After a three week hiatus, The World Superbike series returns to action at the Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit at Imola, the third race of the year on Italian soil. The Ferrari circuit is a veritable roller coaster ride, with near-constant elevation changes and a plethora of challenging corners, both fast and slow. On the line this weekend is no less than the whole ball of wax; the championship itself. Imola has been the site of deciding battles for the title in World Superbikes before, the most notable being the epic two-race slugfest in 2002 between Colin Edwards and Troy Bayliss, but this year's race(s) will be a different kind of struggle.
Points leader Max Biaggi won't have the perverse luxury of being able to let it all hang out like Edwards and Bayliss and must keep an eye on the leaderboard and still ride hard enough to make a good showing on the day. In order to take the crown at Imola, Biaggi doesn't have to necessarily beat the only other rider with a shot at the title, Alstare Suzuki's Leon Haslam, but he does have to keep him from taking 8 points away from the Roman Emperor's 58 point cushion. Most importantly, Biaggi can't crash or finish very far down the order, thereby giving Haslam a shot at the final race of the year at Magny-Cours.
The Pocket Rocket has problems of his own, with knee and hand injuries lingering from his race one crash at the Nurburgring. Haslam, who had reportedly been sporting a leg brace that spanned from hip to ankle, knows that he must go all out and hope that Biaggi makes a mistake or that there are a large number of rolling roadblocks between him and the Aprilia rider. There won't be any shortage of willing participants in that last endeavor with a number of riders on hot streaks and a greater number looking to put themselves in the shop window for 2011.
'Tis The Season
A number of recent announcements have firmed up the team lineups for next season but there are still a few gaps to be filled. Alstare Suzuki hasn't made any announcements for next year, allegedly mostly because they don't know where the money to run the team is coming from. Leon Haslam looks ready to bolt to the factory BMW squad, who already have Troy Corser returning for 2011. BMW is also rumored to be considering James Toseland, who may slot into a rumored factory-backed satellite team.
The soon to be former Dynamic Ducati Duo of Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio have been keeping the rumormongers busy as well, with Haga allegedly slated to join an Aprilia satellite team salvaged from the carcasses of Marco Borciani's PATA team and DFX Corse. Fabrizio has reportedly been penciled in at Alstare, should they lose the services of Leon Haslam, probably alongside Sylvain Guintoli.
The factory Kawasaki effort is reportedly on the verge of re-signing Tom Sykes for another go-round, with long-time green WSS stalwart Joan Lascorz in the wings in case Chris Vermeulen's troublesome knee injury precludes an immediate return to action in 2011.
That old bugaboo, sponsorship, is rearing its ugly head at Ten Kate Honda, with any possible second rider announcement on hold, pending securing backing if long-time sponsor Hannspree doesn't re-committ. James Toseland is still being mentioned as that choice, if and when it happens.
However right or wrong these rumors turn out to be, we should know a lot more and the season should be somewhat less silly by the end of the weekend.