Tuesday, August 3

FINALLY! YAMAHA WINS A SUPERBIKE RACE

By MICHAEL ESDAILE
INCREDIBLE as it may seem, especially after last year's stunning performance from Texan Ben Spies who won 14 races on the off-set crank YZF-R1, it has taken until the tenth round of the 2010 HANNspree Superbike World Championship for the Sterligarda Yamaha team to take its first win of the 2010 season.

The breakthrough win came for the team on Sunday, August 1 when English rider Cal Crutchlow finally converted a pole position into a race win, and perhaps to make up for the team's under-achievement this year, he did it in style - taking both races at the revamped Silverstone circuit in England. To underline just how successful Spies was on this bike with this team last year, at the same point in the 2009 season he had scored 10 of his 14 wins.

After winning the 2009 Supersport World Championship on the Yamaha World Supersport Team YZF-R6 last year, Crutchlow stepped up to the team's Superbike for 2010 with one advantage over Spies - he had raced at all the tracks the series visits.

He put the Sterligarda Yamaha on pole for the second round at Portimao, crashed in the first race but still managed to finish 14th, then podiumed with a third place finish in race two.

Crutchlow on the charge
At round three he again snatched pole position, but did not make it to the podium in either race. At the fifth round at Monza, he got on the podium in the first race with a third place finish, then took pole position at Kyalami in South Africa, but again failed to make it to the podium. His next podium was in the second race at round seven in Utah, USA. At the ninth round, at Brno in Czechoslovakia, Crutchlow took his fourth pole position of the season and managed to convert that into a podium finish with third place in the first race.

So going into the Silverstone round, Crutchlow had four pole positions and four third place finishes to his name and was eighth in the championship.

After his Silverstone double, he had jumped to fifth in the championship and with three rounds (six races) still to go, could conceivably take fourth in the title chase away from Spaniard Carlos Checa.

Sky TV commentator Steve Martin put Crutchlow's impressive Silverstone performance down to the cooler track temperature suiting the way the Yamaha delivers its power. So how come Spies was able to win no matter if the track was hot, or cool last year? Well, looking at a sample of the races run so far this year, the race pace in 2010 has been considerably faster than it was in 2009 and it takes good set-up skills and the correct chassis geometry to get tyres to work well without overheating in a variety of conditions. So whether it was the cooler track condition at Silverstone, or perhaps Crutchlow sat down and looked at video of Spies' impressive performances last year: whatever the reason, he certainly turned in two stunning rides on the YZF-R1 Yamaha.

Crutchlow leads Rea
Not only had he vastly improved his championship ranking, he had cleaned house: pole position, two race wins and fastest lap in both races. This was a man absolutely on top of his game, and his long, high-speed slide around the final corner and across the finish line was one of the best expressions of the dirt-track art outside of a clay surface.

Fellow Brit Johnny Rea was the bridesmaid in both races. He started well and led the way in both races with Crutchlow following as they gapped the rest of the field. In the first race Crutchlow engaged him in corner-to-corner combat around mid race before making his escape in the second half. In the second 18 lap affair, the Yamaha man stalked the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda rider until four laps from the end. When he pounced, Rea struck back, then ran wide, letting the Yamaha man back in front. From there Crutchlow got his head down and went for it, his best lap of the weekend, 2m 05.421s, clocked with a lap to go. That was just over a tenth of a second under his pole position time and was better than the tenth fastest MotoGP bike at Silverstone in June (Aleix Espargaro, Pramac Ducati). While Rea was happy with his pair of second place finishes, fellow Brit Leon Haslam was forced to put a brave face on things. He really needed a win to try to pull back the 68 point championship lead Max Biaggi (Alitalia Aprilia) had established after the Czech round at Brno on July 11. As Haslam said later, "I made a bad start in the first race, but managed to close the gap on the leaders and was getting ready to mount an attack on Jonathan (Rea), then had gearbox problems for the last seven laps, so couldn't push harder and get closer to him. A podium is not bad though, and it was good to be up there with two other Brits."

Haslam was sixth at the end of the first lap, battled with Troy Corser and took fifth, then got by Biaggi for fourth before tracking down Xerox Ducati man Michel Fabrizio and eventually taking third just as the race got to the halfway point. From there he steadily caught the leaders, then ran into the gearbox problem and had to settle for third.

Leon Carmier
Behind him the final order was Fabrizio, Biaggi, Leon Camier on the second factory Aprilia, Carlos Checa (Althea Ducati), James Toseland (Sterligarda Yamaha), Shane Bryne (Althea Ducati) and Corser on the first of the factory BMWs. The Aussie had been as high as fifth early on before steadily being falling back to finish tenth.

In the second race Rea again shot into the lead chased by Crutchlow, Biaggi, Haslam and Corser.

In a determined mood, Corser nipped by Haslam, then got the drop on Biaggi to have the BMW running third after a lap. Pressing on to make sure Rea and Crutchlow did not get away, Corser crashed at the start of the second lap when the BMW tucked its front Pirelli and sent him off in a shower of sparks into the gravel trap.

Haslam also got past Biaggi, who never really looked settled at Silverstone, and tried to go with the front-runners. However, he found he didn't have the grip he needed to do that so tried to salvage as many points as possible.

Another Leon had other ideas. Starting well back on the grid, 2009 British Superbike Champion Leon Camier had the second factory up to tenth after a lap, was sixth after four laps, got by former two-time World Superbike Champion James Toseland for fifth and suddenly was right behind team-mate Biaggi with Haslam a little further ahead.

In the first race Camier had passed Biaggi, then let his team-mate back in front. But with a podium position beaconing in the second race, he decided to go for it. As a result, in successive laps he passed his team-mate, and Haslam, and set after the leaders. Although he made some impression, he came up six seconds short at the finish, but was happy to be on the podium for the third time this seson. Camier made the podium in race one at Assen (where he was third), then scored a second place finish (behind Biaggi) in the second race in Utah. By denying Haslam another podium, he thus reduced the damage to Biaggi's championship lead.


2 out of 2
"We used a different engine in race two, but everything else was the same, including the tyres," Haslam said. "However, this time the grip feeling was completely different and I really had to work hard to keep in the top four or so. On the last lap, I had a big fight with James (Toseland). He passed me, but I was determined to get him back and that's what I did. On the last turn, he tried to get round the outside of me at the beginning of the start-finish straight and hit me, breaking my tail fairing and exhaust bracket in the process. It was a bit of a hairy moment, but happily we both stayed on our bikes and crossed the line OK. It was a tough end to a hard race but, just like race one, I was happy to finish ahead of Max (Biaggi). It would've better if I could've got some more points, but that's how it went today."

Meantime, the other Leon could not hide the smile on his face.

"A fantastic day," beamed Camier. " Too bad about the sixteenth starting position. Unfortunately mistakes in Superpole come at a high cost! As the practices showed, the feeling on this circuit was very good from the start and in the race I was able to really push, truly earning a lot of positions. In the first race I finished behind my team-mate. In race two I was able to lock onto the front group straight away, although Crutchlow and Rea unfortunately were already away. I'm happy for a podium in front of my fans. It's also a nice reward for my team and for Aprilia."

For his part, Biaggi was rather sanguine.

"I come away from this weekend quite satisfied, even if these are not the placings I could have achieved," said Biaggo of his 5-6 placings. "It was difficult here, above all adjusting my RSV4 on the bumpy Silverstone track. In race two I finished sixth, behind five English riders. I think that the home field factor really gave them some extra motivation today."