Wednesday, November 3

SUPERBIKES ARE GO!

Max Biaggi will defend in '11
By MICHAEL ESDAILE

WITH seven motorcycle manufacturers represented, the Superbike World Championship can lay claim to being the best supported road-racing class on the planet. And while the season-opening race for 2011 may seem a long time away, in truth it is only just around the corner.

Set down for Australia’s scenic Phillip Island circuit in Victoria, the opening round of the 2011 HANNspree Superbike World Championship will be held from February 25 to 27 but the countdown has already begun with pre-season testing in full swing.

New to the 2011 Superbike World Championship calendar is a race at the Motorland Aragon circuit in Spain and the top teams tested there from October 27 to 29.

The BMW Motorrad, Alitalia Aprilia, Kawasaki Racing Team and Alstare Suzuki teams were confronted with a challenging 5.077 km layout that has plenty of elevation changes and several blind corners.

A number of riders used the three days of testing to to familiarise themselves with new teams. Included in this group were Leon Haslam, joining BMW as Aussie Troy Corser’s new team-mate, and Italian Michel Fabrizio who will be the sole rider for the Alstare Suzuki team which this year fielded Haslam and Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli.

Michel Fabrizio to Suzuki
Fabrizio got the Suzuki ride after he was left up in the air following the decision by Ducati not to field a factory-operated team in 2011. Thus the Italian rejoins the team that helped take him to the 2003 European Superstock Championship.
Continuing racing Ducatis is the Italian Althea team, spear-headed by Spaniard Carlos Checa who was a revelation in 2010, his victory at the Phillip Island opener and subsequent consistency seeing him emerge as Ducati's top challenger. Checa celebrated his new two year contract with wins in both races at Imola, the penultimate race of the 2010 season and the Althea team has been promised much more support from Ducati in 2011.

So while Ducati will not be involved as a factory entrant, it has confirmed it will provide substantial backing to its customer teams, most notably Althea, who beat the official Xerox team on the way to third in the 2010 standings. With Checa staying on board for another two seasons, Althea Racing will essentially become the semi-official Ducati representative.
Checa back for two more, too

Ducati’s Superbike technical director Ernesto Marinelli was on hand at the Aragon tests to help the Althea team and was pleased to see Checa set fastest time on the first day before he headed off to Portugal to race the Pramac Ducati V4 in the Estoril round of the MotoGP World Championship, missing the next two days of testing at Aragon.

The Althea Racing Ducati man was outstanding and was the only rider to dip under the 1m 59s second mark on the first day. It's early days yet, but Checa has clearly let his rivals know that he is one of the candidates for the win next year, and that the 1198R Ducati can still be a contender for victory in 2011.

Indeed, it took two more days before anyone bettered the 1m 58.3s lap Checa set that first day. The rider who did it was newly crowned Superbike World Champion Max Biaggi on the factory Alitalia Aprilia RSV4. Biaggi was quickest on the second day at Aragon, but even then his best lap was three tenths of a second slower than Checa’s first day effort. However on the third and final day, Biaggi got down to a best of 1m 58.0s to be fastest over the three days. Checa’s first day lap time saw him finish up with second fastest lap for the three days, ahead of the 1m 58.6s best lap recorded by Tom Sykes on the brand new Kawasaki ZX10-R.


Haslam was fourth-fastest on the S1000RR BMW at 1m 59.0s then it was Fabrizio on the Suzuki, a recovering Leon Camier on the second factory Aprilia, Troy Corser on the second factory BMW and Japanese veteran Noriyuki Haga trying out the Pata Racing Aprilia RSV4 all sharing the same lap time, 1m 59.2s.
Leon Haslam (seated) and Troy Corser are chasing BMW glory in 2011.

Rounding out the factory riders testing at Aragon was Katsuaki Fuijwara (Kawasaki Racing Team) who carried out sterling testing work for the team, under the watchful eyes of Chris Vermeulen, in the pit garage but still on crutches.

There is enormous intrigue heading into the 2011 SWC campaign after a major end of season rider shake-up, which sees only two of the six factory teams running the same line-up as they campaigned with in 2010.

For the other four teams it’s been a mixed bag, including drafting in a MotoGP refugee, recycling former riders, and opening up opportunities for the rich vein of talent that’s been lurking in the Supersport class.

Kawasaki will again pin its hopes on Aussie Chris Vermeulen and Brit Tom Sykes with Spaniard Joan Lascorz moving up from a Supersport class ZX-6R to the new ZX-10R to make it a three-pronged Superbike attack from the Paul Bird run Kawasaki team.

Vermeulen is set to make his return to riding in early January after two months’ intense rehabilitation following knee surgery for the injury that shortened his 2010 campaign. While the Australian had to sit out the Aragon test, Tom Sykes got plenty of track time on the brand new Kawasaki, continuing on from the tests he ran for the team at Magny-Cours immediately after the last Superbike race of the 2010 season.

At Sterilgarda Yamaha, the addition of Marco Melandri from MotoGP and Eugene Laverty from Supersport has added even more spice and depth to the World Superbike Championship grid.

Melandri is the latest rider to seek a fresh start after a less than fruitful few years in MotoGP by joining the Superbike ranks while Laverty is making the jump from World Supersport as one of the most highly credentialed rookies. Twelve months ago, Cal Crutchlow was in the same position, and he’s now scored a MotoGP ride with Yamaha.

And just to strengthen Laverty’s claims, he was the fastest in a two-day test immediately following the final round of this year’s championship at Magny-Cours, impressing the team with his calm and measured approach.

Meanwhile, there is some strong intelligence which suggests that Melandri’s erstwhile contemporary in MotoGP, Alex de Angelis, could also be cajoled into signing as the second rider at Ten Kate Honda alongside Jonathan Rea.

Yamaha’s new look has come at the expense of double world champion James Toseland, who was sent packing but has now found sanctuary at the BMW Motorrad Italia team, which has already hired a number of key personnel from the now defunct Xerox Ducati outfit.

The BMW Motorrad Italia team will receive technical support from the BMW Motorrad Motorsport factory team, which is providing engines and electronics for the BMW S1000 RR. The team will be led by Andrea Buzzoni, Director of BMW Motorrad Italia and Manager of the Superbike project; Serafino Foti, who will serve as Sporting Director and Gerardo Acocella as Technical Director.

In 2010, BMW Motorrad Italia made its d├ębut in international competition and won both the riders' and constructors' titles in the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup, with Ayrton Badovini as lead rider for the team. The Italian squad will also continue in that series with Lorenzo Zanetti.

"It was an inconsistent year in 2010, says Toseland of his season with the Yamaha team, “so in the current climate I am thankful to BMW for seeing some potential there to put me in such a good team. I am going to go into next season injury free and with everything fully mended, and with a winter plan of training and physio completed. I intend to give it my best shot,” says the 2004 and 2007 Superbike World Champion.

And the ex-Ducati factory pilots, Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio, will also remain in the SWC fold, with Fabrizio returning to his old friends at Alstare Suzuki while Haga has linked up with privateer Aprilia operation, Pata Racing.

Meantime former Alstare Suzuki rider Sylvain Guintoli joins the Liberty Cz Group alongside Czech rider Jakub Smrz on a Ducati 1198R. The team is based in Prague in the Czech Republic and will be called Liberty Ducati.

But based on his 2010 form, and the fact that the factory Aprilia V4 is already a proven race-winning package, Biaggi must start as the favourite to win his second successive title in 2011, but we will know a lot more once the official pre-season tests have been held at Portugal’s Portimao track on the Algarve coast and Australia’s Phillip Island coastal circuit.

Following the Aragon tests, a number of other private tests will be held from November to January at circuits in Europe and Malaysia before the two official pre-season tests at Portimao (January 26-28, 2011) and Phillip Island (February 21-22, 2011).

This will be the second year running that all the top Superbike and Supersport teams will make their way to Phillip Island for the second and final official test, before round one is held at the high speed Australian layout from February 25-27.

Some of the top teams in SWC racing have now made their other pre-season testing plans more concrete. Yamaha Sterilgarda is waiting until November 11 to give new boy Marco Melandri a run out at Valencia, after his MotoGP commitments have been discharged, and between November 30 and December 1-2, Aprilia and Yamaha will run at Phillip Island to try and guarantee good weather and consistent testing conditions in the European winter.

For the same reasons, the next planned track appointment for the Kawasaki Racing Team will be at Sepang, in Malaysia. The extensive tests will take place over four days, and be split into two blocks – January 10 and 11 then January 13-14.

BMW has two more European outings scheduled, at Jerez between November 24-26 and Portimao from November 29 to 30.

STOP PRESS:

KiwiRider's Todd Sutherland is putting together a tour to the Phillip Island series opener in February, with prices starting at $875! He only has a dozen places, so the race will go to the swift.

For details, contact Todd Sutherland on 09 416 5307,

021 709 989

or e-mail: todd@kiwirider.co.nz

Tell him you read about it on the KiwiRider website.