2009 MotoGP Assen Race Report - 21st Century Man

Numbers are funny things. On their own, they are meaningless, just abstract inventions, a way of keeping track, of measuring and quantifying objects. There is no intrinsic difference between the numbers 1, 4, 7, 12, 666 and 26017 other than their size. Yet stop someone on the street and ask them about those numbers and you will hear a host of opinions on those numbers, their meaning and whether they are good or bad, depending on who and where you happened to have stopped.

In most countries, the number 7 is greeted with enthusiasm, being considered lucky almost everywhere round the world. In Europe and America, the number 4 will barely register, but stay in a hotel in Asia, and you'll notice that there's no 4th floor, nor 14th or 24th for that matter. For the number 4 is considered very bad luck in Asia, as it sounds like the word for "death" in Chinese, Korean and Japanese. The number 666 will be greeted with fear in the more religious parts of the American Deep South, but go unnoticed in Cambodia. As for 26017, it will almost certainly be met with blank stares, unless the person you should stop to ask happens to be a mathematician, and immediately recognizes it as a prime number, a class of numbers math geeks tend to get terrifically excited about.

As these numbers attach themselves to events, their significance is magnified. One cold, dark winter night a few years ago, the entire world got caught up in a fit of festive abandon celebrating one number being replaced with another. Convention dictates that a new year begins on January 1st, and on that day 9 years ago, the most significant digit of the number used to designate years was incremented, increasing from 1999 to 2000. The 48 hour period spanning that moment saw very few major climatic, social or historical changes, yet almost the entire population of the planet attached a huge significance to that change, speaking endlessly of a new century, a new age and a new era.

History Man

That sense of anticipation, of foreboding almost, hung over Valentino Rossi at Assen. Thirteen days previously, the Italian had taken the 99th victory of his career, and speculation about the 100th had started literally seconds after he had crossed the line at Barcelona. He was getting used to it, for the storm had been brewing for a while.

Victory at Jerez had put him in line to take his 100th win at Mugello, if he could just win at Le Mans first. But a disastrous flag-to-flag race put paid to that plan. Another flag-to-flag race at Mugello saw his seven-year winning streak there dashed by the rain. Since then, talk of 100 victories abated a little, until Rossi crossed the line to take victory number 99 at Catalunya.

The manner of Rossi's victory at Barcelona helped mitigate some of the pressure. The breathtaking last lap and final corner pass over his team mate and title rival Jorge Lorenzo had the fans and followers full of the excitement of that race, rather than its significance as a stepping stone for Rossi's century. Even the questions at the pre-race press conference focused more on whether Assen would see a repeat of that blood-curdling last lap than on whether Rossi expected to take his 100th win here.

Rossi downplayed both possibilities. When asked about his 100th victory, he said his focus was on the championship, not winning a particular race. And he concurred with Jorge Lorenzo, who pointed out that Barcelona had been the exception rather than the rule, and that this was the first race since the switch to the 800cc formula that had come down to the last lap.

Hope Springs

The first session of free practice raised the possibility of both a Rossi victory and a close race. Thursday afternoon's session saw three men within 0.035 seconds of each other, and eleven riders all under two thirds of a second. Friday morning saw much greater gaps between the riders, but during qualifying in the afternoon, pole was decided by less than a tenth of a second, Rossi taking pole just ahead of Dani Pedrosa.

The gap to Jorge Lorenzo was larger this time, with Casey Stoner further back still. But after qualifying, Stoner had complained bitterly of being balked by other riders on his fast laps, singling out Toni Elias, Sete Gibernau and Loris Capirossi as riders who had sat on the racing line waiting for a tow from the Australian in the hope of improving their own time. Stoner's times on race tires looked good, Pedrosa was fast but his fitness still uncertain, and Lorenzo was blinding round the first half of the track but less sure-footed through the last, terrifying section. The chances were good that the Fantastic Four would be able to hold each other up and stick together round Assen's narrow and difficult track. If Rossi wanted his 100th win at Assen, he'd have to work for it.

As the lights dimmed, the shriek of nineteen 800cc engines being tortured to within inches of destruction filled the hallowed vaults of the Cathedral of racing, the vicious howl of Dani Pedrosa's Honda RC212V leading the wailing chorus into the first corner. Behind Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi had consolidated, getting off the line quickly, but not quickly enough to thwart Pedrosa. Casey Stoner, the other lightning starter, slotted in 3rd, ahead of an unleashed Chris Vermeulen, who had shot through from 7th on the grid to climb up to 4th.

While Stoner and Pedrosa were getting their trademark rocket starts, Jorge Lorenzo was going backwards. The Spaniard had bogged his engine off the line, giving away three places before even reaching the first turn. Lorenzo held his line on the outside of Colin Edwards at the Haarbocht, then hung on there at Madijk, but as they entered the tight loop of the new Ossebroeken corner, he was forced to surrender the position, and retired to Edwards' tail to await a second chance.

Then There Were Three

Taking a tighter line out of the Strubben hairpin and hugging the inside kerb at the Veenslang, first Rossi and then Stoner drew level with Pedrosa down the back straight, then passed before braking for the Ruskenhoek. Rossi looked like he had the edge, but Stoner waited just a fraction longer before applying the brakes, hogging the inside line into the right hander to take the lead before flicking left again.

With Stoner having taken over the lead, Pedrosa tried holding the inside line into the right part of the Ruskenhoek over Rossi to recover 2nd, but the Spaniard wasn't far enough ahead through the corner, and as they flicked back, Rossi held the inside line, and Pedrosa was forced to back off and accept 3rd.

Behind Vermeulen in 4th, Jorge Lorenzo had still not given up on getting past Colin Edwards, and tried diving up the inside into the Ruskenhoek, but found himself on the wrong side of the Texan as they rolled back right for the Stekkenwal. His poor position at the right hander did leave him with the chance to get extra drive, and through the narrow kink before De Bult, Lorenzo closed on Edwards, then slid past him into the left hander to take over 5th.

While Lorenzo headed off to start chasing down Vermeulen, Edwards was left fending off Andrea Dovizioso, the Repsol Honda rider pushing round the south end of the Assen circuit. A brave move saw Dovi dive through at the Ramshoek, but Edwards knows Assen well, and was back again on the run into the GT chicane.

Edwards and Dovi scrapping over 6th had allowed the front five to get a gap, and had started to bunch up a freight train of riders behind, with Nicky Hayden, Randy de Puniet, Toni Elias, Marco Melandri, Loris Capirossi and James Toseland bunched together like a giant multi-wheeled, multicolored caterpillar. This group, its composition only slightly altered, was about to embark on an epic scrap which would last all the way to the line.

Ahead of this bunch, Jorge Lorenzo was putting a move on Chris Vermeulen, taking over 4th position going into the Haarbocht. Further forward, Rossi was closing on Casey Stoner through Madijk, and holding a tighter line through the endless loop of Ossebroeken, slipped up the inside of Stoner and into the lead.

Runaway Train

At first, Stoner kept Rossi close, hounding the Italian all the way round the circuit, seeking a way back past and into the lead. But Rossi was putting a plan into effect that he had hatched that morning with his crew chief Jeremy Burgess, and was flying through the fastest part of the Assen circuit, hammering home even the slightest advantage he could find. He eked out a tenth, then a couple of tenths over Stoner, and the first inkling of a gap started to open.

Stoner could do nothing but let Rossi go, neither the Australian nor 3rd place man Dani Pedrosa capable of matching Rossi's pace. The only rider capable of that feat was behind the Ducati and the Honda, mounted on the other Fiat Yamaha. But though Jorge Lorenzo could match Rossi's pace, he had a problem, or rather a pair of them, in the shape of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa.

On lap 4 Lorenzo was past Pedrosa, but he still had Stoner to contend with. Lorenzo's pass had reignited Pedrosa's determination, and Pedrosa hung on grimly to Lorenzo, pushing to follow his compatriate forward to Stoner and Rossi. It was too much to ask, though, and braking hard for the Haarbocht, Pedrosa folded the front as he turned in for the corner, sliding harmlessly off over the tarmac and out of the race.

By now, Rossi was starting to escape, a contingency Lorenzo could not allow. Less than a lap after passing Pedrosa, the Spaniard was past Stoner as well, sliding his Fiat Yamaha inside the Ducati into the right hand entry to the Ruskenhoek and clear for the long left that followed. With empty track to Rossi, he could get after his team mate, and with 22 laps to go, he had plenty of time to do it in.

The problem was that Rossi was on fire, and posting lap after lap on or below the existing lap record. Lorenzo was faster in the first half of the track, closing by a tenth or so round the tight first section and the run down to the Stekkenwal. But from that point on, through the long section of right handers, and especially through the terrifyingly fast left-right flick of Hoge Heide and the run into the Ramshoek, Rossi edged away again, stretching his lead by another couple of tenths.

Try as he might, Lorenzo couldn't close on Rossi, but equally, Rossi couldn't escape. The lead ebbed and flowed, growing to just over 2 seconds, then dropping back to just over a second and a half. After the gap had grown to 2 seconds on lap 12, Lorenzo pushed once again, and over the course of the next 4 laps seemed to be slowly reeling Rossi in, with time in hand to pass. But on lap 17, Rossi responded once more and Lorenzo faded, exhausted by the effort of forcing his Yamaha through Hoge Heide at full throttle as he'd seen his team mate do. Lorenzo would not catch his veteran team mate today, and was forced to let Rossi go.


Rossi's lead grew explosively, the Italian now nearly half a second a lap faster than his team mate, and the fastest man on track by a huge margin. Victory was assured, but The Doctor was not content to cruise to a win. He flogged his bike round Assen's glorious asphalt, old and new, to underline the magnitude of his achievement. At a track which fills so many pages of the history books, Valentino Rossi crossed the line to add yet another chapter, taking his 100th victory and taking his place alongside Giacomo Agostini as only the second rider to do so.

Jorge Lorenzo had long since settled for 2nd, knowing that he had nothing for his team mate on Saturday. Lorenzo was content to leave the spotlights for Valentino Rossi, and give him his day in the sun. He had given his best, but there was nothing he could do to stop his team mate. Once again, though, Lorenzo had underlined his ability, the only man to get close to an unleashed Rossi, only flagging at the end.

Casey Stoner had flagged earlier, the mystery illness which had plagued him at Catalunya making an unwelcome return. Once back in the paddock, Stoner had trouble doing the obligatory TV interviews, finding it hard to speak without vomiting. That he had finished at all was a marvel, to have finished on the podium was an absolute miracle. The Australian struggled on to the podium, but afterwards was whisked straight to the Clinica Mobile, skipping the post-race podium press conference.

The Australian's health is worrying. Physically extremely fit, yet suffering from some kind of mystery virus which robs his strength once called upon to put in a consistent effort, Stoner's title challenge is under severe threat. There are just 8 days between the Assen and Laguna races, giving the Australian little time to recover and adding the perils of a germ-infested intercontintental flight to his list of problems. If the medical staff examining Stoner's health problems don't find a cause and a solution soon, it will be hard for Stoner to maintain his charge.

Colin Edwards came home in 4th, equaling his best result of the season. The Texan had another strong ride on the Tech 3 Yamaha, confirming the strength of Yamaha's M1 MotoGP bike and the Texan's continuing form. Edwards had a little help from Andrea Dovizioso, who had passed him earlier but crashed out in exactly the same place and exactly the same manner as his Repsol Honda team mate Dani Pedrosa, folding the front in turn 1. But a 4th place finish for Edwards is just the fillip the Texan needs going into his home race, and Edwards is surely ready for Laguna Seca.

Chris Vermeulen brought his Rizla Suzuki across the line to a comfortable 5th place finish. Vermeulen had dropped off the pace early, but as the race progressed he consolidated his position, his best finish of the year never in doubt for the remainder. This was just the kind of result that Vermeulen needed, as his name is at the top of a long list of riders expected to be shown the door at the end of the season, and top 5 placings are the only kind of result that can keep the Australian in MotoGP. With Laguna Seca coming up, a track that Vermeulen has podiumed at twice and never finished outside the top 5, the Australian looks set to buy himself some bargaining power.

The Meaningless War

The 97,000 fans who had gathered at Assen on Saturday came hoping for a race to match Catalunya, and they got all that and more. Unfortunately, they got it in the race for 6th rather than the lead, a race-long no-holds-barred slugging match unfolding with never fewer than 6 riders involved. James Toseland, Randy de Puniet, Nicky Hayden, Mika Kallio, Loris Capirossi, Toni Elias and Alex de Angelis neither asked for nor gave any quarter at all, seeking any opportunity to pass or be passed.

At Madijk and Ossebroeken, Strubben and Veenslang, Ruskenhoek and Stekkenwal places changed hands. At Meeuwenmeer and Hoge Heide, passes were planned, riders lining up the pass at the fast left of Ramshoek. But the climax came at the GT chicane, lap after lap, with six or more riders fanning out three or more abreast for the run through the chicane and onto start and finish.

Toseland and Hayden had made the early running, while Kallio came further forward as the race progressed. Elias and Capirossi were the wildcards, shooting forward and dropping back, their positions changing from corner to corner and lap to lap.

In the end it was James Toseland who came out on top, crossing the line in 6th after an outstanding race to make it 4 Yamahas in the top 6, underlining his ability when conditions are right. At Assen, Toseland received help from Masahiko Nakajima with the setup to his bike, making radical changes to handlebar, footpeg and suspension settings, and the assistance from Yamaha's MotoGP team director immediately paid dividends. A day later, Toseland was in the World Superbike paddock talking about options for 2010, but his strong 6th place finish will have earned him some extra credit in negotiations both in World Superbikes and in MotoGP.

Randy de Puniet put in another solid performance to finish 7th, scoring yet more points and underlining his growing maturity. De Puniet was the first Honda across the line, and the LCR team is showing an ability to score regular and reliable results. Once considered a wild and uncontrollable crasher, de Puniet has now finished 12 races in a row, only crashing twice in practice this season. More is yet to come from the Frenchman.

Nicky Hayden crossed the line in 9th, but was promoted to 8th after Toni Elias was penalized for his last-gasp efforts into the GT chicane. Hayden had his best result of the year, and more importantly, had been able to run with the fight for 6th all race long. Though Ducati is still a long way from being out of the woods, a decent finish is just what Hayden needed in preparation for Laguna Seca.

Loris Capirossi was the victim of Toni Elias' last-corner pass, running out wide and forcing the Italian off line and across the astroturf. Capirossi was furious, though content enough to have grabbed a decent finish with 9th. The Italian veteran had looked strong in the group, and seems to have a good chance of extending his Rizla Suzuki contract at the end of the year.

The only rider from the group scrapping for 6th not to cross the line was Mika Kallio, cruelly crashing out at the Ramshoek on the final lap, just two corners short of the line. Kallio had once again underlined his potential on the bike, leading the group until he slid off and injured his finger. The Pramac Ducati rider also gave Ducati hope, with both Kallio and Hayden well inside the top 10 for most of the race, showing that maybe the changes they have made to the Desmosedici GP9 are starting to pay off.

Applicants Form A Line Here

Alex de Angelis came home in 10th, having dropped off the back of the big group with a few laps to go, but after several races where the Gresini Honda man has been struggling just to score points, a top 10 finish is a bit of a relief. Gresini announced that they had signed Marco Simoncelli for next season, a team spokesman making it clear that they were unlikely to be retaining the services of either de Angelis or Elias next year, so both men are now auditioning for seats elsewhere.

Marco Melandri, like de Angelis, had been unable to follow the pace of the group and had dropped off the back early, eventually finishing 11th. Melandri is the hot favorite for the Gresini seat alongside Simoncelli, and his consistent results on a bike which is out of development and clearly struggling are showing Melandri's class every race weekend.

The time penalty Toni Elias received dropped the Spaniard down to 12th, but like his Gresini Honda team mate de Angelis, Elias was happy to be competitive again.

Much further back, Sete Gibernau crossed the line to finish an anonymous 13th, par for the course for the Spaniard. One is left to wonder just what motivates the man who once challenged Rossi for the title to carry on, with no prospect of improvement imminent.

Gibernau had got the better of Niccolo Canepa and Yuki Takahashi in the first half of the race, leaving the Pramac Ducati rider and the Team Scot Honda man to scrap over 14th. Canepa had the upper hand for most of the race, but Takahashi overcame the Italian with 4 laps to go. His victory was a Pyrrhic one, though, as rumors suggest that Assen was his last race for Team Scot. Niccolo Canepa will live to ride another day, but only until the end of the season, and he is shipped off to World Superbikes.

The last man to cross the line was Gabor Talmacsi, due to be the sole rider in the Team Scot garage from Laguna onwards. In just his second race of the season, Talmacsi has continued to make good progress, his fastest lap now within just two tenths of his team mate's, and closing on the far more experienced riders ahead. It can't be long before Talmacsi is no longer last across the line and scoring points on his own merit.

Of Statistics, Numerology And Emotion

As forgettable as the racing may have been, the 79th running of the Dutch TT at Assen will go down in the history books forever. Valentino Rossi's 100th victory was taken in style and in a setting already so steeped in history. As he crossed the line, the crowd knew they would be treated to a special celebration, the question which remained was just what would it be? Rossi stopped in front of his fan club, and together they unrolled a banner showing photos of each of his 99 previous victories, and the number 100 beside it. It was a worthy display celebrating an astonishing career, and underlining just how remarkable this achievement is.

Viewed through the cold eyes of statistics, Rossi's 100th win was no more significant than his 92nd or 97th. He may have became only the second man in history to have scored 100 wins, but the week before, he had become only the second man in history to have scored 99 wins, and the same could be said of all his victories since Mugello last year, when he finally scored more wins that Angel Nieto.

Rossi's score is only remarkable because the most significant digit merely rolled round again, turning a two digit number into a three digit number, from 99 to 100. The fuss exists because we count in base 10, not base 8, base 11 or base 16. History will not be written again until Rossi has chalked up another 22 victories, to match Giacomo Agostini's total of 122 all-class wins.

The cold, rational head may know this, but the heart says something else. The sight of that banner, showing the progress of Rossi from a young boy racer to a MotoGP legend made tangible just what 100 victories actually means. The number 100 may have no significance on its own, but those 100 wins surely do. No records were broken at Assen, but history was made, of that there is no doubt.

Total votes: 180
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2009 World Superbikes And World Supersport Report - Championships Shaken Up

The previous round of World Superbikes at Misano looked to have been a pivotal point in the season. After another dominant win in race 1, Ben Spies lost championship points he could ill afford in race 2, suffering with mechanical problems for the third time this year. For every three steps that Spies took towards Haga, mechanical problems seemed to force him two steps back.

So Ben Spies arrived at Donington with extra help in the garage, in the shape of Greg Wood, his former mechanic with Yoshimura Suzuki, a team where he never suffered a single mechanical DNF in all his time there. The arrival of Woody was meant to put an end to all the costly mistakes that had been sucking the life out of Spies' rookie title challenge.

Spies laid out his statement of intent during qualifying, taking pole for the 8th time in 9 races, and marking Jakub Smrz' pole at Misano out as an aberration rather than a feat likely to be repeated. And off the line in race 1, Spies underlined his determination to turn the title chase around by leaping into Redgate corner first and ahead of the pack, and attempting to make his escape. His plan was only partly successful, in that he left the pack behind him, but he brought Max Biaggi and Noriyuki Haga trailing in his wake.

Like Spies, Biaggi had been vociferous in his complaints about the Aprilia RSV4, the competitiveness of the bike being extremely unpredictable. At Donington, there was no doubt about its performance, Biaggi following Spies early with relative ease.

Behind Biaggi, Haga was having a little more trouble following. The Xerox Ducati rider was on Biaggi in the early laps, and probing for a way past and on towards Spies, but his efforts were not to last, fading after 6 laps and dropping off the back of the leaders.

Lap after lap, Spies tried to shake off the stalking Aprilia, but his efforts were in vain. Both men were stronger in different parts of the track, Spies brilliant through the terrifying swoop of Hollywood and Craner, and the back end of the circuit through to McLeans. But from Coppice through the Foggy Esses and up and down the Melbourne loop, Biaggi was back, showing off the Aprilia's phenomenal stability on the brakes in the tight corners leading back onto the straight.

The gap never dropped under a second, and Biaggi looked set to make a move on the final lap. Anticipating this, Spies pushed extra hard in the first section of the track, extending his lead to just over half a second, making a passing attempt difficult at best for Biaggi. Entering the Melbourne Loop, Biaggi had closed just enough to possibly attempt a last-gasp lunge into the final corner, but on the exit of Melbourne, Biaggi suddenly slowed, then started weaving violently, until his engine fired back into life again. A fuel feed problem had caused the engine to cut out, taking with it any hopes Biaggi may have had for an inaugural win on the Aprilia. Spies went on to take an easy victory, with Biaggi's bike restarting just in time for him to stay ahead of Noriyuki Haga and hold on to 2nd. Haga's 3rd place helped limit the points damage Haga suffered to Spies to just 9 points, leaving him with a 39 point advantage.

Just off the podium, Shane Byrne, Leon Haslam and Shinya Nakano battled all race long over 4th. Byrne looked to have the best cards for most of the race, but the British veteran finally succumbed to his younger compatriot at Redgate as they started lap 17. Haslam went on to take 4th, while Byrne settled for 5th ahead of Nakano.

World Superbikes Race 1 Result

Spies didn't get off the line as quickly in race 2 as he had earlier in the afternoon. The Texan was swamped by a couple of Aprilias, but Spies was quickly past with a brave move round the outside of Redgate, and normal service had been resumed by the time they reached the bottom of the hill for the Old Hairpin.

Once again it was Max Biaggi chasing after Spies, but instead of Haga on his tail, it was the Aprilia of his team mate Shinya Nakano. Haga had had less luck off the line and been forced to permit Leon Haslam and Johnny Rea to get ahead of him, though Haga was back past Rea at the Melbourne Loop.

But Spies was escaping once again. Biaggi and Haga put their heads down to chase, but on lap 3, Biaggi slid out gracefully entering the Melbourne Loop. Biaggi had gone down uninjured, but impetuous to get back in the race, he leapt aboard his Aprilia RSV4 and rejoined the race without looking behind him, slamming in to Celani's Alessandro Polita and breaking his own foot. His race was effectively over.

A lap later, so was Noriyuki Haga's. In a horrific repeat of Troy Bayliss' accident in 2007, Haga went down at Coppice. Bayliss was injured badly enough - he lost part of his little finger and suffered what the press release referred to eye-wateringly as "groin injuries" - but Haga came off even worse. His Xerox Ducati tumbled through the gravel together with Haga, landing heavily on the Japanese rider several times before coming to a standstill. Haga eventually got up, but was clearly hurt.

At first it was feared that Haga had fractured a couple of vertebrae in the accident, and he was airlifted to a local hospital, but later in the evening CAT scans revealed that the vertebrae had not been injured recently, leaving the Japanese rider to deal with "just" a broken bone in his forearm and suspected broken shoulder blade.

The competition behind him gone, so was Spies. The Texan backed off just enough to hold on to a comfortable lead all the way to the end of the race, his supremacy never challenged. Afterwards, the Texan said it was more difficult to concentrate in race 2 than in race 1, as he hadn't had to push quite so hard.

The disappearance of Biaggi and Haga left Leon Haslam sitting in 2nd with Michel Fabrizio right on his tail. Behind Fabrizio, Shane Byrne was closing once again, arriving with the pair fighting for 2nd on lap 9. The trio could not agree on who was to lead the chase, Fabrizio passing Haslam only to be passed back, before allowing Byrne past to try his luck with the Stiggy Honda rider.

Eventually, an unquiet truce was reached, Haslam leading from Byrne and Fabrizio, the three separated by gaps too large to bridge easily, but too small to be permanent. In the final 6 laps, the three bunched up once again, and with 4 left to go, Fabrizio was back past Byrne at the Esses. The order looked far from settled, no one actually able to pass though this didn't prevent them from trying, and meanwhile, Spies Yamaha team mate Tom Sykes was closing down the trio fighting over 2nd all the while.

In the end, they crossed the line in unchanged order, Leon Haslam taking 2nd and Michel Fabrizio picking up the final podium spot, Shane Byrne forced to settle for 4th. The gap to Byrne had proved too large for Tom Sykes to cross, and the Yorkshireman was left to finish 5th.

Race 2 was marred by crashes, of which Haga's and Biaggi's were only the most prominent in that they took place closest to the front. The sun had started to shine a little during the race, heating the asphalt and making the track slipperier than in the cooler conditions of race 1.

The slipperiness of the track cost Noriyuki Haga dearly. He came into the meeting with a comfortable lead over Ben Spies of 48 points, but he left in a medical helicopter with his lead cut to just 14 points. If Haga's injuries are not as severe as at first feared, there is a chance he could return at Brno in four weeks time, but he is unlikely to be fully fit even under the most positive of circumstances. With Spies in his current voracious form, being fully fit is the only chance that Haga has of withstanding the Texan's onslaught. After Kyalami, Haga had an 88 point lead. By the time the World Superbike Championship leaves Brno, that lead could be gone altogether.

World Superbikes Race 2 result

World Superbike championship standings after Donington

Like World Superbikes, the World Supersport series has been developing into a two-horse race, with Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow and Parkalgar Honda's Eugene Laverty disputing the championship lead. So far, it has been fairly evenly matched, with Crutchlow holding the upper hand thanks to a poor result at Valencia by Laverty. Last time out at Misano, Crutchlow had eked out another 5 points, extending his lead to 14 points and making it crucial for Laverty to beat Crutchlow at Donington.

After breaking an ankle in practice, Laverty's prospects were looking up, but the broken ankle had not prevented Crutchlow from taking his 6th pole of the year. But it was Kenan Sofuoglu who led off the line, only for Crutchlow to dive underneath to take back the lead. Crutchlow's lead was also not to last long, as within a couple of corners, the Motocard Kawasaki of Joan Lascorz was past and into the lead, while behind Crutchlow, Eugene Laverty had wrestled his Parkalgar Honda onto the tail of the Yamaha.

By the end of the first lap, the front three had a gap back to 4th place man Kenan Sofuoglu, Lascorz, Crutchlow and Laverty all lapping faster than the Ten Kate Honda rider. The race seemed set for a three-way fight for victory, but as the trio rounded the Melbourne Loop for the third time, Laverty lost the rear of his Honda, sliding out while desperately grasping on to the clutch of his bike.

The Irishman had managed to keep the bike running, and because it was a low-speed spill, the bike was relatively undamaged. But falling in the early laps meant that by the time he rejoined, he was way down in 26th, 18 seconds off Crutchlow's pace. If Laverty was to avoid giving Crutchlow a huge lead in the title chase, he would have his work cut out for him.

Crutchlow was quick to seize the opportunity. With just Lascorz to contend with, he would not look a gift horse in the mouth. A lap later, Crutchlow was past Lascorz at the Foggy Esses, then off to the races. Lascorz tried to follow at first, but the pace the young Englishman was setting was too much for the Spaniard to cope with.

Crutchlow went on to take victory unchallenged, his 4th of the season, one more than Laverty. If his ankle injury had been troubling him, it was not enough to prevent him from dominating the World Supersport field and taking victory at Donington. The Briton now has four weeks to recover before the next round at Brno.

Lascorz came home a lonely 2nd, the Glaner Motocard Kawasaki rider continuing his string of excellent results. The Spaniard has built on his form from last year, and is maturing into a competitive rider in the Supersport class.

Garry McCoy made a welcome return to the podium in 3rd place, the first for the Triumph 675 in the World Supersport championship. The Australian veteran had gotten past Kenan Sofuoglu at the halfway mark of the race, and soon dropped the Ten Kate man, leaving Sofuoglu in 4th.

After his silly mistake on lap 3, Eugene Laverty set about making amends. For the remainder of the race, the Irishman put on a display of passing which was stunning to watch. From 26th on lap 3, he was up to 18th on lap 6, then 11th by lap 9. Laverty was now 3.5 seconds down on the group scrapping for 6th, and took just 2 laps to bridge the gap. Another lap saw him up into 8th behind Gianluca Vizziello and Barry Veneman, one more past the two Hondas and up into 6th.

By now it was too late to catch the leader, Crutchlow already 25 seconds ahead, while catching Fabien Foret in 6th nearly 9 seconds ahead also seemed too much to ask. But Laverty got a lucky break, and Foret was forced to pull out after his Yamaha caught fire in the closing laps. Thanks to a superb ride, Laverty had cut his losses, conceding just 14 points to Crutchlow in the championship. But at the end of the season, those 14 points through a moment of carelessness could well be very expensive indeed.

After Donington, the World Supersport championship remains a two-horse race. Only now, one of the two horses has taken a clear lead. Eugene Laverty has his work cut out for the rest of the season.

World Supersport race result

World Supersport championship standings after Donington

Total votes: 168
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2009 MotoGP Assen Preview - The Low Low Lands Of Holland

Ask someone to describe the landscape of Holland, and they won't usually need more than a single word. "Flat" is the adjective most commonly used in relation to The Netherlands, as anyone who has ever made the trek from Amsterdam up to Assen will acknowledge. Heading southeast out of Amsterdam, past the wooded wealth of Hilversum and 't Gooi, then turning northeast at Amersfoort to head through the heart of Holland's bible belt - Putten, Nunspeet, Staphorst - then past Zwolle, and north to Assen, the countryside may vary - the open fields surrounded by canals east of Diemen, the closely-wooded villas of Hilversum, the thin, sandy soil of the pine woods which form the Veluwe national park - but the inclination rarely does.

The irony is that for most of the trip, you are actually traveling uphill. Along the course of the 180 kilometers from Amsterdam to Assen, you will have gained a full 9 meters of elevation. If you picked up a hire car at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, you can almost double that figure, climbing from 4 meters below sea level to nearly 12 at the TT circuit in Assen. As paltry as that difference may seem, it betrays a fundamental difference between Holland's coastal region and its more ancient northern towns, and the heart of Dutch motorcycle racing.

The area surrounding Amsterdam truly is flat: reclaimed from the sea and inland lakes just a few hundred years ago, the land and will barely trouble a spirit level. But as you head north and east, you leave the reclaimed land behind and venture into The Netherlands' glacial past. To the naked eye the land seems as flat as ever, if a little less neatly ordered, but the soil was dumped here by retreating glaciers many thousands of years ago, and then covered by peat bogs and dissected by a maze of creeks, brooks and channels, trickling water away towards the newly returned North Sea.

The World Is Flat

This long and ancient history has added a richness of texture to the land which is absent further west, a texture which lies at the heart of Assen's TT Circuit. At first glance it too is flat, but as you ride around it, you start to understand, even feel its history. Though the peat bogs and creeks have been drained, they have left their mark indelibly on the landscape. The track rises and falls subtly, sudden dips combining with the harsh camber of certain stretches of the track to generate a synergy aimed at unsettling even the most perfectly setup of bikes and ruining any chance of a smooth line through Assen's many tire-blistering corners.

Those rises and dips are almost entirely absent from the new North Loop, barely just scar tissue over the memory of its former glory, but once out of the horrifically tight Strubben hairpin, you plunge back through time onto the older part of the track, and ancient geology starts nudging and jolting the bike as once it used to. Down the Veenslang (or Peat Snake, though now one pulled taut, its former sinewy course straightened) and into the Ruskenhoek, the track is still smooth, though the camber starts to return. But once through the Stekkenwal and the fast left at De Bult, the old track regains its full vitality and history is made flesh, or rather asphalt again.

Through the long sequence of right handers - Mandeveen, Duikersloot, Meeuwenmeer - the bikes gain speed, their suspension unsettled by the continuous crossing of the crown of the track as they head from apex to apex. Then up a gear and full on the gas, top gear briefly selected through the Hoge Heide right-hand flick before launching over the crown of the track again, braking ready to pull the bike hard left at Ramshoek, front and rear tires leaving thick black lines while setting up for the GT Chicane and the last chance to pass before crossing the line to finish the lap.

That final section remains one of the glories of motorcycle racing, and one of the best places to pass on any track in the world. The Strubben hairpin will allow you to dive underneath someone, while the big left-right flick at Ruskenhoek offers another chance on the brakes, but there's nothing sweeter than lining someone up through Meeuwenmeer and Hoge Heide before slicing underneath into the Ramshoek, then blocking for all you are worth into the GT Chicane. That final chicane has been judge and jury at many a race, with more lines through it than Grand Central Station. They once called this track the Cathedral, and though much of its glory is gone, plenty remains. They may have demolished the nave and the wings, but the altar remains, a place to worship the gods of speed.

The Power And The Glory

Less than two weeks ago, last lap overtaking made dramatic return to MotoGP in one of the most thrilling final laps in recent history. After swapping the lead three times, Jorge Lorenzo headed into the final corner in front of his team mate Valentino Rossi, convinced he had the win in the bag. But as brilliant a rider as Lorenzo had just proved himself to be, he was a poor student of history, as Valentino Rossi came back inside Lorenzo through that final corner, crossing the line to take victory. It was a trick he had learned two years earlier from Casey Stoner.

If Rossi's move at Catalunya caught Lorenzo unawares, the Spaniard knows full well that if he enters Assen's final GT Chicane with his team mate on his tail, he can expect an attack. Lorenzo gave cast iron proof of his talent in Barcelona, pushing Valentino Rossi to the limits of his ability to beat him, and his former reticence to discuss his title chances are now gone. With the top three riders - Lorenzo, team mate Rossi and Ducati's Casey Stoner - all equal in the points after Catalunya, the title race starts all over again at Assen, with each of the top 3 in with a fair chance of the championship.

Lorenzo has an excellent record at Assen, winning twice in the 250 class and once in the 125s, and on his current form, he has to be in with a chance of victory again in Holland. One statistic that may be worrying Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner: The last two times that Jorge Lorenzo won here at Assen, he went on to become World Champion.

Like Lorenzo - and like so many of the riders in the paddock - Valentino Rossi still rates Assen as one of his favorite tracks, even after the alterations. And with good cause, the Italian has a total of 5 wins here, 3 of them in the MotoGP class, including a masterful victory over Casey Stoner in 2007. But there have been lows to go with the highs. Last year, an impetuous first-lap pass at the Strubben hairpin, in an attempt to overcome a poor starting position, saw Rossi slide out of the race, taking a furious Randy de Puniet with him. Two years prior, Rossi was one of the first victims of the newly-remodeled circuit, crashing heavily at the Ramshoek on cold tires and fracturing his wrist. Many others have followed his mistake, including Toni Elias, Loris Capirossi, and John Hopkins, and the corner remains one of the most treacherous on the circuit.

Rossi needs another high here at Assen on Saturday. The Doctor drew level in the points with his historic victory at Catalunya, but more importantly, he regained some of the momentum which had gone out of his title defense after Le Mans and Mugello. Rossi needs to carry that momentum into Assen, and impose his will on his team mate and Casey Stoner, the two men who are threatening his supremacy.

The History Man

A win in Holland would also suit Rossi's sense of history: at this historic track, the only circuit which has been on the MotoGP calendar since the start of the series in 1949, and a venue which has seen motorcycle racing since 1925, Rossi could take his 100th victory and join the legendary Giacomo Agostini as the only men with triple digit wins. At one of his favorite circuits, with the weight of history and the pressure of necessity behind him, it would take a very brave or very foolish person to bet against Rossi winning at Assen.

The third member of the MotoGP triumvirate will be equally bent on stopping Rossi from doing just that. Casey Stoner rolled up at Assen in 2008 and utterly dominated, from the moment the bikes hit the track to the point at which they waved the checkered flag. The Australian suffered a setback last time out at Catalunya, felled by a stomach flu which robbed him of his strength in the Spanish heat and humidity, only just managing to hold on to 3rd there, and tying the championship.

But Stoner enters Assen full of confidence. The Ducati GP9 has had its best results at some of its worst tracks, such as Jerez, Le Mans and (oddly enough) Mugello, and coming into a run of tracks where the Ducati has excelled, Stoner is sure that he can take some more wins and take control of the title race. Now back to full fitness, he will be looking to put the Fiat Yamahas back in their place.

The trio of title contenders was once a foursome, but injury and misfortune have dogged Dani Pedrosa this season, something always seeming to prevent the Spaniard from being competitive. Still in severe pain with a fractured femur, Pedrosa will try to ride without any of the painkilling injections he used in Barcelona, but whether that is possible will remain to be seen. Any doubts that remained about Pedrosa's toughness have been completely removed, but some must remain about the wisdom of his insistence on riding. Assen is a physically demanding track with a lot of fast right handers, making it difficult to ride with an injured right hip.

With the combination of the treacherous Ramshoek's reputation for breaking riders' bones and Dani Pedrosa's awful injury luck this year, a wiser course of action might be to sit the race out and wait for his leg to heal. Despite his excellent results here over the years, racing at Assen is a big risk for Pedrosa.

The Fifth Man

With Pedrosa out of the top four, his Repsol Honda team mate Andrea Dovizioso is keen to take his place there. Dovizioso has come tantalizingly close to a podium for the last three races in a row, and is now desperate to finally get on the box. The Italian has shown great talent and speed so far this year, and has mainly been let down by the Honda RC212V. But Dovizioso comes to Assen with a new chassis, tested after the Barcelona race, which improves corner entry and allowed Dovi to finish the test atop the timesheets, improving on his best lap set during qualifying. Assen could be Dovizioso's chance to mix it with the top three for the first time this season, and if he does, it is unlikely to be the last.

With the Yamaha unquestionably the best bike on the grid at the moment, there is one more name to be added to the list of possible victors here in Holland. Assen is one of the three tracks at which Colin Edwards goes well enough to be able to take victory, and after a miserable time at Le Mans, the first of those opportunities, the Texan will be out for victory. The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider has shown he is still hungry and capable of racing, taking a 4th and a host of 6th and 7th places.

Edwards feels like Assen owes him, after a stupid mistake in the final GT Chicane saw him spin up the rear and run off the track after a brilliant pass on Nicky Hayden in 2006, robbing him of his first potential victory. The Yamaha is handling brilliantly, Edwards is riding well and should be capable of matching the pace of the front runners. A win in MotoGP has been a long time coming for Edwards, and the Texan wants it more than anything else in the world. There is more than an outside chance that he will succeed here on Saturday.

Edwards has already had some small revenge here for 2006, after Nicky Hayden ran out of gas here on the final corner last year, handing a guaranteed podium finish to the Texan. But Hayden is unlikely to be in the same position again this year. The Kentucky Kid has suffered Melandri Syndrome so far this season, as once again the Ducati proves impossible to tame for anyone except Casey Stoner. Melandri and Hayden are both proven riders with a record of wins, and World Champions to boot, but neither of them have got a handle on the capricious nature of the Ducati GP9.

Hayden has been further hampered by the reduction in practice time and testing, preventing him from working the way he has done in the past, going out and putting thousands of laps on a bike to try and get a handle on it. Some tweaks before the Catalunya round saw Hayden come out well in the first session of practice, up into 6th, but he finished the race in 10th, and was then second slowest during the test that followed the race on Monday, his time slower than his fastest race lap. At the site of his only victory outside of the USA, Hayden is heading for another long and dispiriting weekend.

The Comeback Kid

Marco Melandri knows exactly how that feels. Assen last year was the place where negotiations to dissolve his two-year contract with Ducati first started, as the former 250 champion rode round near the back of the field with the Kawasakis. But since starting to race on the cast-off Kawasaki run by the Hayate team, he has shown flashes of the brilliance which won him the Ducati deal in the first place. On a clearly outclassed machine, Melandri already has a podium finish and is 7th in the championship, with the two Suzuki factory machines behind him and the Yamaha of Colin Edwards the only satellite bike ahead of him.

Sadly for Melandri, the Hayate's run of good fortune is nearing an end. As development continues on the other machines, they are starting to outpace the Kawasaki once again, and Melandri can only hope for wet conditions to shine again. Though Thursday and Friday promise to be hot and sunny, there's a decent chance of at least a shower on Saturday, and so Melandri may be in with a chance of salvaging another podium, and further improving his chances of a better ride next year.

The Hayate's lack of development is underlined by the efforts Ducati are putting in to fix the problems with the Desmosedici GP9. The factory team has had new parts to test, but those parts have also been given to the Pramac team in the hope of finding at least one other rider who can reliably perform on the bike. A new carbon fiber swingarm allowed Mika Kallio to set the 4th fastest time in testing after Barcelona, but the Finn must be wary of false dawns.

Kallio was fast during the preseason testing at Jerez, and finished 8th in the two opening round, but since then, he has struggled, with mechanical problems, with crashes and with just plain poor results. A 9th in Catalunya were the first signs of revival for Kallio, which he built on in the post race test. At Assen, he will get another chance to see whether this was just another blip, or whether he can start to reap the rewards of his obvious talent.

His team mate Niccolo Canepa comes to Assen also hoping for some improvement, and at least the Italian rookie knows the track. Canepa raced here in 2007, the year he won the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup, though he finished just 6th here in that race. Going on the Italian's form so far this year, it will be his one and only season in MotoGP, and he will return either to a testing role or to World Superbikes next season.

Back To The Old House

Another rider likely to head to World Superbikes in 2010 is James Toseland. The two-time World Superbike champion has failed to get on with the Bridgestone spec tires, and is languishing in the lower half of the field. He may have made small steps forward recently, but with the Fiat Yamaha team finishing on the podium in every race (both of them in four out of six races) and his Tech 3 team mate Colin Edwards consistently in the top 7, Toseland is manifestly falling well short of the bike's potential. Toseland's name has been linked with Ten Kate, Yamaha Motor Italia, Suzuki, even Aprilia, so at least he is assured of a top ride if he does return to the World Superbike paddock.

Toseland's problems are exacerbated by the fact that the Tech 3 Yamaha is the most hotly pursued of the options for next year's class entrants, with names like Marco Simoncelli and Ben Spies in line to take Toseland's ride. Assen is a track where JT has won in World Superbikes, and as such is as good a place as any to start on the road to redemption. If Toseland can recapture his old World Superbikes magic at Assen, he may prevent having to return there.

If JT does go back to World Superbikes, he could be joined by Chris Vermeulen. The Australian has done little better than Toseland this year, and like the Yorkshireman, Vermeulen is sitting in another favorite rookie destination. Suzuki are exempt from the so-called rookie rule, which prevents new entrants into MotoGP signing directly with a factory team, and as such there are riders such as Alvaro Bautista eyeing Vermeulen's ride. Assen is a track that Vermeulen likes and goes well at, and he may get a helping hand from Assen's weather. If, as predicted, the race is disrupted by rain showers on Saturday, Vermeulen might just feature at the front again. But it will take more than another strong result in the rain for Vermeulen to keep his job. Suzuki are starting to feel they need more than just a one-trick pony.

His veteran team mate, on the other hand, seems to go from strength to strength. Loris Capirossi, a youthful 36 years of age, is rapidly closing on 300 Grand Prix starts and needs just 1 more podium to reach the 100 mark. Capirex has clearly been getting the absolute utmost out of the Rizla Suzuki, leading his home Grand Prix at Mugello at the end of last month and coming very close to getting on the podium there. Suzuki are bringing engine upgrades to Assen, but they are only being applied very sparingly, with the number of parts available limited. The bike needs more top speed, though it now has a little more drive out of corners. Assen is not a track that requires outright top speed, but drive and maneuverability is all the more important. A podium for Capirossi at Assen is unlikely, but he should be close to the front runners once again.

Promises, Promises

Toni Elias would kill for some upgrades. The Spaniard is the latest victim of the curse of the factory-supported satellite Honda. Like Marco Melandri before him, the promised support from the factory never seems to materialize, partly as a result of financial constraints, and partly due to Honda choosing to focus on the factory team because the RC212V is failing to stack up against the Yamaha and the Ducati. So Elias is stuck on the bike as it was delivered prior to the start of the season and struggling for grip. Adding to his woes are the spec tires, with Elias the worst victim of the stiff carcass Bridgestones.

His team mate is in even worse straits. Alex de Angelis has had the occasional flash of brilliance, but mostly he has been just inside the top 15 and scoring points. While his prospects are not good for MotoGP, he could be one of the first riders to sign up for the Moto2 class, which replaces the 250s in 2010. The San Marinese rider was always a better 250 rider than a MotoGP man, and the smaller Moto2 bikes combined with his experience of setting up four-stroke machines may put leave him perfectly placed to become the first champion in the new class, if he makes the switch.

Gabor Talmacsi has just jumped the other way, having switched from the 125 class to the 250s for this season, then leaving the 250 class after a dispute over image rights with his Aspar-run Balatonring team. Suddenly, two weeks ago, he turned up on the Team Scot Honda bike which he is sharing with Yuki Takahashi. His first outing was very much as expected, finishing last but getting faster and closer to the pace in every session. The former 125 World Champion is clearly talented, and will suit the MotoGP bikes once he gets up to speed on them. It's just that that may take some time yet.

His team mate Yuki Takahashi has singly failed to adjust to the MotoGP class. The Japanese rider did very well on the 250 Honda last year, but so far he's been making up the numbers and little else. Takahashi's seat is under threat, as Talmacsi has brought sponsorship into the team, and the Japanese rider's response was to crash out at Catalunya while clearly pushing too hard. Takahashi will be riding at Assen with a broken finger, but with the possibility of rain on Saturday, and only one bike each, where the team's priorities lie should become apparent over the choices they make if there is a flag-to-flag race. Someone may have to stay along the sidelines on Saturday, and Takahashi is the most likely candidate.

Sete Gibernau resembles the Assen circuit in several ways. Both were once was towering giants of MotoGP, but time has been cruel to both of them. Gibernau, a former GP winner, is mostly making up the numbers; quite a change for the man who once challenged Valentino Rossi for the title. But since his return, he has been a pale shadow of his former self. Gibernau is struggling with the Ducati, just like everyone but Stoner is, and is still having problems with his shoulder, especially after breaking his collarbone for the umpteenth time. Gibernau may hope to get into the top 10 by the end of the year, but he is unlikely to figure much at Assen.

The Gathering Storm

After the thrilling round at Catalunya, it would be hard for the racing to get much better in MotoGP. But Assen still has enough of the old fast and flowing sections to help evenly matched riders compete. And with two of the best riders in the world on exactly the same bike, the chances of victory being decided in the final GT chicane have to be good. But it may not just be Rossi vs Lorenzo again for the win on Saturday, Casey Stoner looks almost certain to be at the front and trying to dispose of the two Fiat Yamahas before the final corner approaches. Rossi and Lorenzo will have to use all the talent they can muster to prevent the Australian from escaping.

But a pair of dark clouds hang over the Dutch TT at Assen, one literal, one figurative. The figurative cloud is the specter of injury, which Assen has produced with alarming regularity. Since the demise of the North Loop, only a couple of fast left handers remain in the circuit, the most dangerous of which follows a blindingly fast section of right handers. So riders approach the Ramshoek in race mode and used to the feel of the sticky right hand side of the tires, which has been thoroughly heated by the fast right handers. They flick left, onto the cooler part of the tire, and get flicked off at high speed, tumbling through the gravel at over 200 km/h. At some point, someone is going to get seriously hurt.

The literal dark clouds hanging over Assen are the rain showers and thunderstorms predicted to hit the track on Saturday. Both days of practice should be run in glorious sunshine, but rain will fall sometime on Saturday, the only question is when. If it's after 3pm, then it will spare the racing, but before, and everything could change. Either way it's good for the spectacle: if it rains, there'll be the excitement of a flag-to-flag race, and the strategy and action that that involves. If it doesn't, we should see Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner going toe-to-toe for most of the race. I think I know which the fans prefer.

Total votes: 183
Total votes: 61

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2009 Misano World Superbikes And World Supersport Race Report

The World Superbike circus came to Misano on Italy's Adriatic coast hoping for sun, sea and speed, but this weekend, they got plenty more than that. The heat and humidity was scorching on Friday, turning showery on Saturday, only to start with a downpour on race day.

The rain had fallen heavily all morning, but as the riders headed out at noon for race 1, the rain had just about stopped and the World Superbike series was set to see the first time its flag-to-flag rules would be put into effect. The dash into the pits to swap bikes always guarantees plenty of spectacle, but the action started even before the race had gotten underway. Johnny Rea's Ten Kate Honda developed a fueling glitch on the sighting lap, and the Ulsterman was forced to hitch a lift back to the pits from his team mate, Ryuichi Kiyonari, an act which would cost them both a ride-through penalty later on, and forced Rea to start from pit lane. Then on the warm up lap, an electronics glitch caused Troy Corser to flip his BMW S1000RR, ruling himself out of the race before it had even started.

When the red lights did finally dim it was Shane Byrne who led into Turn 1, taking Jakub Smrz and Ben Spies with him. Byrne, who has had a difficult year so far on the Sterilgarda Ducati, was clearly in his element in the wet, and was rapidly heading off into the distance. By the end of the first lap, the reigning British Superbike champion had a lead of over 2 seconds which had grown to nearly 17 seconds by the halfway mark.

Behind Byrne, Jakub Smrz was also at ease in the wet conditions, not able to match Shakey's blistering pace but faster than those that followed, leaving Ben Spies and Michel Fabrizio trailing in his wake. Spies was clearly less comfortable in the wet conditions, Fabrizio quickly getting past the Texan in the very wet early laps, but as the track started to dry, the Texan picked up his pace and got back on the tail of the Xerox Ducati.

Further back, Carlos Checa had been wrestling with Noriyuki Haga and Ten Kate team mate Johnny Rea, who had cut brilliantly through the field to contest 5th place before being called in for his ride through. With Rea out of the picture, Checa soon dispatched Haga and went off to chase Spies, by this time some 3 seconds ahead.

By lap 9, a dry line was starting to form and the Italian sun was trying to break through the clouds to give it a helping hand. The drying line saw the first ever bike swap take place in a World Superbike race, Shinya Nakano coming in to pit lane to leap onto a slick-shod Aprilia RSV4. Nakano's experience with flag-to-flag races in MotoGP stood the Japanese rider in good stead, and he was in and out of the pits quickly and smoothly.

The same could not be said for other riders in the field. This first attempt at bike swapping caught several teams off guard, with riders coming in, parking the bikes awkwardly and looking most ungainly leaping from one bike to another. Johnny Rea came off worst in his pit stop, leaping off the bike only to stall the new one as he attempted to ride out of the pits. Forced to wait a couple of seconds while the electronics reset, Rea finally got his CBR1000RR restarted with a push from his crew and he was back out again.

Ten Kate team mate Carlos Checa was just starting to get up to speed. As the dry line got wider, Checa sliced his way past Ben Spies and Michel Fabrizio, before hunting down Jakub Smrz to take 2nd. Unable to catch Shane Byrne, and with riders on slick tires now starting to go faster than the men still out on wets, Checa elected to change bikes, and resume his hunt with dry rubber. Unfortunately for Checa, the Spaniard suffered the same fate in the pits that his Ten Kate team mate Rea had done, stalling the bike and having to be pushed to restart it.

Checa wasn't the only Spaniard starting to fly. In Checa's wake came Ruben Xaus on the BMW, 2 seconds faster than the men in front of him and catching and passing them rapidly. On 16, history was made, as Byrne headed into the pits leaving Xaus in the lead. This meant that a BMW was leading a World Superbike race for the first time in the history of the series, and one target for the team had been realized.

BMW's joy would not last long, though. Xaus' lap times were outstanding for a bike shod with wet tires, but the riders who had pitted for slick-shod bikes were now up to speed, and lapping over 10 seconds faster than the Spaniard. Ben Spies was the first man to pass and take the lead, the Texan much more comfortable in the dry and really starting to fly. Spies had caught Shane Byrne shortly after Shakey had come out of the pits, and on cold tires the Brit was no match for the American. Spies was now muscling his Yamaha R1 around the track at an incredible pace, much too fast for anyone else to follow.

Spies went on to take the win by a margin of nearly 8 seconds, clawing back more of the valuable points he had dropped much earlier in the series. Byrne clung on to finish 2nd, his first podium of the year and a relief after the difficult first half of the season, while Michel Fabrizio just managed to hold off Jakub Smrz, the Czech rider closing on the Italian rapidly in the final couple of laps. Fortunately for Noriyuki Haga, he caught and passed Yukio Kagayama on the final lap to take 5th and a valuable extra point.

World Superbike race 1 result

By the time race 2 came around, the sun was back out and track was completely dry. And again it was a Ducati fastest off the line, this time the red and white bike of Noriyuki Haga. Ben Spies followed Haga into the Variante del Parco chicane with Johnny Rea close behind, the Ulsterman finally getting an incident-free start.

Though Spies was in second place, the Texan was in trouble. Rea came past entering Quercia on the first lap, then Jakub Smrz followed at Tramonto. Before the lap was out, Michel Fabrizio had also passed the Texan, Spies dropping through the field like a stone with clutch problems. He crossed the line to start lap 2 in 6th, but had dropped down to 17th by the end of it. After performing some running repairs, trying desperately to adjust the clutch to prevent it from slipping, Spies picked up the pace again and started to fight his way forward.

The disappearance of Spies saw a group of four forming at the front. Haga led at first from Rea, Fabrizio and Smrz, but Johnny Rea was on a charge and was past Haga at Quercia on lap 4. Passing was one thing, breaking away another, and a tense battle unfolded over the remainder of the race, as Rea, Fabrizio and Haga pushed each other to the limits of their ability. The pace proved too hot for Smrz, the Guandalini Ducati rider dropping off the back of the leading trio and back into the clutches of first Carlos Checa and later Shakey Byrne.

There was nothing to choose between the leaders, with any one of Rea, Fabrizio and Haga capable of winning, and all of them keen to impose their will on the others. Rea led for most of the race, while behind him Michel Fabrizio and Nori Haga proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are no team orders in the Xerox Ducati garage by doing their best to run each other off the track in the pursuit of the Ten Kate Honda.

On lap 15, Fabrizio took the first shot at Rea, diving under him in the Carro corner which follows the Curvone right handers, but Rea was straight back on the exit of the turn. Just over a lap later, Fabrizio was past again, this time cutting inside at the second part of the Variante del Parco chicane.

It was not a move Rea took gracefully, trying to recover the lead at Quercia, and generally crawling all over the back of the Italian and trying his luck wherever he could find it. A pass at Curvone succeeded, but only briefly, Fabrizio coming straight back only for Rea to try again on the next lap. Carro was another place Rea fancied his chances, but Fabrizio held him off time after time, while Rea in turn was busy fending off Nori Haga from behind as well.

On the penultimate lap, Rea closed on Fabrizio through Tramonto and round Curvone, but he did not push his luck. He was keeping his powder dry, it turned out, for a pass into Turn 1 on the final lap. The move infuriated Fabrizio, who hustled his Ducati all over the back of the Ten Kate Honda, prodding at every corner for a chance to take back the lead.

But it was not to be. With some masterful defensive riding, Johnny Rea went on to win his first World Superbike race, in his rookie year in the championship, and rewarding the confidence which Ronald and Gerrit ten Kate had shown in him by promoting him to the class ahead of Andrew Pitt. Michel Fabrizio was left down in 2nd, while Noriyuki Haga took the final podium spot.

Though both Xerox Ducati riders pulled back very important championship points on Ben Spies, it was not as many as they might have been hoping. Once he had the clutch problem more or less sorted, the Texan had put on a brilliant display of riding to muscle his way forward through the pack, climbing all the way back up to 9th from 17th place on lap 3.

Spies was left fuming at the end of the race, disgusted at having given away a generous helping of points again due to technical problems. But the Texan comes away from Misano having reduced the deficit by 5 points, and is now just 48 behind Nori Haga. Haga, in his turn, was glad to come away from Misano with just his third podium from 20 attempts, and a big bag of points. The championship heads to Donington next week, a track where Haga has traditionally gone well, and which Spies has already raced at on the Suzuki MotoGP bike.

Haga and Spies could soon find themselves with company more regularly. The HANNSpree Ten Kate duo of Carlos Checa and Johnny Rea switched from WP suspension to Ohlins this weekend, an unusual switch to make in the middle of a championship given the central role that suspension plays in racing. But despite the limited testing and setup time the pair have had, their results immediately proved the wisdom of the switch, and both men could start mixing it with the leaders more often for the rest of the season, taking valuable points and closing up the title race.

World Superbike race 2 result

World Superbike Championship standings after Misano

If the rain had made the first World Superbike race a trifle bizarre, the World Supersport racers were not to be outdone. The track was just about dry when the class took to the grid, and it was the Hondas of Andrew Pitt and Massimo Roccoli which were quickest out of the gate, leading Kawasaki's Katsuake Fujiwara and another Honda of Mark Aitchison.

Championship leaders Cal Crutchlow and Eugene Laverty had been swamped off the line, Crutchlow crossing the line to start lap 2 in 8th place, two places ahead of the Irishman. Crutchlow struggled to make his way forward, but Laverty had no such problems. By the end of the lap, Laverty was up into 6th, which he followed with a masterful display of passing to get onto the tail of Pitt as they fired down the Curvone. Laverty wouldn't need to extend himself to get past Pitt, though, as the reigning World Champion did Laverty's work for him by losing the front at Curvone and crashing out.

Crutchlow may have struggled at first, but a couple of laps later, the young Briton was also making his way forward. It took him until lap 5, but eventually the Yamaha man was behind the Parkalgar Honda of Laverty and starting to challenge for the lead.

It took Crutchlow four laps, but he was past Laverty at Quercia, though it would not do him much good. Kenan Sofuoglu had crashed at the Variante del Parco chicane at the start of lap 9, his Ten Kate Honda depositing fluids on the track in the crash and causing the race to be red-flagged. They would have to do it all again.

The advantages for Crutchlow and Laverty was that this time, they were both assured of a front row start. Crutchlow made the best of it, taking the lead off the line, but Laverty followed. The Irishman wasn't alone, though, and Joan Lascorz was soon with him then past and into 2nd. The Glaner Motocard Kawasaki rider stayed sandwiched between Crutchlow and Laverty for three laps, but Laverty moved rapidly past at Curvone, and it was back to being a duel between the two young rookies, as it has been for much of the year.

And what a duel. A tense battle unfolded, with Crutchlow leading at first while Laverty probed the Yamaha's defenses, testing at the chicane, and at Tramonto, and at Curvone. Eventually, the Irishman got past at Rio, the corner leading onto the back straight, and it was Crutchlow's turn to test Laverty's mettle. He failed at Quercia, but a lap later he was past going into the first corner, and then tried to drop the hammer.

He did so only for Laverty to pick it up, and the Parkalgar Honda man sat perched on Crutchlow's tail, worryingly close through the final few corners. Laverty had a plan, and on the final lap he put it into effect, closing through Curvone and Carro and ready to pounce out of the final corner where he was much stronger than Crutchlow. But Laverty was too eager to succeed, and getting on the gas a fraction too early saw him nearly highside off the bike, and forced to settle for 2nd, the pair some 16 seconds ahead of Massimo Roccoli who took the final podium spot. Crutchlow took his 3rd win of the season, matching Laverty's total, but more importantly opening the gap in the championship from 9 to 14 points. There's not much in it between Crutchlow and Laverty, and this title looks like going down to the wire. Given the clear superiority of these two men, either Crutchlow or Laverty will be World Supersport champion this year.

World Supersport race results

World Supersport championship standings after Misano

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Total votes: 74

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2009 Misano World Superbikes And World Supersport Preview

The World Superbike circus heads off to Italy this weekend, to a part of the country which might almost be regarded as "enemy" heartland. For the region around the Misano circuit, the site of this weekends races, is home to a veritable horde of MotoGP, 250cc and 125cc racers - Valentino Rossi, Mattia Pasini, Marco Melandri, Marco Simoncelli, the list goes on and on.

But World Superbikes has a strong history and a strong place at Misano. For a start, it hosts the World Ducati Week, when the Bologna factory organizes that event. As a consequence, it is very much a Ducati track, and over the years, Ducatis have taken the top spot in 26 out of the 34 races run here, with all of the great names of Ducati World Superbikes winning here: Troy Bayliss, Carl Fogarty, Ben Bostrom, Ruben Xaus, Pier Francesco Chili, Regis Laconi.

So normally, you might expect the odds to be stacked in favor of the Xerox Ducati pairing of Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio. But while Ducati may have an outstanding record here, both Haga and Fabrizio have been pretty dismal at Misano. Of the 18 races that Haga has contested here, he has only been on the podium 3 times, and is yet to win at the circuit. Fabrizio's record is even worse: the Italian has only finished 2 of the World Superbike 6 races he has started in at the track on the Adriatic coast, the only bright spot being the Superstock race he won here in 2003.

The omens are not good for the Xerox Ducati team, and this couldn't come at a worse time for them. Prior to the US round of World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, Haga had a very comfortable lead of 85 points over team mate Fabrizio, and 88 points over his chief rival for 2009, Yamaha's Ben Spies. But a dire weekend in Utah - a reflection of his 2008 race there - left Haga battered and bruised, and giving up 35 points from his lead.

This was the first crack in the otherwise impenetrable armor of the Japanese veteran. Haga has gone from being the Samurai of Slide to the Clockwork Nori this season, pounding in a succession of wins and 2nd place finishes, but Miller was the first time Haga ended up firmly in mid-pack. So far, Ben Spies has managed to beat himself, but if the Texan has many more Sundays like he did at Miller, Haga won't be able to afford any more off days.

By contrast, Michel Fabrizio was the only person to be able to match the pace of Ben Spies in Utah, and came away having limited his losses to the self-styled Texas Terror. Finally winning a race - despite the fact it was only thanks to Ben Spies running out of gas on the final corner - has liberated Fabrizio from the yoke of self-doubt, and the Italian has looked supremely competitive ever since. With both Spies and Haga looking nigh-on invincible, Fabrizio's liberation comes too late for a proper championship assault during the second half of the season, but you wouldn't bet against the Italian taking at least one other win.

The US round of World Superbikes also saw a resurgence of the Ten Kate Honda team. With both Carlos Checa and Johnny Rea taking podiums in the US, the team looks to be back on track after a difficult start to the year. Rea has been the more consistent of the Ten Kate trio, as his 4th position in the championship standings will confirm, but both Carlos Checa and Ryuichi Kiyonari have shown flashes of brilliance.

Johnny Rea would seem to hold the best cards for a result at Misano, having had the strongest weekend here last year, albeit in the World Supersport class. Checa could manage only a best of 5th here last year, while Kiyonari remained resolutely outside the top 10. But Ten Kate's chances at Misano could be hampered by some issues the team has been having with suspension. The team tested Ohlins suspension at Magny-Cours last week, but the poor weather in France drastically limited their track time. So Rea and Checa will be starting the weekend with one bike on Ohlins and bike fitted with the WP suspension they've been using for the past few years. This is going to make finding a setup a good deal more difficult.

Honda's main challenge so far has come from the Stiggy Honda team, in the shape of Leon Haslam. The Pocket Rocket has made an instant impact in World Superbikes, and the team itself has impressed a lot of the competition in its first year in the World Superbike series. Haslam had some decent results the last time he raced here, taking a 5th and an 11th back in 2004. But that was when they raced the track in the opposite direction, and the reversal has given the track a completely different character.

Haslam will be joined once again by his team mate John Hopkins, now on the way to recovering from his extremely painful hip injury sustained - for the second year in succession - at Assen. Hopkins' motorcycle racing career has been traumatic since he signed with Kawasaki in MotoGP at the end of 2007. The bike was never competitive causing Hopkins to try and override the machine, causing himself serious injury on multiple occasions. Then Kawasaki pulled out, leaving Hopkins without a ride, until he was saved by the Stiggy Honda team, making his World Superbike debut at Valencia. But during the first practice session at the very next race at Assen, Hopkins fell heavily again, injuring himself badly in the process.

Hopkins makes his return at a track he has previously had some success at. In 2007, he finished on the podium on the Rizla Suzuki, but a year later, things went a lot worse, the American mysteriously going missing amid rumors of domestic strife and late-night shenanigans. This year, Hopper will be glad just to settle for getting some more seat time on the bike, and getting ready to make a more concerted chase for results once he is returned to full fitness.

Misano is also a special track for Aprilia. The Italian factory have had victories here in the past with the old RSV1000 twin, and will be looking for more with the new RSV4 bike. With Max Biaggi in the seat, there's every chance of success here, as the Roman has been a podium regular here in the past. But Biaggi has also had his problems here, not the least of which has been his impetuous spearing of Nori Haga in 2007, when he took the two of them out in a hopeless passing attempt at the sequence of three right handers which lead into the Carro corner. The RSV4 is undoubtedly a bike with huge potential, and Biaggi is capable of a result here, as long as he stays on the bike.

Unlike his rivals, Yamaha's Ben Spies has never raced here at Misano. But so far this season, that's not been a factor which has troubled the Texan, with Spies rolling up and being almost instantly competitive at tracks he has never seen before. The measure of the impact he has made since entering the series is reflected in two things: At Miller, Spies broke Doug Polen's run of consecutive pole positions, taking his 7th in a row. So far this year, Ben Spies has not started a race from anywhere other than pole position.

The other fact which must depress the opposition is that So far, Spies has been Mr 50%. The Yamaha rider has won half of the races run so far this year, a figure which would have been higher were it not for some mechanical issues and the occasional silly crash. Spies and his crew chief Tom Houseworth have promised to stop making mistakes and get serious about the championship again, a prospect that must surely terrify the rest of the field. At Misano, just as at any other track on the planet, Ben Spies is going to be a factor.

Spies is also joined by his old friend Jamie Hacking at Misano. Hacking had an impressive outing at Miller Motorsports Park, replacing the injured Makoto Tamada, finishing 7th in race 1, and crashing out after barging through the field in spectacular fashion in race 2. Hacking may not know the track at Misano, but so far, the American has been one of the few riders on the planet able to make Kawasaki's ZX-10R fly in a Superbike series.

Hacking's success has been good for Kawasaki in more than one respect. The bike continues to struggle, but with Hacking (and Sheridan Morais before him, in South Africa) being competitive, the Australian Broc Parkes has been forced to step up his game to avoid being shown up by his temporary team mates. With someone pushing him hard, Parkes has responded, but the Kawasaki is still the biggest obstacle to his progress at the moment.

Kawasaki's Makoto Tamada isn't the only rider to be out due to injury. The Japanese rider was injured in the first chicane pile up at Monza, which also took out Max Neukirchner and Brendan Roberts. Gregorio Lavilla continues to fill in for Roberts on the Guandalini Ducati - his position very much under threat, as Roberts is outshone by his team mate Jakub Smrz, while Fonsi Nieto is in for Max Neurkirchner. With Neukirchner out, Suzuki have lost the main prong of their attack, with Yukio Kagayama being his ever-unpredictable self. Neukirchner is targeting a return at Brno, but until then, the Suzukis will not be a factor.

Neither, sad to say, will the BMWs. The German marque have struggled in their debut season in World Superbikes, despite having proven winners in both Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus. The team's biggest problem is that they have no data at all for their S1000RR bike at any of the tracks, both the team and the bike being completely brand new. They continue to make steady progress, but remain stubbornly stuck in mid-pack.

If World Superbikes is turning into two - or possibly three - horse race, the World Supersport championship is starting to open up. Before the Utah round, the series had been mainly a duel between Parkalgar Honda's Eugene Laverty and Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow, with the remainder of the field pretty much spectators.

But at Utah, the resurgence in the Ten Kate Honda World Superbike team spread into its Supersport team as well. This resurgence was illustrated perhaps best by reigning World Champion Andrew Pitt: despite starting from the back of the grid, Pitt fought his way through the 30-strong pack to finish 7th.

It was his team mate who got all the headlines, however, for both all the right and all the wrong reasons. Kenan Sofuoglu took a dramatic victory at Miller, but he did it with a couple of tough passes, the most rambunctious of which was on Eugene Laverty for the lead. Laverty was phlegmatic about it after the race, but both he and his team boss Simon Buckmaster issued an implicit warning to Sofuoglu in press releases after the race and prior to Misano, making veiled references to the pass. Sofuoglu is likely to find himself on the receiving end of similar treatment if he is not careful.

The return of the Ten Kates will make the championship a good deal more complicated. With both Pitt and Sofuoglu competitive, they will likely start taking points off the championship leaders Laverty and Crutchlow. The Irishman and the Briton are involved in a neck-and-neck race for the title, Crutchlow leading in points while Laverty is ahead on wins. Like Ben Spies, Laverty has been Mr 50% whenever an even number of races have been run, but after round 7, he has dropped below his average.

Laverty will be out for another victory at Misano, to take his average up to 50%, and Crutchlow will be out to stop him. Laverty holds one advantage, though, in that the Irishman has ridden here several times before in the 250s, while Crutchlow comes to Misano for the first time. But like Spies, Crutchlow seems to take no time at all to learn new tracks, and so this is unlikely to be a factor for very long.

With the second half of the season upon us, the title chase in both World Superbikes and World Supersport is hotting up. Normally, that's exactly what the weather does at Misano in June too, but storm clouds are hanging over the circuit on the Adriatic coast. The racing was looking exciting enough this weekend, but the threat of rain on both Saturday and Sunday should make it even more interesting. There could be one or two surprises on the cards at Misano, but the action is likely to be as hot as ever.

Total votes: 181
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2009 MotoGP Catalunya Race Report - Triumph Of The Will

A motorcycle racer must possess many qualities, both physical and mental, to be successful. They must have instantaneous reflexes; a gyroscope-like sense of balance; and a tough, wiry physique combining strength with low body weight. They must have the endurance of a triathlete combined with the fast-twitch muscle speed of an Olympic sprinter.

Racers also need the intelligence to cope with the huge amounts of data thrown at them, by the track, the bikes, the engineers. They need to be able to memorize a circuit down to the location of every bump in every corner, each of which could unsettle the bike and cause a crash. They need the courage to take to the track despite injury and push to the very limit, facing the knowledge that more pain lies lurking at every corner if ambition should tempt them to violate the laws of physics. And above all, they need the dogged determination and single-mindedness to put in the hours and hours of work needed to achieve all of this, day in and day out, rain or shine, come holidays or high water.

But the prime character trait that all motorcycle racers must have, the one thing they all share, is the will to win. The overwhelming desire to beat your rivals, to prove your superiority, is what drives racers to put in the years of hard work needed to acquire those other vital qualities. The will to win - for some a burning lust for victory, for others a mortal fear of defeat - is fundamental, and is the single most important quality which distinguishes champions from also-rans.

Desire As

That desire for victory was being flaunted like an aging tycoon's trophy wife on the grid at Barcelona. Dani Pedrosa was attempting to ride in front of his home crowd despite the searing pain from the fractured femur he suffered at Mugello, only risky painkilling injections making his participation possible. Jorge Lorenzo made his intentions clear by turning up with his bike, helmet and leathers covered in FC Barcelona regalia. The Spanish soccer club had just pulled off the "triple", winning the European Champions League and Spanish League titles, as well as the Spanish Copa del Rey cup, and Lorenzo's regalia were an explicit reference to his intention to take a "triple" of his own - victory at his home Grand Prix would make it a trio of wins this season.

Then there was Valentino Rossi. The Italian has been incredibly successful at the Montmelo circuit, finishing on the podium in every race here since 1997. But a podium would not be enough: Rossi came to Barcelona trailing both Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner in the points, but more importantly, having only one win to his rivals' two apiece. The Doctor knows what victory tastes like at Barcelona, having won here 8 times previously, including 5 in the premier class, and another win here was surely possible.

But more than that, Rossi wanted revenge. At Mugello, the circuit Rossi regards as his spiritual home, Casey Stoner had broken his 7-victory winning streak, and making things worse, Jorge Lorenzo had finished ahead of him, leaving the Italian superstar just 3rd. The Doctor needed a win, not just to regain the momentum of his title defense, but to put the usurpers in their place. And most especially, to take victory from his young upstart team mate at his home race and reestablish order in the Fiat Yamaha garage. Rossi wanted this win so badly you could almost see it hanging round him like a haze.

Even the weather was playing ball. The whole weekend had been hot and sunny, with race day hotter still, the humidity sucking the energy out of riders and spectators alike. No rain would disrupt this spectacle, no pit stops or bike swaps would distort the result. This would be a straight fight, with no arguments or excuses to be made afterwards. All throughout practice, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi had matched each other's pace, qualifying putting Lorenzo on pole, just thirteen thousands of a second ahead of his team mate, with Casey Stoner not far behind the Yamaha pair.

Everything In Its Place

As the lights dimmed, and the pent-up ambition was released in a howl of four-stroke anger, the two Yamaha men immediately made apparent just how much they wanted victory. Instead of the more sedate starts which has so often seen them being swamped by the Ducati of Casey Stoner and a gaggle of Hondas led by Dani Pedrosa, the Yamaha men held their positions off the line. Though the Hondas edged ahead at first and Casey Stoner sought to grab the inside line into Turn 1 on his Ducati, both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi held their nerve and waited just a fraction longer before braking, then easing off to peel into the first corner. The front three flicked right, then left, in the order they had lined up on the grid.

Behind the leading trio, the gaggle of Hondas squabbled over the right to chase. Randy de Puniet had been quickest off the line on the LCR bike, but a Repsol storm was gathering behind him. Dani Pedrosa had done his usual trick, firing off the line to gain three places behind de Puniet, but Andrea Dovizioso, irritated at having been bundled down a couple of places, was right on his tail.

At the front, Jorge Lorenzo was on a charge, opening up the start of a gap to his team mate chasing him. The two Fiat Yamaha men were playing different hands, Lorenzo showing his strongest cards from the start, trying to make a break, while Rossi played defensively, limiting his risks until his tires were up to temperature. This early in the game, Rossi was playing it safe, but his strategy was meeting with resistance from behind. Like Lorenzo, Casey Stoner likes to go hard from the start, and seeing Lorenzo edging away the Australian was itching to get after him.

Rossi would not be rushed, however. While a gap had opened to Lorenzo, it was not growing, and The Doctor concentrated on preventing the gathering hordes behind him from getting past. Stoner glared round the outside at La Caixa, but Rossi held him off easily. It was Stoner's turn to bide his time, waiting for the front straight and the chance to pull out of the Yamaha's draft and use the Ducati's superior speed to get through into 2nd.


Once, that superiority in velocity would have left Rossi in the weeds, but the Yamaha is no longer the slouch it once was. Stoner crept alongside as they crossed the line, but Rossi was expecting him, and a wheel length would not be sufficient advantage to take over 2nd. The Italian waited until he saw the nose of the Ducati dive before slamming on the brakes, holding on to his position with relative ease.

What Rossi had been able to do, Randy de Puniet found harder. The Frenchman could not compensate for the weaker engine of his satellite Honda in the braking zone, and was forced to let Dani Pedrosa past. De Puniet's hope would lie in following the Spaniard and hoping that his lack of fitness due to injury would make Pedrosa fade. In the meantime, he had his hands full with another Repsol Honda, the orange, white and black bike of Andrea Dovizioso all over the Playboy LCR's back wheel.

Rossi's braking move had held Casey Stoner off, but it had the added benefit of getting him closer to Lorenzo's tail. The gap to his team mate had shrunk a little, Lorenzo looming much larger in his sights, but Rossi reeling in Lorenzo had only served to make Casey Stoner even more impatient. The Australian had his front wheel glued to Rossi's tail, and as they rounded the long sequence of right handers that lead back onto the front straight, Stoner was once again lining the Italian up for a pass.

The second time along the straight brought an even bigger surprise than the first trip. As the pair had started lap 2, Stoner had at least been able to edge ahead of Rossi, but this time round, he could barely get close enough to pull out of the draft. As they hit Turn 1 to start lap 3, Rossi comfortably held on to 2nd, completely untroubled by the chasing Ducati.

Braking late again at the end of the straight Rossi was now back on Lorenzo, and the three leaders howled around the track line astern and inches apart. From the front only Lorenzo's bike was visible, the other two only appearing as they sprung out from behind the Spaniard on the approach to a corner and the chance to pass. But the chance was not there, each man perfectly on the limit and braking within inches of each other, neither giving nor receiving any quarter or room to overtake.

The best option for passing this early in the race was at the end of the straight, and as they started lap 4, Lorenzo, Rossi and Stoner approached Turn 1 three abreast. Stoner started from furthest back and was left down in 3rd, but Rossi's earlier braking practice was paying dividends, as he slid inside Lorenzo and into the lead.

No Way Out

Passing was one thing but escaping was another. Initially, Rossi took a hint of a gap, but within a lap, Lorenzo was back. Rossi may have grabbed the lead, but now he was being hounded by both his team mate and Casey Stoner. Push as he might, he could not shake them.

Further back, Dovizioso had got past de Puniet, the Repsol rider using the superior horsepower of his factory Honda to motor past de Puniet's satellite machine. But Dovizioso wasn't the only visitor the Frenchman had. A lap later, and Loris Capirossi was past too, the new engine parts helping the Suzuki past the Honda and into 6th.

Ahead of Capirossi, the battle of the Repsols was unfolding to its natural conclusion. Dani Pedrosa had briefly closed on the leading trio, but his lack of fitness and the pain were holding him back. Pedrosa was fighting on manfully, his tiny frame packing a whole lot of heart, but he would not be able to hold his current pace. On lap 6 Pedrosa's pace flagged just a fraction, but enough for Dovizioso to pass through Repsol, the move made that little bit easier by Pedrosa's reluctance to push at the corner where he crashed during qualifying.

Pedrosa's problems were finding an echo at the front. While Lorenzo continued to snap at Rossi's heels, Casey Stoner was starting to lose touch. The Australian had been getting gradually more ill over the course of the weekend and was slowly broiling in the Catalonian heat. The gap to Lorenzo was growing as the strength seeped out of Stoner's body. This would be a duel, rather than a three-way dogfight to the end.

At least it would be a fair fight. There had been nothing to separate the pace of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo during practice, and it was the same story in the race. Rossi first tried to drop Lorenzo by pushing on, and almost broke the Spaniard after Lorenzo ran into Turn 1 too hot, running wide and losing ground, but he was back before the lap was out.

If At First You Don't Succeed

Rossi decided to take a different tack: If he could not break Lorenzo's resistance from the front, then he would attempt an older trick, one that had served him well against earlier foes such as Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau. On lap 13, he let Lorenzo pass, sitting up a fraction early to let the Spaniard underneath at La Caixa.

It was Lorenzo's turn to push, but like his older team mate, try as he might he could not make a break. At every braking point, through every corner and onto every straight, Lorenzo caned his Yamaha as hard as it would go, desperate to break the tow and ditch the man whose crown he seeks. But at every part of the track he could see Rossi lurking in the corner of his eye, his helmet ringing with the baritone duet of two cross-plane Yamahas on full song.

Just to make sure Lorenzo knew he was there, Rossi poked his wheel alongside Lorenzo's here and there, at Turn 1 on one lap, at La Caixa on another, and at Repsol on yet another, probing Lorenzo's defenses and seeking out a weak spot and a plan of attack.

By lap 21 he had it, and on lap 22 he put it into effect. Closing on Lorenzo through the first long right handers of Renault and Repsol, he sat tight on Lorenzo's tail. Not close enough to pass in the first section, he switched focus further around the track. Down the Montmelo circuit's short back straight, Rossi inched closer to his team mate looking as if he was preparing a classic Catalunya move, and dive up the inside at La Caixa.

But he didn't. Instead, he ran in hot and a little wide, cutting back early to get on the gas quicker. A curious move, but one which served a purpose. Round the final right handers, Rossi was closer to Lorenzo than he had been before and carrying more speed. They hurtled out of the furiously fast final corner inches apart, Rossi immediately whipping out of Lorenzo's draft to pass the Spaniard, hitting the braking zone well before Lorenzo arrived there.

It was a useful lesson. The line would work, giving Rossi more drive through the final corners, but it would not get him out of the last right hander and across the line ahead of Lorenzo. If Lorenzo were leading on the final lap, Rossi would have to try an alternative approach.

That was all part of the backup plan, however. Plan A was to drop Lorenzo, and Rossi went for broke. But just as in the earlier laps, and just as Lorenzo had found before, there was nothing to choose between the two Yamahas and no way of making a difference. Just half a lap later, Rossi realized his flight was in vain. This one was going down to the wire, and he switched tack once again.

If attack fails, then best to tighten your defenses, and at La Caixa, Rossi showed Lorenzo how he intended to stop him. As the Spaniard closed on the Italian, Rossi ran his Yamaha wide, cutting back sharp across the nose of Lorenzo, blocking him on the way out of turn 10 and into turn 11.

This may only be Jorge Lorenzo's second season in MotoGP, but that does not mean he is easily intimidated. Rossi may have been leading, but Lorenzo was not about to roll over and accept 2nd place. Unfazed by the chop across his bows, the Spaniard sunk his teeth into the tail of his team mate's M1, and powered towards him around Turn 13 to pull out of his draft and ahead as they motored towards Turn 1.


Under normal circumstances, that would have been good enough to take the lead, but these were clearly not normal circumstances. Seeing Lorenzo a bike length ahead, Rossi waited until he saw the Spaniard brake, then braked himself, drawing closer and holding the outside line.

But Rossi had a problem: Lorenzo was drifting left, ready to block his team mate into the first corner at the end of the straight. He had to act, and so Rossi eased off the brakes, pulling in his knee, already poised to slide through Turn 1, and ran over the rumblestrip and back into the lead. The problem was he still had some braking left to do, but braking at the limit of his ability, he got the bike stopped and into the corner, the M1 bucking in protest at its maltreatment.

Rossi's good fortune was that the track flicks back left after the right hander of Turn 1, and running a little wide merely left him blocking Lorenzo's progress, consolidating his lead.

Rossi may have had the lead, but Jorge Lorenzo wasn't going to let Rossi get away with the daylight robbery that he had just perpetrated on the Spaniard. Lorenzo hounded Rossi round the back of the track once again, and Rossi's defensive maneuvers became more aggressive and more blatant. Again the wide line through La Caixa, both men flailing their legs as they groped for balance, and this time Rossi slammed the door more forcefully through Turn 11, trying to disrupt Lorenzo's drive round the long right handers and onto the front straight.

For both men knew that this is where the decisive blow would be struck. Turn 1 would be their best chance of victory, and leading out of the first corner would go halfway to winning the race.

Rossi's block had checked Lorenzo's progress, but it had not slowed it completely. The Spaniard held his nerve and forced his corner speed up, gaining back the ground he had lost in no time at all.

Back on to the front straight, Rossi led, if anything by a bigger margin than on the previous lap, but Lorenzo was coming once again. He passed the Italian on the run into Turn 1 once again, both men braking later than ever, but this time, Lorenzo made sure of his position. He slid left earlier and harder, forcing Rossi out onto the rumblestrip sooner, the Italian locking the front briefly as he scrambled to hold position.

But Lorenzo held the inside line, by a foot and no more, and snatched just enough ground as they flicked back left to slam the door right on Rossi's nose. If Rossi had given a masterclass in braking on the previous lap, Lorenzo was showing himself to be a brilliant pupil.

Though this was not where Rossi had planned to be, his rehearsals on earlier laps following Lorenzo now came into play. The Italian inched closer to his Spanish team mate through Renault, diving hard up the inside into the following Repsol corner. Too hard, and as he ran wide Lorenzo was back, and in the lead again.

Last Chance

One bolt shot, and how many more in his quiver? Rossi kept just inches behind the Spaniard, but Lorenzo had learned more than just braking from his team mate. The memory of those block passes around La Caixa still burned within him, and as the Fiat Yamaha pairing lined up for La Caixa, it was Lorenzo's turn to demonstrate the art of defense. Keeping inside, he allowed Rossi the outside line, then drifted wide, forcing Rossi off line and with nowhere to go.

With just three corners left and none of them good for passing, Lorenzo held the upper hand. It was now a matter of holding his nerve and pushing as hard as he dared, keeping the door closed through the final corners to cross the line for the win.

That was the theory. But a chasm yawns between theory and practice, and Rossi had a final card up his sleeve. Whether it was an ace or a joker even Rossi did not yet know, but as he closed on Lorenzo through the turns 11 and 12 he got ready to play it anyway.

Pushing hard through turn 12, almost clipping Lorenzo's back wheel as the Spaniard sat up to brake for the final turn 13, Rossi dived inside and laid his cards on the table. Sliding, almost losing the front, he held the line, leaving a shocked Lorenzo with nowhere left to go. The Spaniard had to back off a fraction to avoid running into his team mate, losing the crucial momentum that might have seen him beat his team mate back across the line, but could also have forced both men into the dirt and out of the race. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, it was far too early in the championship to be ditching into the gravel in do-or-die maneuvers, for Lorenzo at least.

Valentino Rossi crossed the line ecstatic at victory, more elated than he has been for a very long time. His joy at victory - and perhaps also relief - was visible in the hyperactive release of emotion as he rounded the track on his cool down lap. Valentino Rossi had needed a victory at Catalunya, and in extremis, had taken one.

Jorge Lorenzo followed his team mate home to take 2nd, perplexed and dejected in equal measure. Halfway round the track, he picked up the Barcelona flag he had ready for his celebration, but his body language spoke volumes about his disappointment. Visor down, despite the heat, he trailed back to the pits a beaten man.

Take It To The Limit

Nearly 9 seconds behind Lorenzo, Casey Stoner just held off the charging Andrea Dovizioso to take 3rd. The combination of the heat and stomach cramps had sapped the strength of the Australian, and by halfway, Stoner was falling back into the clutches of Dovizioso. He gathered the last of his strength, and forged on for the remainder of the race, gapping Dovi a little, only to see the Italian catch him again with 5 laps to go. Giving his all, the 2007 World Champion held Dovizioso off to take the final podium spot.

In parc ferme, it was clear just how much it had cost Stoner to hang on to 3rd. The Australian struggled off his bike, and stumbled across into the arms of his young wife Adriana, collapsing against the barrier which walls off the bikes. He was as close to the edge of exhaustion as it is possible to come, but his tenacity was rewarded, as 3rd place meant he was level on points in the championship standings, in an intriguing three-way tie for the championship lead.

Stoner's joy meant frustration for Andrea Dovizioso. For the third race in a row, the Italian just missed out on the podium, finishing 4th. To add to the irony, Dovizioso also moved up to 4th in the championship, nipping ahead of team mate Dani Pedrosa. Dovi must be cursing his decision to run the #4 plate, as that is where he seems to be stuck. But he continues to make steady progress, getting closer all the time. The competition at the top of MotoGP is incredibly tough though, and Dovizioso is going to need some help from Honda to match the Yamahas and the lone fast Ducati.

Loris Capirossi is another rider who has been showing progress, helped this time by an improved engine for his Suzuki. Another strong race saw the Italian veteran come home in 5th place, an encouragement for the next race at Assen, the home race for Rizla, the cigarette paper maker which sponsors the Suzuki team.

Capirossi's 5th place was at the expense of Dani Pedrosa, but under the circumstances, the Repsol Honda rider cannot have been too disappointed with 6th place. Pedrosa's season has been decimated by injury, and now 39 points behind the championship leaders, his title hopes must surely now be over. Being 39 points behind one rider would not be insurmountable, as a single crash could allow Pedrosa to claw back 25 points. But the odds of three rivals all crashing in front of him are slim, to say the least, and he has a huge mountain to climb.

Pedrosa did well to hang on to 6th. Over the course of the last 8 laps, Colin Edwards had been closing on the Spaniard. But the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man could only claw away at Pedrosa's advantage a tenth of a time, and he came up just over a second short. But Edwards' 7th place finish consolidates his place as the leading Tech 3 Yamaha rider, and improves his chances of staying in MotoGP for another season next year.

Randy de Puniet had slipped down the field, from 4th on the first lap to finish the race in 8th. But it was still another strong performance from the Frenchman, finishing well inside the top 10 again, and the first of the satellite Hondas. De Puniet has completely cast off his reputation as a crasher, perhaps because, like Casey Stoner, the front Bridgestones give him the confidence to push hard without overstepping the mark. But part of it is surely down to de Puniet's own maturity. The LCR team must be moving up HRC's priority list when it comes time to start doling out the new parts.

The Enigma Machine

In 9th place - and second Ducati - was a remarkable Mika Kallio. The Finn rebounded from the past few dismal races to score solid points, helped along by some of the same changes which were made to all of the Ducatis except for Casey Stoner's, the factory desperate to make the bike more competitive. Kallio has shown that when the bike is right, he can be well inside the top 10, but getting the Ducati GP9 right remains a notoriously tricky affair.

Kallio finished ahead of the other factory Ducati of Nicky Hayden. A 10th place is better than the past couple of races, and the setup changes made helped Hayden to an outstanding 6th fastest time on Friday's FP1 session. But the Ducati is still a fickle beast despite the improvements in setup, and the process of conquering the bike is one of two steps forward, and 1.999 back for the American.

Chris Vermeulen won a closely fought battle for 11th, the Rizla Suzuki rider just edging out Alex de Angelis on the Gresini Honda. Both men have been mediocre at best this season, De Angelis' 6th place at the season opener looking more and more like an anomaly. The chances of either Vermeulen or De Angelis returning to MotoGP next season are starting to look slim.

James Toseland is a little luckier in that respect, with the BBC keen to have a British rider in the series, and Dorna keen to help. But another 13th place finish is not helping his case in the slightest, especially after his revival at Mugello. Toseland will be keen to get to Assen, a track he has had success at in World Superbikes.

The honeymoon is over for Marco Melandri and the Hayate team, as the bike returns to about where it belongs when the weather is dry. The Italian finished 14th, the bike starting to suffer from its lack of development, and little more in prospect. But Melandri continues to impress, getting better results than the bike probably deserves, and is well on course to booking a better ride for 2010.

Sete Gibernau was disappointed to have finished only 15th at his home Grand Prix. But returning from (yet another) broken collarbone, 12th isn't so bad. The fact remains that Gibernau lacks both fitness and race experience after his two-year layoff, and must be questioning his decision to return to racing.

After his impressive top ten finish at his home race in Mugello, Niccolo Canepa slumped to near the back of the field once again at Catalunya, crossing the line in 16th. Canepa continues to struggle in MotoGP, and looks more likely to return to a testing role than racing. But with a bunch of tracks that he raced at in the Superstock championship coming up, he will at least have track knowledge on his side.

In last place, as expected, finished newcomer Gabor Talmacsi. For a former 125cc champion and a contender in the few races he contested in the 250cc class, finishing 17th can hardly be satisfactory. But considering this was his first weekend on a MotoGP bike, the Hungarian did remarkably well. He cut down the gap in lap times with the leaders by over 2 seconds over the course of the weekend, and was over 15 seconds from being lapped. It was a mature performance, and a useful one, especially from a rider bringing sponsorship to a cash-strapped team.

Talmacsi's result also highlighted new team mate Yuki Takahashi's weakness. The Japanese rider did himself no favors by crashing out on the first lap, the pressure of possibly losing his place to Talmacsi getting to him. Takahashi injured a finger and his chest in the crash, and could potentially sit out the race at Assen, ostensibly to recover. If not, and if the Scot Honda team cannot persuade Honda to provide an extra set of bikes to the team, then Takahashi must surely fear for his job.

The other crasher at Catalunya was Toni Elias, the Spaniard failing once again to finish at his home Grand Prix, a feat he has yet to accomplish in the MotoGP class. But while team boss Fausto Gresini has been scathing at previous races, he was more mild here. Elias has been complaining of a lack of new parts for his factory-spec RC212V, and Gresini backed him at Catalunya, saying that Elias' crash was the result of the Spaniard pushing as hard as possible. Once again, a factory-spec Honda in a satellite team is not the fast track to success that it was in the 990cc era.

All In The Mind

Valentino Rossi's victory at Catalunya was a deeply informative lesson in many different respects. As the first race to be decided by less than a second since Estoril in 2007, and the first race to be decided by a last-lap pass since Estoril in 2006, it showed that the excitement isn't gone from MotoGP, and passing is still possible in the right conditions. It showed that parity is starting to return to MotoGP, as the class matures and the rules are left in (relative) peace. Yamaha have caught up with Ducati in terms of performance, and only Stoner's illness prevented him from putting up more of a fight.

It also shows how important the mental aspect is of motorcycle racing. After the race, Valentino Rossi told reporters that he had been dreaming of that pass all week, preparing it in his mind in case he needed it. Jorge Lorenzo said that he had left the door open, not expecting Rossi to be able to pass there, and was surprised to see him appear up the inside. But if Lorenzo had gone back over previous races, he could have known better. Back in 2007, Rossi pulled exactly the same move on Casey Stoner with five laps to go, in a previous thrilling edition at the Montmelo track.

The 2009 Catalunya Grand Prix also showed us just how afraid Valentino Rossi is of his young team mate Jorge Lorenzo. The reaction in Rossi's pit told you all you needed to know about the rivalry in the Fiat Yamaha garage, Rossi's pit crew celebrating as wildly as if the Italian had just won another title. But to risk disaster in a difficult pass like that so early in the season, just to secure victory rather than give up 5 points with 11 races to go spoke of something more than just a desire to win.

Psy Ops

For this victory was also about something more, about imposing his will on events and on his rivals. Rossi further emphasized his victory with some subtle, and not so subtle, celebrations in parc ferme, leaping off his bike, over the pit wall and onto the tarmac on the front straight, to accept the adulation of the crowd. Jorge Lorenzo's home crowd, as the nearest thing Lorenzo has to a home circuit.

Rossi also did something he has done once before, in July last year. As Jorge Lorenzo stood being interviewed by the BBC, Rossi came across and interrupted, congratulating Lorenzo on the race. He did the same thing at Laguna Seca last year, when Casey Stoner was being interviewed after the race. The difference between the reactions between Stoner and Lorenzo were instructive as well: Stoner complained bitterly about the passes, and when told by Rossi "That's racing!" immediately replied "That's racing is it? We'll see..." Jorge Lorenzo, after accepting Rossi's compliments, had just three words to say: "Venga la proxima!" Bring on the next race!

After the race was over, Lorenzo also let slip why Rossi has every reason to fear him. From the start of the season, the Spaniard has denied that he is interested in the championship, always rating himself behind Rossi, Stoner and Pedrosa. But interviewed by Spanish television, he let his mask slip, saying "the championship is still long."

Valentino Rossi took his 99th victory in front of Jorge Lorenzo's home crowd, the man bearing #99 on his fairing, by sheer force of will. The look in Lorenzo's eyes after his defeat spoke of just one thing: revenge. A battle of wills awaits us, and there's a lot of racing left to do.

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2009 MotoGP Catalunya Preview - The Day After

The Catalunya Grand Prix, to be held at Barcelona's Montmelo circuit, is one of the most anticipated events on the MotoGP calendar. The circuit, just a few kilometers outside Barcelona, Spain's second largest city, lies in the heart of Catalunya, the most industrious of Spain's autonomous regions and the heart of Spanish motorcycling. Three of the four Spanish riders currently in the MotoGP class are from within a thirty minute drive from the Montmelo circuit, Dani Pedrosa almost able to see the track from the window of his apartment.

And it's not just the riders. Dorna - or at least, the part of Dorna that concerns itself with MotoGP - has its offices in Barcelona. Spain's motorcycle industry, such as it is, is still based around Barcelona, as were the historic brands such as Ossa and Bultaco which were once produced not far from the city. The city is home to several of the country's major motorcycle magazines, and the surrounding region is studded with the homes of racers old and new.

So for a huge section of Spain's multitude of race fans, the Catalunya Grand Prix is their nearest race. Last year over 110,000 turned out on race day, and this year is likely to be the same, recession or no recession. All of Spain has been hit incredibly hard by the economic crisis, though the problem has been the bursting of the housing bubble rather than problems in the financial sector. But while the Catalonians have a reputation for being more serious and more dour than the rest of Spain, the fans at Barcelona still know how to throw a party. The atmosphere may not reach the levels of abandon that you see at Jerez, where the Andalusian fans party as if there's no tomorrow; at the Montmelo circuit, the fans are prepared to accept the possible existence of tomorrow, though more in theory than in practice.

Long Weekend

The fans may be looking forward to the MotoGP round at Barcelona, and a chance to forget about their problems, however briefly, but even their anticipation cannot match that of the riders and teams. The irony is, though, that while the teams are looking forward to race day on Sunday, the riders cannot wait until the Monday after the race. Not to relax after having survived the second of the three Spanish Grand Prix, but rather so that they can get to work testing.

For the Monday after the race sees the first day of MotoGP's very limited testing program, most testing having been scrapped in an attempt to save money. Together with the reduction in practice from four sessions to just three, all of the teams have been crying out for a chance to spend some time seriously evaluating new parts for the factory teams, or just running through setup options trying to find the best setup for the satellite teams.

Of all the riders desperate for test time, none has longed for a chance to do some uninterrupted testing more than Nicky Hayden. The 2006 World Champion has been suffering with the Ducati curse, an affliction which struck down Marco Melandri last year. For the Ducati Desmosedici continues to be impossible to ride fast for everyone but Hayden's Marlboro Ducati team mate Casey Stoner, it seems. Just like last year, the bikes regularly split the field, Casey Stoner leading at the front, while Hayden, Sete Gibernau and the Pramac Ducatis bring up the rear.

Hayden has made no secret of his need to spend more time on the bike. Bad luck has prevented the American from getting the track time he feels he needs to figure out the key to riding the Ducati GP9 fast so far this year, a combination of blown engines at Qatar, crashes at Qatar and Motegi, and bad weather in Japan and France conspiring to keep Hayden off the bike. The weather forecast for Barcelona is extremely favorable, with four days of sunshine and barely a cloud in the sky offering Hayden a chance to finally spend the time he needs on the GP9 and the prospect of an end to his woes.

Testing, Testing

Honda, too, are keen to start testing new parts. HRC has a new chassis lined up for testing, and the extra day of testing will be a boon in their search for more rear grip. But like Nicky Hayden at Ducati, Honda have suffered setback after setback during testing, most of which have been related to injuries suffered by Dani Pedrosa.

And so it will be at Barcelona. Just as the Spaniard was almost fully recovered from the preseason surgery on his left knee, a bizarre near-highside saw Pedrosa suffer further injury, this time fracturing a bone at the top of his right thigh. Pedrosa, who lives little more than a stone's throw away from the Montmelo circuit, has just spent the last 10 days flat on his back while his hip healed. He has been given the go ahead to race, but will only be able to do so thanks to carefully targeted painkilling injections for his fractured femur. Though Pedrosa should be able to race, he seems unlikely to be able to test on Monday.

Pedrosa is just glad that he will be able to race. This is his home Grand Prix, and the Repsol Honda rider still cherishes the memory of his victory here last year, escaping on the first lap and leading the race unchallenged the rest of the way. A repeat victory here at Barcelona seems improbable at best, and Pedrosa will be hoping just to score points and limit his losses to the front three again.

With Pedrosa hampered by injuries again, development duties will once again be thrust on the shoulders of Andrea Dovizioso. The quiet Italian is having a very solid season so far, always close to the podium but somehow just out of reach. Dovizioso has been most critical of the Honda RC212V's throttle response, complaining it has been too aggressive, and three full days of practice and racing followed by a full day of testing could help Dovizioso find some fixes to Honda's problems. There is nothing wrong with the top speed of the bike, as Dani Pedrosa's speed record of 349.7 km/h at Mugello demonstrated. If Dovi can harness the Honda's speed, he could challenge for the podium once again.

Power Play

The other team desperate for testing is Suzuki. The development done over the winter has helped fix the problems with edge grip which have plagued the bike, making it much more stable in long fast corners, of which the Barcelona track has a few. But now Suzuki is left to confront the one problem it has struggled with since the birth of the four-stroke GSV-R: A lack of top end power.

At the Montmelo track, with its fast final corner leading on to a huge front straight, that lack of top end will be punished mercilessly. The Rizla Suzuki team is scheduled to receive a new engine this weekend, but unfortunately for Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi, the team isn't sure the engine will be ready to race on Sunday. Though the team may try the new engine during practice, the test on Monday is likely to be the first outing for the new power plant, in preparation for the rest of the season.

Loris Capirossi will suffer the most from the lack of top end. The Italian rode brilliantly at Mugello, and was unlucky to miss out on a podium in the final laps. If Capirossi can take the lessons learned at the Italian track with him to Catalunya, he may at least be able to hang with the leaders. But given Capirossi's luck over the past few years at the Barcelona track - two huge crashes in the past three years, one ending his 2006 title charge at the first corner, the other causing hand and leg damage that prevented him from racing at Donington and Assen in 2008 - he would be glad to settle just for a result in the top ten as long as he's still in one piece.

As for Chris Vermeulen, 2009 is looking increasingly like his final season in MotoGP. The Australian remains probably the finest wet weather rider the series has, and will most likely get on the podium at Laguna Seca once again, but there are a host of young riders waiting to take his place at Suzuki. Vermeulen needs to start showing his face at the sharp end every race, not just when it rains, and Barcelona is as good a place as any to start.

Despite its lack of factory support, even the Hayate team have parts to test at Barcelona. The lack of testing has left the former Kawasaki team with a backlog of new parts that they have not been able to test so far this year, and so Marco Melandri will have plenty to do on Monday. But even without support from Kawasaki, Melandri has worked miracles on the bike. The podium at Le Mans equaled Kawasaki's best ever results in MotoGP, and Melandri even led the race in the wet at Mugello. When the track dried, even the talent of Melandri couldn't disguise the Kawasaki's problems, and the Italian quickly went backwards. At a sunny Barcelona, Melandri can only hope to get into the top 10 once again, and keep up the pressure on Kawasaki to start reinvesting in the project they had walked away from.

Shiny Happy People

While Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki are all desperate to get back to testing, Yamaha are a lot less concerned. They too have new parts to test - mostly some new electronics - but with the YZR M1 winning three out of five Grand Prix this season, having been on the podium with at least one bike every race this year, and comfortably leading both the team and the constructors championship, their needs are more modest than the other manufacturers.

So strong is the 2009 Yamaha M1 that the factory Fiat Yamaha team boasts not one but two riders capable of winning the title this year, much to Valentino Rossi's chagrin. In the paddock, Jorge Lorenzo has been telling reporters that he isn't interested in the championship and he doesn't believe he has a chance of winning this season. But out on track, his actions bear no relation to his words whatsoever. Lorenzo has taken a step up from last year, where he showed flashes of brilliance, to become a full time threat to Rossi's supremacy and match Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa as a worthy title contender.

With Pedrosa injured, Lorenzo has fast become Spain's best hope for their next World Champion, following in the footsteps of Alex Criville. And the Barcelona race could be the measure of Lorenzo's challenge: If Lorenzo can beat his team mate here, in a straight fight with no weather issues to cloud the picture, then his transformation from talented upstart to fully-fledged champion-in-waiting will be complete.

There can be no doubting Lorenzo's motivation: Last year saw the Spanish youngster taken to hospital after a horrific crash in which he lost consciousness and injured his hand, the latest in a long line of painful accidents. But unlike previous incidents in 2008, Lorenzo was forced to miss the race, staying in hospital under observation for concussion. So Lorenzo has a score to settle here, and prior to the event, he has already made his intentions plain. Lorenzo has turned up with a special FC Barcelona paint scheme, for his helmet, part of his leathers and sections of the bike. The world famous soccer club have just managed the triple - winning the Spanish League, the Europe-wide Champions League, and the Spanish Copa del Rey cup - and Lorenzo will be looking for his third trophy of the season at Barcelona.

The Catalunya Grand Prix is crunch time for Lorenzo's team mate as well. Valentino Rossi may only have been off the podium once this season, but that is also the number of races Rossi has won. This puts him behind both Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, the two men challenging for his title, a title that took all his efforts to reclaim. Lorenzo and Stoner are pushing Rossi harder than ever before, and Rossi really needs a win at Barcelona to regain the momentum of his title defense.

A win at Barcelona would also be revenge for Mugello. Rossi's winning streak of seven straight victories at his home track came to an end two weeks ago, and Rossi took the defeat hard. Finishing behind his Spanish team mate added insult to injury, and Rossi will want to avenge that affront at Barcelona. If a victory should prove impossible, then Rossi will make sure that he at least beats his team mate at Lorenzo's home race.

Cat Fight

The war in the Fiat Yamaha may be hotting up, over in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha garage, it's already at boiling point. So far this year, Colin Edwards has had the best of the fight, the Texan veteran finishing well inside the top ten almost every race. Edwards is chasing his first podium of the year, and though it may not come at Catalunya, where the Texan's record is rather mixed, it should come soon.

Edwards' first priority will be to beat his team mate again. Since James Toseland stole Edwards' crew chief - in Edwards words - at the end of last season, the Texan has managed that without breaking a sweat. But last time out at Mugello, it took Edwards until the last lap to get past his team mate and secure 6th place. Toseland finally started to look comfortable on the Bridgestone spec tires, being competitive for the first time this year. Toseland desperately needs to hold on to that form and improve if he is to stay in MotoGP in 2010: Just like Chris Vermeulen, James Toseland's seat at Tech 3 Yamaha is one of the most coveted seats on the grid, and is widely rumored to have been offered to Marco Simoncelli for next season. If Toseland is to keep his ride, he needs to build on his Mugello results and pick up his assault on the top five where he left off last year.

Like the Yamaha riders, Casey Stoner is more concerned about the race than the test on Monday. If anything, Stoner is faster on the Ducati this year than he was last year. The Australian was on the podium at Jerez and scored solid points at Le Mans, two tracks that Ducati has previously suffered badly at. He capped this off by beating Valentino Rossi at his home track at Mugello, and leads the championship. The 2007 World Champion is fast almost despite what the Ducati does, and is well-placed for the run of summer races which form the belly of the MotoGP title race, and where the foundations are laid for world titles.

Going into the Catalunya round, Stoner must be feeling supremely confident. The Australian won here in 2007, and was the only man able to stay in the same zip code with Pedrosa in 2008, so the Ducati is more than capable of delivering the goods in Barcelona. Stoner will be looking to consolidate his position going into the summer the only way he knows how: by winning.

Via Dolorosa

Tragically for Ducati, Casey Stoner remains an anomaly. In the satellite Ducati teams, the only reason for hope is the appearance of the carbon fiber swingarm and some electronics update in the Pramac garage. After a decent start to the season, scoring a pair of 8th places, former 250cc star Mika Kallio has been in the doldrums. A combination of bad luck, bad weather and that pesky GP9 has seen the Finn stuck at the back of the field, with little hope of reprieve. Barcelona is a track that has not brought much luck to Kallio in the past, and for the moment, he will be looking just to survive.

Pramac team mate Niccolo Canepa has a little more reason for optimism. The Italian started the season dismally, but came away with a 9th place finish at Mugello. Admittedly, it is a track that he knows like the back of his hand, having ridden thousands of laps there as a Ducati test rider, but the result will have helped Canepa build his confidence. He will be carrying that confidence into Catalunya, and a track that the Italian also tested at last year, setting some competitive times. Another finish near the top ten might help give Canepa the final confidence boost he has been missing, and help reignite the season which got off to such a difficult start.

Sete Gibernau will be making an emotional return, to both racing and to the Montmelo circuit. The last time Gibernau raced here in 2006, he found himself tumbling through the gravel at the first corner after a terrifying crash which effectively ended his career the first time round. The collarbone which Gibernau broke meant he never returned to full fitness, and after breaking it again at Estoril, the Spaniard announced his retirement.

Last year, Gibernau was back in the paddock, and laying down the first shoots of a plan which saw him return to racing, and this year, the Spanish veteran comes to the Montmelo circuit only just recovered from another broken collarbone, this time sustained at Le Mans. The scion of the Bultaco dynasty still lacks both physical and race fitness, and will be looking just for a solid result in front of his home crowd. But doubts remain over the wisdom of Gibernau 's return to racing, and whether he will ever be fit enough to make a return to his former glory as the man who challenged Valentino Rossi for the title. No doubt, though, over Gibernau's will to try.

The story for the satellite Hondas is similar to the story for the satellite Ducatis, with one honorable exception. The formerly crash-happy Frenchman Randy de Puniet has shown maturity and calmness in recent races, scoring in every single race of the season so far, and equaling his longest streak of point-scoring races in a season. In fact, taken from the end of the season last year, Randy de Puniet has finished in the points for the last ten races in a row. Formerly regarded as a one-man carbon fiber disposal device, de Puniet is looking more and more consistent. If the LCR Honda rider can continue the upward trend, he may well earn himself better machinery for 2010.

Book Of The Dead

Toni Elias had secured just that at the end of the 2008 season, being awarded a factory-spec Honda RC212V in the Gresini Honda team for this year. But so far, his results have not reflected this advantage. Part of that is down to the less than stellar performance of the 2009 Honda, and part of that is down to the combination of Elias' idiosyncratic riding style and the stiff construction spec Bridgestone tires. But part of it is undoubtedly down to Toni Elias, and his lack of confidence in both machine and tires. Under normal circumstances, a factory-spec Gresini Honda is the most desirable ride in the paddock. But these are clearly not normal circumstances.

Just ask Alex de Angelis. The San Marinese rider who impressed and frustrated so many MotoGP fans last year in equal measure has been mostly just disappointing in 2009. After a strong start to the season, finishing 6th at Qatar, though nearly sending Dani Pedrosa tumbling in the process, it's all been downhill for de Angelis ever since. The Gresini team's post-race press releases have read more like funeral elegies than the usual upbeat spin that press officers usually find to put on poor results. Apparently, there are some things that even experienced PR professionals cannot put a brave face on.

Last, and very much least, comes Yuki Takahashi and the Team Scot Honda. Last year, the team ran close to the front of the pack with Andrea Dovizioso, but despite his decent results in the 250 class, Yuki Takahashi has proved in 2009 that he is no Andrea Dovizioso. The Japanese rider remains cheerful though, awaiting his likely replacement by Hiroshi Aoyama at the end of this season, and has actually improved his results recently. Takahashi is no longer the man fighting over last place with the Pramac Ducatis, but has managed to finish ahead of them on a regular basis. There is hope for Takahashi yet, but not a great deal.

Return To Glory?

The Catalonian MotoGP fans will be hopeful, though, hopeful of a close race at Barcelona. The signs are actually quite good: The previous race at Mugello came incredibly close to being the first for over a year to be decided by less than a second, Casey Stoner's margin of victory eventually 1.001 seconds over Jorge Lorenzo. And the 2007 race turned into a three-way thriller, with Casey Stoner just edging Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa on the final lap.

This year shows all the signs of being another three-way dogfight, though with Jorge Lorenzo taking the place of the injured Dani Pedrosa. It also offers the intriguing possibility of a three-way tie at the top of the standings, if Valentino Rossi can beat Jorge Lorenzo into 2nd, and Casey Stoner into 3rd. In that case, all three men would end up on 106 points, and Rossi and Lorenzo having exactly the results, Rossi taking the lead based on being the last rider to win. But whatever happens on Sunday, the riders are likely to leave Barcelona with the championship as tight as when they arrived. This title is a very long way from being over.

How the title fight continues could be sorted out on Monday. If the new chassis for the Honda RC212V gives Dani Pedrosa the performance boost he's looking for, he could easily close back in on the leading trio. And if Casey Stoner can iron out the remaining bugs with the Ducati's rear swingarm, and Valentino Rossi can regain some of the confidence he has lost in the front end of his Yamaha M1, and Jorge Lorenzo can extract a little bit more from the electronics upgrades due for the Yamaha, then the title chase could get even tighter, and the racing could get closer, and we could end up with the spectacle we have been longing for since the introduction of the 800cc formula: Close, tightly-fought races between the greatest riders on the planet. Sunday's race may be important, but there's much, much more riding on the test on Monday.

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2009 MotoGP Mugello Race Report - Mugello Mojo

By their very nature, human beings are superstitious beings, seeking succor and aid from wherever they believe they can find it. Some seek it in the support of a Supreme Being, who they entrust with clearing obstacles from their path and lending them strength beyond their natural ability. Others seek it in the most mundane objects, believing that a green vest, a pair of socks, or a necklace with pendant will bring them the luck and the success that they seek. Yet others follow a fixed set of actions, putting the left shoe on before the right, touching a mirror or a picture, only speaking to a set person on entering a room, religiously observing the rituals which have always brought them luck so far.

Valentino Rossi is one of the latter, following rituals and patterns in a fixed sequence in the hope of recreating the success which has followed them in the past. So Rossi meticulously applies all his own decals to his bike before a race; stretches to touch his toes before approaching his bike; crouches down to clutch the right foot peg before mounting the bike; and stands up as he rides out of the pits to adjust his leathers caught on film in all too intimate detail a million times by the curiously positioned camera on the back of Rossi's bike. He will always wear something yellow, the color finding its way onto his leathers, his gloves, his helmet and his bike.

At Mugello, Rossi's superstition is heightened, not the least by his incredible success at the circuit. On the 13 previous occasions Rossi raced here in the world championship classes, he came away with victory 9 times, 7 of those wins coming from his last 7 visits. The last time Rossi failed to win at Mugello was in 2001, riding a Nastro Azzurro Honda NSR 500 with a special celebratory paint scheme. Rossi crashed out on the penultimate lap and swore never to race at Mugello again with a special livery. Since making that vow, he has not lost at the Tuscan track.

Rossi's proscription on special paint jobs does not extend to his helmet, however. The Italian has always come to Mugello with something special from friend and legendary designer Aldo Drudi on his head, perhaps the best and most famous of which was the helmet he wore at the last race here in 2008. This featured a picture of Rossi's face, eyes and mouth open wide in terror. It was, he explained, the expression he wore under his helmet every time he came to Mugello, heading into the San Donato turn at the end of the 340 km/h straight.

This weekend, Rossi turned up with a special helmet once again. For the 2009 race, Drudi had painted Rossi's gloved hands holding the top of his head. The Italian said it represented the stress of trying to deal with the Tuscan circuit: stress from both the demanding layout, featuring lots of fast combinations with blind entry; and the demanding crowds, tens of thousands of whom flock to the track expecting to see another Rossi victory. The attendant press added to the pressure, bombarding the Italian with questions about the difficulty of maintaining his winning streak in front of his home crowd, and whether he was disappointed on missing out on the opportunity to take his 100th victory at Mugello, after failing to score his 99th win at Le Mans two weeks previously.

Stick To The Plan

Rossi faced it all, unfazed, having seen it all before. What worried the Italian more were the timesheets in practice. Though there was nothing wrong with his race pace, Rossi's name kept being knocked off the top of the timesheets, his pesky team mate Jorge Lorenzo and Ducati's Casey Stoner consistently finishing ahead of him. The problem was compounded in qualifying. For the first time since entering the premier class, Rossi didn't qualify on the front row, edged out into 4th by two young upstarts and an old veteran, Jorge Lorenzo taking pole, ahead of Casey Stoner and Suzuki's Loris Capirossi.

It was an ill omen, and more were to follow. Though practice had been held under a burning Tuscan sun and perfect conditions, the forecast for Sunday was mixed: It would rain at some point during the day, but there would also be dry spells, meaning another flag-to-flag race was in the offing. Though Rossi has won plenty of rain races, his record in the flag-to-flag format has not been good, and he has come to believe the races are unlucky for him. Finally, in the Red Bull Rookies Cup race held after qualifying on Saturday afternoon, Japanese rider Daijiro Hiura finished third, taking the final spot on the podium. Hiura races with the number 46.

Race day turned out to be wet as predicted, the track still soaking from the downpour which had plagued the preceding 250cc race, but with the rain gone the track was certain to start drying out within a few laps, necessitating a dash into the pits and a leap onto a bike shod with slicks. If Rossi was fazed by the weather, others were looking forward to it: Chris Vermeulen had been fast in the morning warm up, as had Rossi's chief rival at Mugello, Ducati's Casey Stoner.

The Last Thing You Need

The reasons to be fearful of a rain race were amply demonstrated by Jorge Lorenzo. On his sighting lap, Lorenzo crashed at the penultimate corner, lowsiding into the gravel. The Spaniard scrambled to get back onto his bike and into the pits, leaping onto his spare bike and exiting the pit lane with just seconds to spare before the pit lane closed, which would have left Lorenzo to start from the back of the grid rather than the pole position he had fought so hard for on Saturday.

Lorenzo was lucky his spare bike was already in wet weather trim, with only minor adjustments needed on the grid. Meanwhile back in pit lane, his mechanics were working flat out to repair the damage to his first bike to get it ready for the inevitable bike swap as the track dried. The Spanish prodigy seemed relatively unruffled on the grid, focusing on the race ahead and banishing any thoughts of the events of the sighting lap.

As the lights dimmed, unleashing the unholy screech of 800cc MotoGP bikes down Mugello's magnificent front straight, Lorenzo was given cause to think of his sighting lap spill once again. The bike's launch control did not appear to be switched on, and the rear wheel of Lorenzo's Yamaha M1 span up, producing plenty of smoke but little forward motion. Lorenzo's pole position went for naught, the #99 Fiat Yamaha entering the first corner well down in the second half of the pack.

Where Lorenzo got a terrible start off the line, his bitter rival Dani Pedrosa got his customary rocket start, flying through the pack to take the lead into San Donato. Behind Pedrosa, Randy de Puniet hugged the inside line, while Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen used his wet weather skills to ride round the outside of the Frenchman's LCR Honda. Valentino Rossi exited San Donato in 4th place, exactly where he had left the line, with the other Suzuki of Loris Capirossi probing the options for a pass at Luco. Casey Stoner, the other rocket starter, had been quick off the line but had hit a puddle and had the rear spin up, losing 5 places within yards of the start.

The first lap of any race is a test of bravery, but the first lap of a wet race is battle of nerves as riders probe and test to see just how much grip there is, paying very dearly for any excess of confidence. But it does allow the brave to get to the front quickly, and the first lap at Mugello was a textbook example. Unsurprisingly, Chris Vermeulen quickly took the lead, demoting Pedrosa down to 2nd at Materassi, with Andrea Dovizioso following Vermeulen past Dovi's Repsol Honda team mate as they flicked back right for Borgo San Lorenzo.

Casey Stoner followed Dovizioso's example at the next corner, taking 3rd from Pedrosa at Casanova, but Stoner was the last to pass the Spaniard for the moment. Pedrosa had a gap to Randy de Puniet, who was holding up Valentino Rossi and Loris Capirossi. Rossi was by the Frenchman in the first of the Arrabbiata right handers, but would have to work before he could catch Pedrosa.

You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

Vermeulen led through Mugello's snaking western loop while Casey Stoner pushed Dovizioso for the right to challenge the Suzuki man, but the terrifyingly fast front straight exposed the Suzuki's weakness. As the riders crossed the line for the first time, Vermeulen was in the process of being swallowed up by the far more powerful Ducati and Honda, Stoner leading into San Donato. Dovizioso had followed Stoner past, but Vermeulen would not just roll over, holding the outside line to brake a fraction later and take back 2nd spot.

Behind the leaders, Jorge Lorenzo had channeled his anger at his poor start into an aggressive first lap charge. By the time the Spaniard crossed the line, Lorenzo had taken back half of the 10 or so places he had lost at the start jamming his Yamaha M1 past riders ahead at every opportunity that presented itself. Lorenzo crossed the line just behind his team mate, but could not follow Rossi past Pedrosa as the Italian lunged through at San Donato.

Stoner may have been leading but he would not have it all his own way. Vermeulen and Dovizioso sat lurking on the tail of the Ducati, Dovizioso pushing at Vermeulen for a shot at the Ducati. As the front three crossed the line Mugello's front straight once again highlighted the shortcomings of the Suzuki, Vermeulen doing all he could to hang in Stoner's draft, then forced to hold Dovizioso off on the brakes into San Donato before starting the process of chasing his Australian compatriot once more.

Vermeulen held on until they crossed the line to start lap 4, but by now, he was fighting a losing battle. Dovizioso got past over the line again, then held off the Australian's challenge as they braked for San Donato. One Australian down, one to go, and at Materassi, Dovizioso shot his first bolt. Stoner parried as the track flicked back right for Borgo San Lorenzo, but Dovizioso would not be denied for long. The Australian held the Repsol Honda behind him for most of the lap, but at Bucine, Dovizioso was past.

Once the Italian was past the Ducati it was clear just how much Stoner had been holding Dovizioso up. Dovizioso quickly put half a second over Stoner, but he wasn't the only Italian going fast. Behind Stoner, Valentino Rossi and Marco Melandri were charging forward, catching then passing the Australian with relative ease and going on to chase Dovizioso. Rossi caught Dovi on lap 7, passing him into San Donato to start lap 8. By now Melandri was also with the leaders and looking to get past, clearly the fastest of the three on the undeveloped Hayate.

The Old Switcheroo

As the race had been progressing the track had continued to dry, and riders had started coming in to switch bikes and get back out again. James Toseland had been the first to take the gamble, swapping bikes as early as lap 4, and with his tires now hot and sticky he was starting to charge through the field. Once Dovizioso had understood that he could not match the pace of Rossi and Melandri on rain tires, he quickly dived into the pits for a bike shod with slicks in the hope of better luck with different tires.

It was a timely swap. On lap 8, Toseland was the fastest man on track while the wet tires started to overheat and lose grip. Dovizioso was in on lap 9, the rest of the leaders still staying out. But as they headed along the short straight before Materassi, Marco Melandri dived up the inside of Valentino Rossi to lead his home Grand Prix on a bike that only 6 months' previously had been destined for the crusher after Kawasaki announced its withdrawal from MotoGP. Wet tires were now well and truly shot, and at the end of lap 10 the remaining leaders headed into the pits.

The riders cruised back out of the pits, the bikes straining against pit lane limiters, all now on slick tires, but the role that tires would play was far from over. All through practice, the hot weather had made the hard tires the only ones capable of lasting and providing good feel for the riders. The teams all had as near a perfect setup as they could find on the hard tires, having discarded the softer of the two compounds brought by Bridgestone as unlikely to last the distance. But the track was now significantly cooler than on Friday or Saturday, and the damp patches remaining on the track were still sucking the temperature out of the tires. Should you play it safe and use the harder compound you know you have the setup for, or should you gamble on the softer slicks providing more grip, despite only having a ballpark setup for the tires?

The teams and riders were split down the middle: Some, such as Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi went all in, fitting the medium compound front and rear. The Yamahas for the most part were playing it safe, with Valentino Rossi, James Toseland and Colin Edwards all fitting the hard slicks front and rear, going with what they knew. On the other hand, Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso took a more cautious gamble, fitting the hard rear tire with the softer front. The wisdom of these choices would only be known 13 laps later when the finish flag dropped.

Melandri, Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo all exited the pits just as Andrea Dovizioso flew down the front straight, his tires already holding the heat of his first lap out. Dovizioso picked up three places in as many corners, and by the time they headed down the front straight once again the Italian was in the lead.

Why Take It Easy?

But Dovizioso wasn't the only rider to have moved forward. Casey Stoner's gamble on the softer tires was rewarded with a blistering out lap, the Australian leaping from 4th up to 2nd, passing Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Marco Melandri on the way. Lorenzo, with the softer front, was also past his team mate, as was Loris Capirossi on the soft tires. Mindful of his experience at Le Mans two weeks ago when he crashed on his out lap, going on to finish 16th and out of the points, Rossi was being conspicuously cautious, waiting for his tires to come to him before starting to really push.

Stoner displayed no such qualms. Down 3 seconds on the leader Dovizioso on lap 11, the Australian had the hammer down, reeling the Repsol Honda in with astonishing speed. He had a second back on lap 12, and as they roared across the line to start lap 14, Stoner was on Dovizioso and ahead into San Donato. The Ducati man had brought Loris Capirossi with him, and at Savelli, Capirex had his Suzuki past Dovizioso's Honda as well, and into 2nd.

Stoner and Capirossi had quickly gapped Dovizioso, the Suzuki man clinging onto the coat tails of the Ducati. Stoner's gamble on the soft tires may have paid off but the bike switch had brought the bad with the good. The clutch on Stoner's bike had started slipping, allowing the engine to spin up uselessly without providing drive. As the pair headed down the front straight, the fans in the grandstand were treated to the remarkable spectacle of Loris Capirossi powering past Casey Stoner as if Stoner was standing still, a reversal of the situation with Chris Vermeulen just a few laps before.

Stoner had other things on his mind though. The Australian was frantically trying to adjust his clutch to try and stop it from slipping. He tried it one way without success, then the other, which worked better, finishing his fiddling just in time to sit up for the heavy braking required for San Donato. The problem almost solved, Stoner was back on the Suzuki's tail and threatening. In his hurry to get back at Capirossi, Stoner grabbed a fraction too much throttle, the rear tire squirming out from underneath for a second before flicking back into line again. But as they streaked down the front straight, Stoner was out of the draft and past Capirossi, giving his clutch a final tweak to get it set correctly. Normal order had been restored.

Forward Motion

While Stoner and Capirossi had been swapping places, the harder tires of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were starting to come into their own. The two Fiat Yamahas were up to speed and starting to close in on the Repsol Honda of Andrea Dovizioso, the threesome also nearing the Ducati and Suzuki. Loris Capirossi was still on Stoner's tail, but he was having more and more difficulty clinging on, the gap growing painfully slowly but inexorably.

On lap 18, Jorge Lorenzo was right on Andrea Dovizioso and pushing hard. On the run through the Biondettis, Lorenzo crept closer, finally making a lunge inside the Honda rider at Bucine, then holding his line to take 3rd. Rossi may have hoped to follow Lorenzo, but the two men leapt away from the Italian down the front straight, Rossi having to brake desperately late into San Donato just to close the gap again.

Dovizioso had been warned. Now he knew he had Rossi behind him, he wasn't going to go down without a fight. Dovi made his Repsol Honda as wide as possible, then cranked it open a little bit more, opening the merest slither of daylight between himself and Rossi. Not enough to be called a gap, but enough to make it impossible for Rossi to attempt a pass.

Rossi could only wait, knowing his best chance lay at the end of Mugello's mighty straight. He chased Dovizioso past the grandstand and along the pit wall, unable to draw level, but as the track dropped away for the braking zone, Rossi braked a fraction of a second later, getting the run into the corner, and holding his line to take 4th.

Mission Possible

With 3 laps to go, Lorenzo and Rossi were 2 seconds down on the leader, Casey Stoner, and over half a second a lap faster. It should be possible to catch and even challenge Stoner, but there was a complication. That complication was riding a Rizla Suzuki, and was no longer quite fast enough to match Stoner's pace but still plenty fast enough to be a major obstacle. As an Italian with a chance of a podium - rare enough for the Suzukis - at his home Grand Prix, Loris Capirossi was intent on being an obstacle the size of the surrounding Apennine mountains.

Jorge Lorenzo's work was relatively simple: The Spaniard had caught Capirossi as they rounded the final Bucine corner before heading onto the straight, and Lorenzo could simply use the superior power of his Yamaha M1 to motor past Capirossi's Suzuki. The Italian veteran tried valiantly to hold Lorenzo off on the brakes, but to no avail. So deeply had he braked that Capirossi almost ran wide allowing Rossi to come underneath him as well, but the large radius of the San Donato corner allowed Capirex to cut back, adding an apex to the corner and cutting across the bow of Rossi's Yamaha, forcing Rossi to slow and killing his drive out of the corner.

Rossi was still stuck behind the Suzuki and would need to find a way around. He closed enough to start pushing through Arrabbiata, but it wasn't until Scarperia that he could finally force his way past and up into 3rd. If Rossi was to extend his winning streak at Mugello to 8 in a row, he would have to hurry. Two seconds down, with a lap and a quarter left to go, he had just lost half a second working his way past Capirossi, and he still had Lorenzo to deal with.

Mission Impossible

Both Lorenzo and Rossi were fast, but Stoner had seen the danger coming. On the last lap of the race, Casey Stoner put in his fastest lap, more than matching the pace of Lorenzo and Rossi. Stoner crossed the line to take a victory that was historic in more ways than one. The wildly cheering crew in the Ducati garage demonstrated how important the race was to the Bologna factory, finally taking a win at their home track, a track that Ducatis have spent thousands of laps trying to wear a groove into. They had been on the podium 5 times in the 6 years that they had raced here at Mugello, but each time they faced Valentino Rossi's Mugello mojo, and each time they lost. Finally, the spell had been broken and Rossi's reign in Tuscany was at an end.

Even more remarkably, Stoner's win came despite mechanical problems, forced to adjust a slipping clutch. Stoner's impromptu repair skills are proving vital, as he had to adjust an over-tight steering damper at Le Mans just 14 days ago in the previous flag-to-flag race. Stoner's pit crew are starting to look careless, the Australian winning despite his team, rather than because of them. Stoner won this race on the first lap out of the pits, setting a time of 2'06.761, nearly 7 seconds faster than Valentino Rossi and 4 seconds faster than Jorge Lorenzo. At the end, Stoner's lead was just 1.001 seconds.

Jorge Lorenzo crossed the line to take 2nd, an outstanding result after his race had gotten off to such a poor start. Most riders would have been so unnerved by crashing on the sighting lap then spinning the rear off the line and losing 10-odd places that they would have been happy just to cruise around mid-pack, and score some valuable points. Not Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo seems to possess the ability to forget about errors and problems as soon as they have occurred, an ability he shares with his team mate. He may have dropped to 2nd in the championship after his defeat at the hands of Casey Stoner, but heading into his home round at Barcelona, he will be feeling confident of getting the lead back soon enough. And more importantly, he leads his team mate.

All Good Things Must Come To An End

That team mate was distraught at seeing his winning streak come to an end at Mugello. As he crossed the line in 3rd place, Valentino Rossi deflated visibly, taking his loss very hard. Winning means a lot to Rossi, though he is usually very sporting whenever he loses. This time, though, the loss really hurt, and Rossi rode back round to the pits slumped over his bike.

Rossi put his defeat down to his tire choice. The hard front tire the team elected to run was the logical choice, as it was the tire they knew worked around the track. But the cold, damp asphalt at Mugello meant that the tire took longer to get up to temperature, and it took too long before Rossi could push for the lead. It's unusual for Rossi to assign blame for mistakes in the team, preferring to both win and lose as a team. But in the press debrief after the race, Rossi told reporters that the tire choice had been down to Peter Baumgartner, the highly experienced Bridgestone tire engineer assigned to work with Rossi, adding immediately afterwards that in the past, Baumgartner's advice had allowed him to win races, but not this time.

Andrea Dovizioso finished in 4th in his home Grand Prix, getting ahead of Loris Capirossi at the end of the straight at the start of the final lap. Dovizioso had come perilously close to the podium, pushing Rossi hard at the end of the last lap. For the second race in a row Dovizioso just missed out on a podium, but the progression the Repsol Honda rider has made since the start of the season and the improvements expected to the bike after the Catalunya Grand Prix suggest that it won't be long before Dovi is finally back on the box.

Loris Capirossi was also close to the podium for his home race, but in the end the Suzuki's lack of horsepower proved fatal. The Italian veteran rode a brilliant race in front of his home crowd, matching the pace of the front runners despite a serious power deficit. But Mugello's 349 km/h front straight left Capirex with nowhere to hide, allowing his rivals to pass with relative ease.

In 6th and 7th place came the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team, Colin Edwards just pipping his team mate James Toseland to the post, taking the position on the final lap. Edwards had got a miserable start, languishing down in 11th spot until the pit stops, but on slick tires the Texan started making rapid progress. Yet another decent result for Edwards allows the Texan to tighten his grip on his seat at Tech 3 for next season.

Meanwhile, team mate James Toseland got a much needed boost to his so far miserable season. The Yorkshireman had struggled since the switch to Bridgestones, but he found some of the pace he had been missing at Mugello. Toseland's results were partly down to a gamble that paid off, coming in early and making up a lot of ground while other riders were still getting up to speed after swapping to slicks.

Randy de Puniet had yet another respectable race, running in 6th for a long time before losing out to the Tech 3 Yamahas in the final laps. The LCR Honda sported Playboy sponsorship once again, team boss Lucio Cecchinello doing another of his useful single event deals, and de Puniet delivered by giving the sponsor the exposure they had paid for. De Puniet seems finally to have put his wayward past behind him, no longer the crasher of previous years.

Home Boy

The man who has ridden more laps at Mugello than almost anyone here, Niccolo Canepa, had his best result of the year, finishing 9th. This was just what Canepa needed to do at Mugello, finally displaying the talent that earned him the Ducati test role last year. Now all Canepa has to do is get up to speed more quickly at other tracks, for if this is just a one-off top 10 then the Italian could be back in Superstock or Superbike again next season.

Chris Vermeulen had started strong, leading the race at the beginning, but it simply wasn't wet enough for the Australian to excel. Hampered by the Suzuki's lack of power, he could offer no resistance to the rest of the bikes, sinking down the standings to finish 10th.

Marco Melandri had been another early leader, and on wet tires, the Italian had looked almost unbeatable. But after changing bikes, Melandri quickly dropped through the field to finish 11th, victim of the wrong tire choice, choosing the hard front and medium rear, the reverse of what was needed. In the wet, Melandri showed exactly what he was capable of. But the bike switch cost Melandri dearly.

Nicky Hayden finished the day in 12th, a position he has become accustomed to. But the American left Mugello in a much more upbeat mood than usual, as his 12th place this time had been caused by a brake problem rather than a general lack of confidence and lack of feeling with the Marlboro Ducati. Hayden had worn down his rear brake using it to stop the rear from spinning, using it up before the end of the race. Though everyone is looking forward to the day of testing after the Catalunya Grand Prix, Hayden is longing for it the most. The American will want to spend as much time as possible looking for a setup which will work for him on the Ducati, after missing so much riding time through injury, poor weather and just plain bad luck.

Hayden finished ahead of Pramac Ducati's Mika Kallio, who had a hard day on his dry bike. Happy enough on the wet setup, Kallio complained that his dry bike simply wouldn't turn, leaving him out of contention. The talented young Finn Kallio must be mulling over his decision to take a ride aboard the satellite Ducati, now increasingly being labeled "The Duc of Death" for its ability to terminate otherwise promising careers.

The final bikes across the line were the Gresini Hondas of Toni Elias and Alex de Angelis, in 14th and 15th respectively. The Gresini Honda used to be one of the most desirable satellite riders to have, but so far this year both Elias and de Angelis have been at best inconsistent, at worst downright dismal. Elias struggled with tire choice, the tires not heating as he needed, slowing the Spaniard up. De Angelis was de Angelis, running off the track on his first lap out on slick tires, tipping over but able to rejoin. Fausto Gresini summed the race up as hitting rock bottom, and the Italian is surely having a long hard look at his riders right now.

De Angelis wasn't the only rider to run off the track on the first lap out of the pits. The same thing happened to Yuki Takahashi, who didn't even make it to the first intermediate timing point. Takahashi continues to look out of his depth in MotoGP.

Can't Keep A Good Man Down

Dani Pedrosa managed to get in three laps after coming in to change bikes before crashing out at Savelli. The crash was the last thing Pedrosa needed, having torn a ligament and cracked a bone in his hip in a bizarre near-highside during practice. After the crash, Pedrosa lay still in the gravel trap, unable to move, but fears that he had aggravated his injury were unfounded, examination finding no further injuries from the crash.

Pedrosa is now lying immobilized at home for 10 days, hoping to be ready to race in his home Grand Prix. Frankly, the Spaniard would be better to miss the Barcelona race, and possibly the Assen race 13 days later, and focus his efforts on healing up and getting fit. Pedrosa's title challenge for 2009 is effectively over though he bears very little blame for that situation. Pedrosa's interests would be best served if he recovered fully, and helped get the Honda RC212V ready to mount a serious challenge in 2010.

Valentino Rossi's preparation for Mugello was assiduous as ever. He ran meticulously through all the rituals he has at his disposal, in an attempt to maintain his Mugello mojo, a force which had won him seven races in a row at the Tuscan track. Despite all his talismans, his signs and wonders, even Rossi's magic cannot banish chance and control all the factors needed for another victory. A statistician would label the end of Rossi's victory streak "regression to the mean," a concept which states that all exceptional occurrences will eventually come to an end. Ducati simply label it "Victory."

Total votes: 164
Total votes: 86

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2009 World Superbikes And World Supersport Race Report

Ben Spies came to his home race - or the nearest thing he has to a home race - at Miller Motorsports in Utah looking to get a double and a bundle of points to get himself back into the World Superbike championship race. So when the lights went out at the start of race 1, the Texan set about the task with a gusto bordering on the insatiable. First off the line and first into Turn 1, Spies had gap by the first corner, streaking away to take a lead of over 2 seconds by the time they crossed the line to end the first lap. Spies was gone.

Behind Spies, Shinya Nakano had gotten an outstanding start, leading from Noriyuki Haga and Ryuichi Kiyonari, with Broc Parkes leading Carlos Checa further back. With Spies already disappeared, Ryuichi Kiyonari worked his way past Nori Haga, then set about passing Nakano, the Honda and the Aprilia getting a gap as they fought over 2nd. The two Japanese riders soon had the company of a Spaniard, as Carlos Checa also worked his way past Haga then went on to challenge Shinya Nakano.

Checa was determined to get past Nakano, and did so pretty forcefully, the Aprilia rider losing his concentration as Checa's Honda appeared underneath him, then losing the front and crashing out. Nakano's crash came just a lap too early, as a lap later, Celani Suzuki rider Karl Muggeridge also crashed out at the esses, leaving both bike and rider laying on the track. The stewards had no option but to red flag the race, so they could get to Muggeridge. The Australian was unhurt, but had just had his bell rung, and later walked to the ambulance under his own steam, and was taken off for further medical inspection.

The restart was frustrating for Spies, as the Texan was left to do it all over again. Spies' one consolation was that the race would be decided on aggregate times, which meant he carried a 4.5 second lead into the second heat, and didn't need to win the race.

At the second time of asking, Spies didn't get off the line quite so smartly, beaten into the first turn by Ryuichi Kiyonari. But Kiyo's advantage would only last for a couple of corners, as the Texan soon stuffed his Yamaha R1 ahead of the Ten Kate Honda and was off to the races once again.

Kiyonari was quickly joined by his team mate, Carlos Checa, who had forced his way past Max Biaggi on lap 1. Biaggi then started to drop through the field, soon getting company from the third Ten Kate man, Johnny Rea. But it was Checa who was on the move, passing Kiyonari as he had passed Biaggi, and up into 2nd. Checa soon dropped Kiyonari and went on to chase Spies, though that chase would be in vain.

While the top two spots were settled, there was still plenty to fight for behind. Johnny Rea caught, then passed Kiyonari, the Japanese rider quickly losing touch and falling back into the clutches of Max Biaggi. Further down the field, a huge scrap developed for 6th position, involving the Kawasakis of Jamie Hacking and Broc Parkes, the factory Ducatis of Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio, and the Honda of Leon Haslam. Hacking used his track knowledge to the full, quickly slicing past Nori Haga, clearly suffering from the back injury he sustained during practice on Saturday.

Past Haga, Hacking then set about the Honda of Haslam, disposing of the Briton after a brief scuffle with the Stiggy Honda. His next target was his team mate Broc Parkes, and the rather rash move Hacking tried to get past the Australian pushed both riders wide, and allowed a storming Michel Fabrizio through. Eventually, Hacking passed his team mate, following Fabrizio in the direction of Max Biaggi.

Passed by Fabrizio and Hacking, Haslam quickly found himself holding up a host of bikes behind him, with Nori Haga, Shane Byrne, Yukio Kagayama and Jakub Smrz all swatting at Haslam's back. Haslam's resistance was enough to allow Fabrizio and Hacking to escape, and rule the riders behind him out of contention.

Fabrizio was already past, and caught and past both Kiyonari and Biaggi before the final lap, eventually crossing the line in 4th, but more importantly, finishing 3rd on aggregate behind Spies and Checa. Spies had been unstoppable, an astonishing ride in which he smashed the lap record on his first flying lap, and Checa would have been unstoppable if it hadn't been for Spies. But Fabrizio got some precious points, giving away 2nd place in the championship to Ben Spies, but gaining points on his team mate Nori Haga. Haga had a very tough race, the restart hurting the championship leader, giving up a big chunk of points by only managing to finish 9th.

World Superbike race 1 result

Race two looked like being a carbon copy of the first start of race 1. Once again, it was Ben Spies who flew off the line, but this time, he had Michel Fabrizio in his wake. Spies had the hammer down just as had the first time round at Miller, but Fabrizio had gambled all his chips on Spies and was determined to follow. In the space of 4 laps, the pair had built up a lead of over 6 seconds, Fabrizio matching Spies pace, though not capable of catching the Texan Terror, as Spies' helmet proclaimed.

The gap between Spies and Fabrizio rocked back and forth around the 1.5 seconds mark, both men hammering out laps in the 1'49s. But by lap 15, the pace became too much for Fabrizio, the Italian's pace dropping back into the 1'50s, then the 1'51s. Ben Spies went on to take the double in imposing fashion, his supremacy in his home race challenged, but entirely unbeaten. Despite Fabrizio's pace slackening in the final laps, by that time, the following pack was 15 seconds behind, and Fabrizio remained comfortably in 2nd place.

The following pack was where most of the action was. At first, Carlos Checa had been chasing Spies and Fabrizio, but trying to match the leaders' pace turned out to be a mistake for the Spaniard. Checa crashed out on lap 4, pushing his Ten Kate Honda faster than it wanted to go.

The chase - such as it was - was left to Johnny Rea, Max Biaggi, Noriyuki Haga, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Leon Haslam, Jakub Smrz and Shinya Nakano. Haga had started well, running in 4th spot for a while, but his injuries were taking their toll, and he slid back through the field, eventually to finish 8th. Rea made most of the running for 3rd, once team mate Checa had crashed out of that position, while behind him, the following pack took turns to challenge.

Biaggi was the first opponent, but the Aprilia rider could not sustain the pace. Kiyonari was next, but the Ten Kate Honda man could not make an impression on his young British team mate. It was not until his fellow countryman Leon Haslam started to test Rea that the Ten Kate man showed signs of weakness. Haslam was the fastest through the slower, twistier sections, but round Miller's fast straights, especially across the line, Rea demonstrated the supremacy of Ten Kate's legendary engine preparation.

The fight went all the way to the last lap, Haslam pushing that little bit harder to try and get close enough for a pass before they headed for the line. But that little bit turned out to be a little bit too much, and the Stiggy Honda man folded the front a few corners from the end, crashing out on the final lap. Rea could cruise home to take the final podium spot in relative comfort, his second podium finish in two race weekends.

Biaggi came home in 4th, finishing ahead of Kiyonari, Smrz, Nakano and Haga. Haga could be thankful to Haslam's eagerness, as the Stiggy Honda rider's crash gave Haga an extra point, one which could be very valuable at the end of the season.

If Jamie Hacking had made a big impression in race 1 for all the right reasons, the opposite was true in race 2. The Kawasakis both got off to a terrible start, crossing the line at the back of the field in the early laps. Hacking fought his way forward, but then a collision with Luca Scassa, caused by Hacking trying an optimistic pass, then nearly highsiding and clipping the Italian, put Hacking at the back of the field. Unlike Hacking, Zemke made little impression at all, for either positive or negative reasons, finishing the race with a solitary point in 15th.

Both Spies and Fabrizio did well out the US round of World Superbikes, grabbing back a big handful of points from series leader Haga. The cruel fate which Haga always seems to suffer at Miller struck again this year, and riding injured meant that the Xerox Ducati man was left to surrender 32 points of his 85 point lead. Spies, meanwhile, is firmly back in 2nd place, but the championship is shaping up to be a three-way fight at the halfway point. Though Haga leads by 53 points, this race isn't over by a long chalk.

World Superbike Race 2 result

The return of the World Supersport championship to the US had been long awaited, with the series providing some of the best racing currently on offer from any international championship. And as the bikes howled off the line, that's just what the fans thought that they would get, as the leading group quickly solidified, and Eugene Laverty and Cal Crutchlow started slugging it out for the lead.

But after three laps, the place swapping ended, and the leaders settled into a set order: Laverty led on the Parkalgar Honda, with Cal Crutchlow probing on his Yamaha R6, but unable to pass, while Joan Lascorz sat watching in 3rd on the Glaner Motocard Kawasaki. At first, the Triumphs of Garry McCoy and Gianluca Nannelli followed Lascorz, with Ten Kate Honda's Kenan Sofuoglu stuck between the two British bikes run by an Italian team. But by lap 7, Sofuoglu was past and chasing Lascorz.

The young Turk was soon with the leaders, and the front three became a front four. Though the balance of power seemed constantly to be shifting - Laverty gaining a gap, then losing it; Sofuoglu closing on Lascorz, then dropping off; Crutchlow pushing Laverty hard, then having to find off Lascorz - the order stayed almost unchanged until the last lap, Sofuoglu taking 3rd from Lascorz the only alteration.

But the last lap turned out to be dramatic: Sofuoglu first stuffed Crutchlow to take over 2nd, the Yamaha man forced to sit up to avoid running off, then on the way into the final esses, the Ten Kate Honda man slammed his CBR600RR underneath Laverty's, the Irishman suddenly finding a white bike on the line he was taking, banging fairings and nearly running off the track. Sofuoglu held on to take the win, his second of the season, while Laverty got back onto the track to hold on to 2nd ahead of Crutchlow. Neither Laverty nor Crutchlow were particularly enamored of Sofuoglu's riding, but neither man lodged a protest over the move.

The result sees Eugene Laverty close up a few precious points in the championship, which Crutchlow still leads, but only by 9 points. Sofuoglu's victory brings him back close to the chase, the title race looking like it, too, will be a three-man contest. Andrew Pitt, who had been forced to start from the back of the grid, put in a sterling performance to finish 7th, and score valuable points.

There was American interest in the World Supersport class as well, and as might be expected, the wildcards ended the day at the bottom of the results sheet. But given the depth of the field, they still put in creditable performances. Melissa Paris was keeping two riders behind her, before she crashed out on lap 7, proving that she earned her place as a wildcard. Paris had improved her lap times in every session, narrowing the gap to the front of the field. If she continues to improve at this rate, she could well be troubling the regulars next year.

World Supersport race result

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2009 Miller Motorsports Park World Superbike And World Supersport Preview

Both MotoGP and World Superbikes are in action this weekend, and both in spectacular locations. While Mugello nestles in a valley tucked tightly between the Tuscan hills, Miller Motorsports Park, not far from Salt Lake City, Utah, sits on a plain, surrounded by a ring of mountains, all part of the mighty Rocky Mountains, the barrier that splits the American continent in two. That spectacular location also has a downside: Like Kyalami, Miller is several thousand feet above sea level, and the lack of oxygen leaves both bikes and riders gasping for breath.

For Ben Spies, the US round of the World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park will be a breath of fresh, if somewhat thin, air. So far this season, every track the series has visited has been a relative unknown for the American rookie having at best tested there, at worst never seen the track before in his life. For the first time this year, Spies will have the psychological advantage of being both at a track he is familiar with and a race in his home country.

Spies will be hoping to exploit this advantage as much as possible. Though much of the public focus may be on breaking Doug Polen's impressive streak of 6 poles in a row, which Spies matched in South Africa two weeks ago, for Spies, there's only one thing that counts, and that's getting points back from the runaway series leader Noriyuki Haga. Spies' 88 point deficit is partly his own fault, and partly the fault of the Yamaha team, the Texan crashing out at Valencia and Assen, but technical problems robbing Spies of potential victory at both Monza and Kyalami. If Spies is to keep his title hopes alive - and an 88 point deficit is a big gap - he can no longer afford to suffer those kinds of mistakes. Spies really needs a double at Miller this weekend.

Spies' problems have been amplified by Noriyuki Haga's consistency. Haga's brilliance as a rider is no secret, but the consistency he has shown so far this year is. In the Xerox Ducati team, Haga has finally stopped finding ways to beat himself, and now that he is no longer doing it, his rivals are finding beating Haga an incredibly tough task. Haga has either finished 1st or 2nd this season, with just a single, solitary mistake at Monza, caused by leading the race into a flock of pigeons, and injuring his arm so badly that he later crashed.

Miller Motorsports Park holds some bad memories for Haga though. Last year, the Japanese rider crashed during practice and broke his collarbone in four places, the first bone Haga had ever broken during all his racing career, despite his numerous off-track excursions. Undeterred, he continued to race, broken collarbone and all, crashing out in race 1, and finishing 6th in race 2. Haga will be hoping his weekend in Utah will be a little less painful than last year, and that he can come away with more solid points finishes. It's a little early for Haga to be playing it safe, with the season only just approaching its halfway point, but history is on Haga's side. All the riders who have finished the 12th race with an advantage as large as Haga's have gone on to take the title.

Haga's success has inspired his team mate as well. Michel Fabrizio is finally starting to fulfill the promise he has shown in previous years. Fabrizio took his first win at Monza, but he has also been finishing on the podium with increasing regularity. Like Haga, Fabrizio has been incredibly consistent this season, that consistency paying off in the form of 2nd place in the championship. At Miller last year, Fabrizio scored a couple of 3rd places, and given his form in 2009, that's the least he could expect here.

The Ten Kate Honda team will be hoping that Miller will mark a turning point of their luck. Last year, Carlos Checa took the double here in impressive fashion, and though a repeat is unlikely, to say the least, both Checa and the team need a drastic improvement in their results. The team has struggled with the new Honda CBR1000RR, despite the fact that the 2009 bike is only fractionally different from last year's model, but only now is the bike starting to perform.

Sadly for Checa, it is in the hands of his team mate Johnny Rea that the bike is showing the most improvement. While Checa has struggled into the top 6 on occasion, Rea has been fighting for podiums, getting his first in Kyalami at the last round. The Ulsterman may find it difficult to repeat that podium at Miller, as this will be his first visit to the track, the Supersport class not having come to the US in 2008. But with the bike getting better, the rest of the season should see Rea as a much more regular visitor to the podium.

Ten Kate's problems have left the Stiggy Racing team as the leading Honda squad. Leon Haslam has been a revelation since his return to the series, and three podium finishes have left him standing 4th in the championship. Like Rea, Haslam has the disadvantage of being new to the Miller track, but so far that has failed to stop the Pocket Rocket. Haslam is experienced enough to learn fast, and he should be near the front once again in Utah.

If Haslam is new to the Miller track, his team mate certainly isn't. Jake Zemke, filling in for the injured John Hopkins, knows Miller well, having raced here in the AMA series. Zemke's first outing in World Superbikes at Monza went indifferently, finishing in 18th and 20th spot. But the American will be looking to be well in the points at Miller, and close to the top 10.

Fellow American Jamie Hacking will also be filling in for injury at Miller, riding Makoto Tamada's Kawasaki. There will be plenty of pressure on Hacking to perform in Utah, as Tamada's replacement at Kyalami, South African Sheridan Morais, scored a pair of solid finishes at his home track. Like Morais, Hacking is one of the few riders capable of getting the Kawasaki to perform, and Miller was Hacking's best track aboard the ZX-10R last year. The American veteran should be capable of getting close to the top 10, if not actually in it.

The World Supersport Championship is developing into a genuine two horse race between a couple of class rookies. No one doubted that Cal Crutchlow would be quick, the Englishman's results in the BSB series making his ability more than clear, but prior to entering the World Supersport series, Eugene Laverty had spent two anonymous years riding an ancient Aprilia LE in the 250 class. Since his return to the 600s, Laverty has taken victory in half of the races in World Supersport this season, his standings in the championship only ruined by a poor race at Valencia. So at Miller, we can expect to see the Yamaha of Crutchlow and the Parkalgar Honda of Laverty at the front once again, both men learning new tracks with little or no problem.

The chief rival to Crutchlow and Laverty has an advantage over the two class rookies in Utah though. Kenan Sofuoglu raced at Miller last year, in his miserable year in World Superbikes, and knows the track already. Sofuoglu and his Ten Kate team mate Andrew Pitt started the season as would be expected of two World Supersport champions riding for the team that has dominated the series for years, but since then, both men have struggled. Both Sofuoglu and Pitt need a result here to get their season back on track, and Sofuoglu will hope to leverage his experience here from last year to claw back some points from the championship leaders.

If Sofuoglu is to get back in touch with the leaders, he will need help from other riders taking points from Crutchlow and Laverty. And the only other two riders capable of doing that consistently have been Joan Lascorz and Ant West. Lascorz has been the best of the pair, putting the Kawasaki in the top 4 in the last three races, and looking ever more competitive. In previous years, Lascorz has been dogged by a lack of consistency, and if he can conquer that, he should be a podium regular for the rest of the year.

Consistency has also been Ant West's bugbear for the last few races, his last visit to the podium at Valencia. Since then, the Australian has been running firmly mid-pack, well below what West is capable of. While Stiggy Racing has been going well in World Superbike, their Supersport effort has stalled, and they and West need a boost at Miller this weekend.

The World Supersport class at Miller will be remarkable not just for the close racing the series has become famous for. For the class will also see the entry of at least one, and possibly even two women racers in Utah. US racer Melissa Paris caps her first season of professional racing with a wildcard at Miller, making her formally the first woman to compete in the World Supersport Championship, although German rider Katja Poensgen raced as a wildcard back in 1998, when the class was still called the World Supersport Series. And Canadian Superbike regular Marie-Josee Boucher was working on an entry as a wildcard at Miller, though whether her entry was successful or not was not known at the time this was written. Their progress will be followed closely by the thousands of women racers around the world, and given that both have regularly beaten many male riders, the World Supersport regulars have good reason to be worried.

The arrival of the World Supersport series has already cheered the hearts of American race fans, who have looked forward to seeing the cutthroat battles the series has produced over the years. If the season so far is anything to go by, Sunday's race should be well worth the wait.

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