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After the final Superbike race, as the traffic poured out of the parking areas, and headed off down the brand new access road towards the highway, and home, a small ceremony was held in memory of Craig Jones. The official ceremony, the unveiling of a statue to be held on Saturday, had been canceled due to the miserable weather, and so a smaller, more private ceremony was held in its place.
The owner of the circuit, Paulo Pinheiro made a small speech, largely inaudible due to the sound of the traffic leaving, but the ceremony was all the more moving and private, perhaps for the very reason that it was cut off from the rest of the world by the noise.
Just how impromptu the ceremony had been was made clear by the sudden arrival of Troy Corser, still in his leathers, straight from his post-race debriefing. Corser was greeted warmly by the family, and it was clear from his demeanor that the tragic loss of Jones had affected him personally.
Troy Bayliss ended his World Superbike career in the only way which could possibly hope to match his amazing career: With a second dominant win of the weekend, crowning his championship with a double at the inaugural World Superbike round at Portimao, Portugal. While Bayliss didn't lead from the start, it only took him a couple of laps before the Australian sliced his way to the front with surgical precision, and checked out.
The 8 second lead he had by halfway was a comfortable cushion, which allowed him to give away a couple of tenths a lap, and still leave him over 3.6 seconds clear over the line. Adding to the joy at Ducati, his team mate came home in 2nd, comfortably ahead of the fight for third. The final podium spot was more closely contested, but Max Neukirchner looked like he had it wrapped up by halfway after fighting his way through the field. But Neukirchner couldn't maintain his pace towards the end of the race, and was pipped to the podium by Leon Haslam, the British Superbike hero giving notice of his intentions for 2009.
The scenes in the pitlane were intensely emotional after the race, the entire Xerox Ducati team going up onto the podium to celebrate, and say farewell to Troy Bayliss. There's a palpable sense of sadness in the press room, and around the circuit, now that we will never see the man who is arguably the world's greatest superbike rider race again. There's also some doubt, as the press and the paddock find it impossible to believe that Bayliss could walk away at the peak of his career. But seeing Bayliss' face, the sheer relief that it was all done, convinced me, at least, that this was the final chapter.
At least, on a racing motorcycle, as Bayliss is due to go home to Australia and race in the V8 Supercars series. That should scratch any itch he may still feel just enough for him to resist temptation.
The World Supersport race at Portimao was won, as expected, by Kenan Sofuoglu. But he didn't get the victory without a fight. The early part of the race saw 6 men tightly together and scrapping for every inch. Barry Veneman led early on, ahead of Andrew Pitt, Sofuoglu, Josh Hayes, Joan Lascorz and Broc Parkes, but after the dust finally settled, and Sofuoglu finished waving his fist at Hayes down the front straight, the Turkish rider finally seized control of the race and made a break.
Hayes was then left to fend off Sofuoglu's team mate Andrew Pitt, but the Ten Kate Hondas just had too much speed along the front straight for the American to resist. With Sofuoglu and Pitt spread out and leading, Hayes battled Lascorz all the way to the line, the crowd cheering their local team - the circuit owns the Parkalgar Honda race team - willing the American onto the podium.
It will surprise no one to learn that Troy Bayliss won the first World Superbike Race at Portimao in Portugal. As if the Australian needed his place in history cemented any further, Bayliss took off almost from the start of the race to win completely unchallenged.
Bayliss was helped by a monster battle for 2nd which took up most of the first half of the race. The BSB riders started off strongly, turning in some spectacular and terrifying passing between Cal Crutchlow, Leon Haslam and Johnny Rea, while the regulars Noriyuki Haga, Ruben Xaus, Troy Corser and Carlos Checa joined the fun. But as the race wore on, the BSB riders wore themselves out, leaving Haga, Corser and Checa to fight for 2nd. Haga dropped out with a mechanical problem, leaving Corser and Checa to spend the rest of the race dividing the podium places between themselves. In the end, it was Carlos Checa who won that battle, splitting the Australians on the podium.
It's sunny and bright here in the Algarve, and if it wasn't quite so chilly and damp, it would be absolutely beautiful. The good news is, they got the access road from the motorway to the track done yesterday, and the better news is it was filling up nicely as we arrived here.
The warmup sessions were held on a track that was cold and wet, especially through the scary downhill final turn and along the straight, and times were some 20 seconds off the times set in the dry. Johnny Rea led the way in the Superbikes, ahead of Troy Corser and Cal Crutchlow. Corser seems pretty bent on winning a World Superbike race on the Yamaha before he leaves to join BMW. He has two more chances, and will face the might of Troy Bayliss, who will not want to retire without a fight.
Kenan Soguoglu was quickest during the Supersport warmup, and if you were the betting type, you'd have a sizable sum on the Turk to win the race today. He's looking happy, and more importantly, he's looking fast. Sofuoglu was followed by Gianluca Nannelli and Mathieu Lagrive, who have both been fast in the cold and wet, but not so quick in the dry. The American Josh Hayes was down in 12th.
The Portuguese organizers are putting on a real show here, with a special dance performance featuring some young people prancing around in interestingly metallic costumes. And if that isn't enough, there's the Portuguese Air Force demonstration team flying over before the first World Superbike race. It's a good day to watch some racing.
With Suzuki focusing its efforts and - at least as importantly - its money on its MotoGP effort, the Hamamatsu factory has neglected the World Supersport series over the last few years. But this does not mean they have had no presence: Dutch tuner Marc Hoegee has fielded a team for the last few years, but short of funds, the team always seemed to be the nearly men, never quite making it on to the podium.
All that changed during the summer, with Barry Veneman getting ever closer to the podium he has been chasing for the past two years. At Magny Cours, he finally made it. We caught up Veneman on Saturday at the final World Supersport round at Portimao in Portugal.
Q: Earlier in the season, you were a team that was hovering on the brink. Then at the last round at Magny Cours, you get a podium. What happened?
BV: Well, it wasn't just at the last round, it had been going on for longer. We got some new parts in the middle of the season, which gave us some more horsepower. Then we also managed to make the bike lighter. And I've changed, I've gotten stronger as a rider. I made a decision to concentrate on my riding a lot more – I have a day job as well as this – and that's made a huge difference. I've been able to train more, and it's also meant I've had a chance to spend some more time with my family.
That's made me feel better on the bike, made me more confident. Before, we always felt like we were capable of getting in the top 10, but today, while I was riding around here, I was thinking to myself "I've got to be able to get a front row here," and I did, I'm in third.
Q: You think you'll be able to get on the podium here?
It's Saturday afternoon, and the sun is starting to make way for clouds. For the moment, it's still bright, but there's no guarantee of that lasting. The second session of Supersport practice was run in pleasant, if not exactly warm conditions, and times continued to drop as ever more rubber was laid on the track.
Once again it was Kenan Sofuoglu who dominated the session, quickly dropping into the 1'45s, and setting the mark for pole at 1'45.156 before the session was even halfway done. Many would try, but the closest anyone would get would be Broc Parkes in the dying seconds of the session, getting to within 7/100ths on the Yamaha.
Holland's Barry Veneman will start from 3rd on the grid, the Hoegee Suzuki team having picked up the final couple of tenths they've been missing over the last few rounds. Veneman has Andrew Pitt on the other Ten Kate Honda beside him on the grid, the 2008 World Champion finishing out the front row.
Gianluca Nannelli heads up the second row of the grid on the Althea Honda, with Spanish rider Joan Lascorz dropping to 6th, from 3rd this morning. Josh Brookes will start from 7th, while American Josh Hayes was pushed down to 8th, and the end of the 2nd row. Hayes had started well, but dropped gradually down the order, as the other riders made good their knowledge deficit of the track.
In the afternoon's World Superbike free practice session, Troy Bayliss was out to avenge his indifferent time of this morning, and quickly topped the timesheets, setting his fastest time on his 2nd full lap out of the pits. This time, Bayliss' time was good enough to beat his team mate, Michel Fabrizio setting the 2nd fastest time, making it a Xerox Ducati 1-2. Cal Crutchlow continued his run of strong times, setting the 3rd fastest time, ahead of Noriyuki Haga and Carlos Checa.
We woke up this morning to a surprise: skies were blue, more or less, the sun was out, and the world looked a much more attractive place than it has for the past two days. It's still cold here, but conditions have improved vastly overnight.
Traffic on the way into the circuit was busier than yesterday, unsurprisingly, but they still haven't finished the freeway exit which is supposed to take fans straight from the A22 freeway to the circuit. With today, November 1st, being a national holiday, the chances of it being completed and opened are minimal. If you want to get here on Sunday, leave early.
With the weather now cooperating, the World Supersport session started on time, and Parkalgar Honda's Josh Hayes was quickest for the first half of practice, before Joan Lascorz, Broc Parkes and Kenan Sofuoglu got up to speed.
The weather continues to confuse and confound expectations here in Portugal, with rain and sunshine alternating almost minute by minute. The track, despite the sunshine, has barely been dry, however. As a consequence, times have been difficult to judge.
The World Supersport qualifying session was a case in point. The American Josh Hayes led for much of the session, having gone out on wet tires, and as a dry line was starting to appear, he pulled in for some intermediates. As he headed out of pit lane to start his next lap, it started to rain, and by the time he was halfway round the track, the dry line was completely gone, and his chance of provisional pole along with it.
In the end, it was the Frenchman Mathieu Lagrive who got it most right, topping the timesheets ahead of Hayes on the Parkalgar Honda, with Joan Lascorz and Gianluca Vizziello rounding out the front row. Kenan Sofuoglu continued to show just how much better he is on a Supersport bike than on a Superbike by setting the 5th fastest time, ahead of Gianluca Nanelli, with the Hoegee Suzukis of Barry Veneman and Didier van Keymeulen rounding out the second row. Jesco Gunther took 9th, while the 2008 World Supersport champion Andrew Pitt was down in 10th.
The disparity in times showed just how difficult the conditions were. Lagrive was 1.4 seconds faster than Hayes, while Hayes was 1.5 ahead of Lascorz. The top 10 are separated by 6.3 seconds.
The weather was slightly better for the World Superbike session, and for a while, it looked like being an all-British front row, with Ten Kate Honda's Johnny Rea, the HM Plant Hondas of Cal Crutchlow and Leon Haslam, and Ventaxia Honda's Chris Walker heading the timesheets. But by the end of the session, it was Troy Corser who took provisional pole, forcing Haslam down into 2nd, with the Ducatis of Michel Fabrizio and Ruben Xaus filling out the front row.
Heavy rain overnight on Thursday meant the inaugural day of practice got off to a late start here in Portugal. There are still problems with drainage, and parts of the track were flooded. What was worse was mud on the track, which had to be cleaned off before proceedings could start.
While the track was fixed quickly, facilities around the circuit are a little more problematic, with power being alternated between the pit garages and the hospitality area, the electricity supply blowing fuses with alarming regularity. And because the outside of the track is still basically a construction site, vast quantities of rich brown mud is being tramped everywhere. At least there is an army of cleaners keeping the buildings almost spotless, but they are having to work for their money.
When practice commenced, times dropped rapidly as rubber started to be laid on the brand new surface. During the first free practice session of World Supersport, Joan Lascorz started quickly, before Parkalgar Honda's Josh Hayes took over the top spot. The Mississippian was making good use of the track knowledge acquired here during testing last week, and was getting quicker when he crashed going into turn 1. He ended the session in 5th place. Joan Lascorz took back the top spot while Hayes limped back to the pits with a damaged bike.
Lascorz finished the session on top, ahead of Matthieu Lagrive, Kenan Sofuoglu, clearly much happier on a Supersport bike than he was on a Superbike, and the Dutch Hoegee Suzuki rider Barry Veneman.
MotoGPMatters.com is in Portimao this weekend, to cover the World Superbikes finale, but mostly, to seize the last chance of seeing Troy Bayliss out on track. This morning, we headed out to find the circuit and give it the once over, and we have to say that it's an impressive facility.