Everyone was very enthusiastic, but I wasn't so much because -- that's it. I said, you know, that's good for me. Thank you very much, but Formula 1 car is not my passion. It's not my future. It's not my adrenaline, you know? And I need two wheels to be happy, so I never thought to be a car driver.
Moderator: You're one of the senior statesmen on the World Superbike tour. Do the young riders come to you for advice?
Max Biaggi: Well, sometimes. My teammate is younger than me and in his first year in World Superbike, and he will come to ask something, but in a nice way, to try to talk about someone coming. But of course, someone outside of my team, I will not give them the right direction. Of course, if someone is racing different class, why not? But there are a few that come sometimes to ask my point of view of some track or some corner.
Operator: Our next question comes from Matthew Miles of Cycle World Magazine.
Matthew Miles: You mentioned changes to the Aprilia. Has Pirelli made significant updates for the tires for the season?
Max Biaggi: Some of the early stage where we start every year to the end, maybe we got only one new or no more than that. We're using basically using the main three tires for all the season. So, the three tires fit all the tracks where we go. Of course, not always is it the correct one or the best one, but it's the same for all of the riders. And maybe one new one is gonna be due in this season, but concerning all the tires' performance, they will be basically the same.
Matthew Miles: Loris Capirossi has told me on several occasions how much he misses the 500 Grand Prix bikes. Do you have good memories of the two-strokes as well?
Max Biaggi: For sure. At that time, the 500, was the hotdog to jump on, you know? That was really a nice monster to ride. And at that time I remember, too, then there was not so many riders able to ride this kind of bike because if you watch back, the top three always they was Italian or maybe also Spanish or American. But maybe three, four riders, no more than that. But 500 was very nice, watching back. It was a very popular bike. But four-stroke is a new world. It's -- let's say easier to ride and they open up possibility for also for riders who are not let's say the greatest ones, you know?
Matthew Miles: Yes. That's what I was leading to. So, thank you.
Max Biaggi: No problem.
Moderator: I think we'll go ahead and wrap it up at this point. And Max, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. And we wish you luck at Valencia this weekend and we look forward to having you back here in Utah at the end of May. Don't forget we have a dedicated event website for the Utah USA Round, at www.SBKUSA.com, for tickets and event information. We'll see you on Memorial Day weekend!