Friday, January 29, 2010

World Superbike – Valencia Test

Aprilia, Ducati and BMW all headed to Valencia for more testing after spending the weekend testing at Portimao in Portugal. Ducati tested on Wednesday and Thursday, and were hampered by wet and cold conditions. As usual Noriyuki Haga was optimistic, “We continued with the work started at Portimao, testing suspension settings and various tire compounds. I also tried a new clutch which seemed to perform well, and my lap times were fairly fast seeing as it was extremely cold. I'd say we're very happy, although we've seen that the privateer Ducatis of Checa and Byrne were also very fast so I guess the first race of the season will be very interesting.

Carlos Checa and Shakey Byrne were riding the Althea Racing Ducatis, and Checa was the quickest of all the riders on hand for the test. Checa moved over to the team in the off season after spending last year with the Ten Kate Honda team, "I'm happy with my test today. We have worked very well, despite the cold temperature. After Portimao and Valencia test I'm feeling more comfortable on both my Ducati 1198 bikes. This afternoon I scored the best lap time, that's always something good.”

Aprilia was another team that was forced to suffer through the bad weather, and they decided to leave the test a day early. Although last year’s return to the class was marked by continuous progress Max Biaggi for one was feeling the need for more test time, "This could be a problem because we didn't get the confirmation we were looking for. Now the situation is a bit more complicated, we'll be testing in Australia before the race, but if there are any problems then it will be too late to do anything.”

The factory BMW notched the slowest times of the test under new team manager David Tardozzi, but Troy Corser was upbeat, “We’ve gained a lot of useful information for the engineers and technicians during these two days, and if I had to race the bike tomorrow I wouldn’t be unhappy at all. We used standard tires throughout the test, and if the conditions had been a bit better and more rubber had been down, I’m sure I could’ve gone faster.”

In other World Superbike news Yoshimura Suzuki has announced that they will enter the Assen and Magny-Cours rounds with Yukio Kagayama and the Imola race with Daisaku Sakai. This announcement would seem to end any chance of Matt Mladin racing in the championship this year. Mladin was rumored to be a possible rider for both Yoshimura and BMW after retiring at the end of the AMA Superbike season. Mladin added fuel to those stories when he posted on Twitter saying he was looking at some interesting offers.

The final pre-season tests will be held in Australia on February 21-22 prior to the first round of the season at Phillip Island on February 28th.

Monday, January 25, 2010

World Superbike – Portimao Test

The World Superbike teams finished up their first official test of the new year on Sunday at the Portimao circuit in Portugal. The riders started the test on Friday in good conditions, and the quickest riders out of the box were Leon Haslam on the Suzuki GSXR-1000 and Jonathan Rea on the Honda CBR1000RR. Haslam led both sessions of day one for his new Alstare team, but Rea was only a few tenths behind on his Ten Kate mount. Shakey Byrne and Michel Fabrizio on Ducatis, Cal Crutchlow and James Toseland on Yamahas and Max Biaggi on the Aprilia were all less than .5 off the time of Haslam.

Wet conditions prevailed at the track on Saturday with the top time from the first session down 12.3 seconds from Friday’s quick time. The weather improved for session two, but the best time was still 6.3 seconds off Friday’s best. The conditions in session one were so bad that Byrne, Fabrizio, Biaggi and Haga stayed in the pits. Rea and Haslam continued to battle it out for the top spot, but it was Rea who came away with the quickest time in both sessions. Rainmeister Chris Vermulen managed to come away with the third quickest time of session one on the Paul Bird Kawasaki ZX 10R, but his times for all of the other sessions were outside the top ten. Crutchlow was fourth in both sessions on the Yamaha YZF R1.

Conditions improved on Sunday and the riders were able to set the fastest times of the weekend, but it was still Rea and Haslam at the top. Rea once again took the quick time in both session, but Haslam was never far off his pace. Haga and Fabrizio were consistent runners all weekend, and managed to run third and fourth quickest in the early Sunday session. Rea continued his dominance in the final session with a time .287 seconds quicker than anything that had been run all weekend.

With the departure of Ben Spies and John Hopkins the only American riding in the series is Roger Hayden. Riding for a new team on an unfamiliar circuit Hayden’s quickest time was 4.7 seconds off the quick time of Rea. Fellow American Jason DiSalvo was at Portimao testing a World Supersport Triumph 675 for his new team. DiSalvo ended the weekend ninth fastest and 2.7 seconds off the top time set by Eugene Laverty on a Honda CBR600RR.

BMW, Aprilia and Ducati will be testing at Valencia this week. The first race of the season is at Phillip Island on February 28th, and the teams will fly out to the Australian circuit the week prior to the race for their final pre-season test.

World Superbike Test Times

1.42.270 -0.000 Rea J.
1.42.557 -0.287 Haslam L.
1.42.877 -0.607 Byrne S.
1.42.960 -0.690 Crutchlow C.
1.43.137 -0.867 Fabrizio M.
1.43.157 -0.887 Toseland J.
1.43.364 -1.094 Biaggi M.
1.43.417 -1.147 Haga N.
1.43.471 -1.201 Neukirchner M.
1.43.508 -1.238 Guintoli S.
1.43.629 -1.359 Checa C.
1.43.749 -1.479 Camier L.
1.43.931 -1.661 Corser T.
1.44.108 -1.838 Vermeulen C.
1.44.365 -2.095 Sykes T.
1.44.570 -2.300 Xaus R.
1.44.751 -2.481 Parkes B.
1.45.348 -3.078 Iannuzzo V.
1.46.990 -4.720 Hayden R.
1.47.293 -5.023 Fores J.

Friday, January 8, 2010

World Superbike – News & Notes

The World Superbike Championship is coming back to life after a short winter recess. The teams continue their search for speed and reliability, and the riders push their bodies through pre-season training as the 2010 championship begins to take shape. The teams will be heading to the Portimao circuit in Portugal for their first pre-season test on the 22nd of January.

All of the top teams have had their rider lineups in place for several months, but several teams are still signing riders. Roger Lee Hayden is the latest American rider to find his way into WSBK after a career in the AMA series that included a Supersport championship. The youngest member of the Hayden clan will be riding for the Pedercini Kawasaki team.

Chaz Davies is another rider who will be leaving the AMA to ride in a world championship series. Davies will be riding as a teammate to Gary McCoy on the Triumph BE1 Racing team in the World Supersport Championship. Davies, who’s career has included rides in MotoGP, 250GP, 125GP and a win in the Daytona 200, rode in the last three rounds of last year’s WSS championship for the BE1 team after finishing ninth in the 2009 Daytona SportBike Championship on an Aprilia RSV1000R.

In other news, David Tardozzi has signed on as Team Manager for BMW Motorrad Motorsport. Tardozzi comes to BMW after a successful run at Ducati that included nine manufacturers' titles and eight riders' titles in the World Superbike Championship, "I imagine a lot of people will be surprised to hear of my decision to join BMW. However, for me the decision was simple. I had offers from MotoGP, but my heart is in the Superbike World Championship, and I feel at home here. BMW Motorrad Motorsport is a young and hungry team, and that gives me the challenge I have been looking for.” BMW enters its second year in the championship after showing continuous improvement over the course of their inaugural season. Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus return to ride for the factory team, and the newly-formed Reitwagen Motorsport team will field a BMW S 1000 RR for Austrian Roland Resch.

Tardozzi’s departure from Ducati Corse has forced a reorganization that will see former technical manager Ernesto Marinelli taking over as team manager along with other changes in the team’s management structure. Marinelli talked about the team he will lead, “Despite the important reorganization within the team, in reality most of the new members have already been working in Ducati for some time. 2010 once again represents a new challenge. . .we have faced many over the years and in most cases we have come out victorious. We will be doing our very best to take another title this year.” Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio return as riders for the factory team.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

World Superbike - Valencia Test

The World Superbike teams returned to the track for the second official test since the season ending round at Portimao. This time the teams were in sunny Valencia for two days of testing on Wednesday and Thursday. Absent from the test were BMW (T. Corser, R. Xaus), Ducati (N. Haga, M. Fabrizio), Althea Ducati (C. Checa, S. Byrne) and Kawasaki (C. Vermulen, T. Sykes).

After two days on the track Max Biaggi came away with a quick time of 1.33.8 on the factory Aprilia. He was followed closely by Leon Haslam who posted a time of 1.34.0 on the Alstare Suzuki. Six of the eight riders at the test were riding for new teams so most of the riders were still getting accustomed to riding new bikes and working with a new crew. Ben Spies superpole time for the 2009 Valencia race was 1.33.3.

1.33.8 - Max Biaggi - Aprilia Racing
1.34.0 - Leon Haslam - Suzuki Alstare
1.34.1 - Cal Crutchlow - Yamaha World Superbike
1.34.2 - Jonathan Rea - Hannspree Ten Kate Honda
1.34.3 - James Toseland - Yamaha World Superbike
1.34.7 - Max Neukirchner - Hannspree Ten Kate Honda
1.35.0 - Sylvain Guintoli - Suzuki Alstare
1.35.2 - Leon Camier - Aprilia Racing

Yoshimura Suzuki recently announced that they will be competing in several WSBK races next season with Yukio Kagayama when he’s not racing in the British Superbike series. The team will continue to race in the AMA Superbike Championship with Tommy Hayden and Blake Young next year, but they are withdrawing from the Japanese Superbike Championship. The mere mention of Yoshimura competing in WSBK brings the recently retired Mat Mladin to mind, and Mladin fueled speculation about a return to competition with this Twitter post on Wednesday, "A couple of World Superbike offers have come my way in the past month. One of them very good in regards to machinery. Decisions, decisions. ;-)". The 37 year old Mladin retired after winning the 2009 AMA Superbike Championship so he’s still competitive, and it was just over a year ago that a 39 year old Australian named Troy Bayliss won the 2008 World Superbike Championship.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Employee Cuts and Changes At Suzuki & Yamaha

Rumors of employee cuts at American Suzuki and an official press release on changes in Yamaha's U.S. racing program were announced yesterday. The rumors regarding American Suzuki have the company terminating employees in their press department. This apparent cut follows a 15% cut in their work force back in April. The cuts don't come as a surprise in a U.S. market that has seen a 44% decrease in motorcycle sales that led to the recent closing of the Buell Motorcycle Company.

In an official press release Yamaha announced that they would be making changes that will result in the loss of jobs in their racing department. Graves Motorsports will continue to be a Yamaha partner in AMA racing and will assume additional responsibilities for the 2010 season. Yamaha finished second in the American Superbike and Daytona SportBike championships with Josh Hayes on a YZF-R1 and Josh Herrin on a YZF-R6.

The global economy and the sale of the AMA's race sanctioning rights to the Daytona Motorsports Group has led to cataclysmic change in U.S. road racing. The DMG initiated a multitude of changes that infuriated manufacturers and riders alike. The racing was often competitive, but inequities in the rules, safety concerns and a dictatorial management style led to dissatisfaction and low attendance at many tracks.

The changes at Suzuki and Yamaha follow Honda's announcement that they will be pulling out of AMA road racing for the 2010 season. It's hard to say whether the economy or the changes that the DMG has made to AMA road racing have led to the cuts and changes at the three companies. Whatever the case may be many AMA riders and teams are unsure about what they'll be doing next year. AMA riders like Jamie Hacking, Jake Zemke, Chaz Davies and Martin Cardenas had wild card rides in World Superbike and World Supersport during the course of the season, but most of those rides are taken for next year. Buell is out of business, Honda is pulling out of AMA road racing and the AMA has yet to announce the schedule for the 2010 season. There are going to be some sleepless nights this winter for anyone who makes their living in AMA road racing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ben Spies – The Winner And Still Champion

In an up and down season that included fourteen wins and coming back from being 88 points down in the championship Ben Spies and his Yamaha team left the final round of the season with the World Superbike championship in their pocket. It was the first World Superbike championship for Yamaha who also took titles in World Supersport with Cal Crutchlow and MotoGP with some guy named Rossi. For Spies it was his fourth consecutive superbike championship after beating Mat Mladin for the AMA title in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Spies trailed Noriyuki Haga by ten points coming into the final round at Portimao. He knew that he would win the championship if he won both races so he and his team did what they had to do to make that happen by winning superpole and getting out to an early lead in race one. Haga struggled all weekend, qualifying ninth, and he lost the front end and crashed out in race one as Spies led from start to finish. The champ talked about his day, "We had a really good first race, in the second we did what we had to do to win. It was quite difficult to keep it in check as the pace was pretty fast, I saw I had a couple of people behind me and I knew that if Nori won I had to be in sixth and that's where I was so I tried to get a bit of a gap on them and stay out of trouble. Max (Biaggi) came through the inside of me and ran off a couple of times which really freaked me out so I went to get past him, and then settled in for some nice fast laps to the end." Spies finished fifth in race two, and Haga finished second behind teammate Michel Fabrizio.

Winning the championship proves that Spies has the talent and the mental strength to be one of the best riders in the world, but many credit his years of on and off track battles with Mladin as having prepared him for anything that motorcycle racing at the world level can throw at him. Never known for being close with his former teammate the now retired Mladin has nothing but good things to say about Spies these days, "Ben World Champ. Collecting some cash today. Everyone in Australia scoffed at me when I said he would win. Suckers."

World Superbike has a reputation for being a paddock with a relaxed atmosphere, especially when compared to the dog-eat-dog world of MotoGP. After enduring several years in the bitter rivalry with Mladin Spies' season in WSBK was a breath of fresh air. He battled with Haga for the entire season, but the two rivals got along well enough to spend time together away from the track. After ten full seasons in the series and now three second place finishes in the championship Haga was the sentimental favorite for the title, but the eternally optimistic and likeable Nitro Nori wasn’t bitter about getting beat by a rookie, "My compliments go to Ben who has been such a strong rival this year and even though he is going to MotoGP next year, I am sure we will remain friends. This week we'll start testing in preparation for next year. This year was a new adventure with Ducati, and we'll continue to give 100% in 2010."

From here Spies and crew chief Tom Houseworth move on to MotoGP and the Tech 3 Yamaha team. Spies rode three races in MotoGP on the factory Suzuki in 2008 so he has some idea of what to expect, but a full season in the top class will be a new experience. Mladin summarized his former teammate’s career and his future in MotoGP on 800cc bikes, "What an amazing career he's had to date. If they go back to 1000cc MotoGP bikes, Look Out! 800's a little harder for him. He's not a midget".

Ben Spies Championship Winning Interview (On The Throttle)

Portimao Superbike Race 1 Results

Portimao Superbike Race 2 Results

2009 World Superbike Final Rider Standings

Friday, October 23, 2009

World Superbike – The Final Round

You can go through all the permutations of what has to happen for Ben Spies or Noriyuki Haga to win the World Superbike title, but the bottom line is that if Spies scores ten more points than Haga he wins. If he doesn’t Haga takes home the championship that’s eluded him for so long.

The last round of the championship happens at the year old Portimao track that was the scene of a double win for Troy Bayliss last year when he dominated the field on the factory Ducati in the final race of his career. Haga struggled on the Yamaha in last year’s race with a mechanical problem in race one, and a jump start in race two led to a ride through penalty and a fourteenth place finish. As usual Spies finds himself at a track where he’s never raced before, but he did test at the track in the spring. Crew chief Tom Houseworth talked about the team’s approach to the race, “Though we have quite a lot of data from testing, the engine and chassis spec has changed quite a lot from pre-season so there will be some variables to work on. We will be looking for maximum grip and quick direction change as Portimao is quite a twisty circuit with elevation changes and a variety of corners. Our goal is to be set up quick and then pick race tires so we can get time on them in an attempt to find the 'perfect' race set up. Once traction and wheelie control are dialed in we will hope for good weather on Sunday and see if we can get it done."

The one thing that Spies knows is that if he wins both races this weekend he is the champion, "I can't wait to get to the circuit and get set up for Sunday's races. My focus is completely on going for two race wins on Sunday.” Haga seems to have the same plan as Spies, "Last year at Portimao didn't go to plan. I had some bad luck. This year I am in a better position and now everything comes down to this last event. My strategy won't be any different from normal. I always go out with the aim to win and I always give 100%.”

Former MotoGP rider Sylvain Guintoli is moving up from British Superbike to ride for the Alstare Suzuki team next season. Guintoli will be riding for his new team at Portimao this weekend.

Two more WSBK riders have signed with new teams for the 2010 season. Tom Sykes is leaving the Yamaha factory team for the Paul Bird Kawasaki team to race alongside Chris Vermuelen, and Carlos Checa is leaving Ten Kate Honda to race for the Althea Ducati team.

Chaz Davies will be racing with fellow AMA Daytona SportBike rider Martin Cardenas in the World Supersport race. Cardenas is riding in place of the injured Robbin Harms on the RES Software Veidec Honda Racing Team. Cardenas finished third in the inaugural season of the AMA’s Daytona SportBike championship.

The World Superbike teams will be testing at Portimao on Tuesday and Wednesday. Two-time champ James Toseland will be flying in from the MotoGP round in Malaysia to take part in the tests with the Yamaha factory team.

Portimao Superbike Free Practice 1 Times – Jakub Smrz quickest
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