Monza's Disney-style first chicane has decimated the World Superbike field after the multi-rider crash at the start of race one last weekend. Makoto Tamada seemed to clip Brendan Roberts' back wheel, sending the Australian's Guandalini Ducati up the rode to take out the Alstare Brux Suzuki of Max Neukirchner, while Tamada's Kawasaki veered off to hit Tommy Hill's Althea Honda, which in turn took out the BMW S1000RR of Troy Corser. After the dust had settled, Neukirchner was left with a broken femur and broken bones in his foot and ankle, Tamada suffered a fractured wrist, and examination in the local hospital found that Roberts had come away without broken bones, but was very severely bruised.
And so the World Superbike series heads to Kyalami with a host of new - or rather, different - faces filling a range of seats. For in addition to Neukirchner, Tamada and Roberts, Veidec Res Software's Robbin Harms didn't make it out of the first free practice session for the World Supersport class at Monza, and will also be missing in South Africa.
The biggest loss to the series is undoubtedly Max Neukirchner. The German was tipped as a prime candidate for the title before the season began, and entered Monza in 5th place in the World Superbike championship. The severity of Neukirchner's injuries will mean that in addition to Kyalami, the German is likely to miss the race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, and even a return at Misano in mid-June must be considered doubtful.
In the interim, former team mate Fonsi Nieto looks like taking Neukirchner's place. The Spaniard had signed a contract to ride for the Alstare team this season, but problems with sponsorship left Nieto without the cash to fund a third bike inside the team. After several other options fell through, Nieto found himself riding the LaGlisse Moto2 machine in the Spanish CEV championship. Unfortunately for Nieto, that also fell through when Honda won the contract to supply the Moto2 series with engines, forcing LaGlisse to shelve their Yamaha YZF-R6-based project. At least with Neukirchner out for a number of rounds, Nieto will get a chance to impress some of the many team managers complaining of struggling riders.
Australian Brendan Roberts is one of those men. The reigning FIM Superstock 1000 champion has failed to make much of an impression at the Guandalini team, though his results had started to improve at Assen. Roberts must now fear for his job, as the WSBK and BSB veteran Gregorio Lavilla has been drafted in to take Roberts' place in South Africa while the Australian recovers from the battering he took at Monza. Lavilla already competes for Guandalini in the Italian World Superbike championship, and so a strong result in Kyalami - a track the Spaniard knows having previously ridden there - could seal Roberts' fate.
Makoto Tamada's seat is less at risk, despite rumors that the PBM Kawasaki team are far from happy with the Japanese rider, a rider choice alleged to have been forced upon them by Kawasaki HQ. At first, Stuart Easton, who replaced Broc Parkes at Assen, was expected to replace Tamada, but the team later announced that no one would ride Tamada's machine in South Africa.
In the World Supersport class, there will be an extra Laverty on the grid. Eugene's brother Michael will replacing the injured Robbin Harms at the Veidec Racing RES Software team. Michael will have the advantage of making his debut at a track very few of the rest of the field have ridden at, leveling the playing field for the newcomer, currently riding the east coast rounds of AMA with Barry Gilsenan's Celtic Racing team. But the Veidec team have performed well under par this season: Harms regularly finished in the top 6 with the Stiggy Honda team, but has been much further down the order on the Veidec Honda. Harms has a broken collarbone, and should be back at Miller in three weeks' time.