Three points. Three miserable stinkin' little points. That's what the World Superbike championship has come down to coming into the penultimate round at Magny Cours, in central France. Despite being the final round in the series from 2003 to 2007, Magny Cours has somehow never been one of those places where legendary battles to the finish happen. The closest that the the French circuit has came to deciding a title was in 2007 when this year's point leader Noriyuki Haga doubled to come as near as he ever has to winning a world championship, a mere two points behind James Toseland.
Haga is in the catbird seat, albeit just barely, after winning race 1 and taking second in Race 2 at Imola. Haga and Ducati have historically done well at the mostly flat French track, with 4 wins and eight podiums for Haga and 7 wins and 10 podiums for Ducati. Haga's showing at Imola confirms that the Rider Formerly Known as Nitro is recovered from his mid-season shoulder and arm injuries, or at least well enough that they don't matter much.
Ben Spies has, in contrast, never seen this place outside of Playstation (or whatever the video game it is that the kids use to learn new tracks), not that lack of track knowledge has been a huge impediment in his spectacular rookie season. Coming off a forgettable (for Spies, anyway) fourth and fifth at Imola, where wonky electronics settings, poor starts and the intermittently rotten Spies luck kept him from the front, Big Ben has to put those disappointments behind him on focus on the task at hand -- Beating Haga. Because, even though there are 100 points to give or get in the four races that remain, that's what the season has come down to for the two front-runners -- beating each other.
Not that the other players in the championship won't have points to prove on their own. Michel Fabrizio, whose race two win at Imola deprived his teammate of an extra 5 point advantage, is apparently not concerned with team harmony, despite statements that he'd try to help Haga when Ducati announced the duo's contract extension before Imola. Although Mr Fabulous lies in third place in the championship, it's a relatively distant 3rd at 61 points down. Team Manager Davide Tardozzi was reportedly very unhappy with the young Italian after race 2, despite his win.
Another hard-charging young rider who didn't make many friends at Imola, Ten Kate Honda's Jonny Rea, will also look to run at the front at Magny Cours, either around or through other riders, it doesn't seem to make much difference.
Max Biaggi, although not that young anymore (please don't tell Max I said that), will look to teach the kids a thing or two again in France. The Roman Emperor will be joined by newly crowned British superbike champion Leon Camier, who hopes to use this race as a springboard for a full-time gig on the world scene.
Off the track, there will reportedly be some personnel announcements, perhaps most notably a James Toseland/Ben Spies seat swap that will see the 2-time WSBK world champion ride with Yamaha in the SBK series and Spies in MotoGP in 2010.
As these days in this, the best World Superbike Series in recent memory, dwindle down to a precious few, every race looks to have the potential to be a cracker. Hopefully, Magny Cours will see a legend or two of its own created this weekend.