Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

2006 road race calendar…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes, AMA Supermoto, MRA, MotoGP, Other Forms Of Racing, WSBK

The 2005 MotoGP field streams through

Last year I built a combined road race calendar for 2005 (with race dates for AMA Superbike, AMA Supermoto, World Superbike and MotoGP, as well as local races like the MRA, the local round of the AMA Supermoto series, the local round of the AHRMA series and the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb). I found it really useful so I decided to do it again for 2006. Here is the current road race calendar for this year:


25 - WSBK @ Losail International Circuit; Doha, Qatar


5 - WSBK @ Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit; Phillip Island, Australia

11 - AMA SBK @ Daytona International Speedway; Daytona Beach, FL

26 - MotoGP @ Circuit de Jerez de la Frontera; Jerez, Spain


8 - MotoGP @ Losail International Circuit; Doha, Qatar

23 - WSBK @ Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo; Valencia, Spain

23 - AMA SBK @ Barber Motorsports Park; Birmingham, AL

29 - AMA Supermoto @ California Speedway; Fontana, CA

30 - MotoGP @ Istanbul Park; Istanbul, Turkey

30 - AMA SBK @ California Speedway; Fontana, CA

30 - MRA @ Pueblo Motorsports Park; Pueblo, CO


7 - WSBK @ Autodromo Nazionale Monza; Monza, Italy

14 - MotoGP @ Shanghai Circuit; Shanghai, China

21 - MotoGP @ Bugatti Le Mans Circuit; Le Mans, France

21 - AMA SBK @ Infineon Raceway; Sonoma, CA

28 - WSBK @ Silverstone; Silverstone, UK


3 - AMA Supermoto @ Road America; Elkhart Lake, WI

4 - MotoGP @ Circuito del Mugello; Mugello, Italy

4 - AMA SBK @ Road America; Elkhart Lake, WI

4 - MRA @ La Junta Raceway; La Junta, CO

10 - AMA Supermoto @ USA International Raceway; Shawano, WI

17 - AMA Supermoto @ Miller Motorsports Park; Salt Lake City, UT

18 - MotoGP @ Circuit de Catalunya; Catalunya, Spain

18 - AMA SBK @ Miller Motorsports Park; Salt Lake City, UT

24 - MotoGP @ TT Circuit Assen; Assen, Netherlands

25 - WSBK @ Circuito Internazionale Santa Monica; Misano, San Marino

25 - PPIHC @ Pikes Peak Hill Climb; Colorado Springs, CO


2 - MotoGP @ Donnington Park; Donnington Park, Great Britain

8 - AMA Supermoto @ The Palace of Auburn Hills; Detroit, MI

9 - MRA @ Miller Motorsports Park; Salt Lake City, UT

16 - MotoGP @ Sachsenring Circuit; Sachsenring, Germany

23 - MotoGP @ Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca; Monterrey, CA

23 - WSBK @ Brno; Brno, Czech Republic

23 - AMA SBK @ Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca; Monterey, CA

30 - MRA @ Motorsport Park Hastings; Hastings, NE


6 - WSBK @ Brands Hatch; Brands Hatch, UK

6 - AMA SBK @ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; Lexington, OH

13 - MRA @ Pueblo Motorsports Park; Pueblo, CO

20 - MotoGP @ Automotodrom Brno; Brno, Czech Republic

20 - AMA SBK @ Virginia International Raceway; Alton, VA

27 - MRA @ La Junta Raceway; La Junta, CO

27 - AMA Supermoto @ TBA; TBA, CO


3 - WSBK @ TT Circuit Assen; Assen, Netherlands

3 - AMA SBK @ Road Atlanta; Braselton, GA.

10 - MotoGP @ Sepang International Circuit; Sepang, Malaysia

10 - WSBK @ Eurospeedway Lausitz; Lausitzring, Germany

10 - MRA @ Motorsport Park Hastings; Hastings, NE

17 - MotoGP @ Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit; Phillip Island, Australia

17 - AHRMA @ Miller Motorsports Park; Salt Lake City, Utah

24 - MotoGP @ Twin Ring Motegi; Motegi, Japan

24 - MRA @ Pueblo Motorsports Park; Pueblo, CO


1 - WSBK @ Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari Imola; Imola, Italy

1 - AMA SBK @ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; Lexington, OH

8 - WSBK @ Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours; Magny-Cours, France

14 - AMA Supermoto @ Music City Motorplex; Nashville, TN

15 - MotoGP @ Circuito do Estoril; Estoril, Portugal

22 - WSBK @ TBA; TBA, South Africa

29 - MotoGP @ Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo; Valencia, Spain


4 - AMA Supermoto @ Queen Mary; Long Beach, CA

Well, it looks like I’ll be making a few trips to Utah in ‘06 since both the AMA has moved from the now deceased Pikes Peak International Raceway to the new Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City. They have even thrown in a Supermoto event to make the event even more enticing despite the long drive. Then AHRMA moved their Fall event from the Pueblo Motorsports Park to Miller Motorsports Park as well. I already have my tickets for the combined MotoGP/AMA races at Laguna Seca in July so I will definitely be out there this summer. Finally, I’d like to catch some MRA races, since I try to support the local racers, but that will be pretty challenging this year since all of the races are so far away from the Denver metro area. Naturally, I will continue to watch everything on TV and do my best to provide some coverage here on the blog for all the races and in my WSBKPod podcast for the World Superbike races. Make sure to mark these dates on your calendar and watch some racing this year, preferably in person but if not then at least on the tube.

[image from the web site.]

Friday, February 3, 2006

2005 WSBK season review…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

With the first World Superbike race of the ‘06 season scheduled for February 25, which is just a few weeks away, I better get my review of the 2005 season published. Last December I did a blog posting about the ‘05 WSBK line-up where I said that the the new found diversity on the grid was sure to generate excitement in a series that had previously become dominated by Ducati. Well, that certainly turned out to be an understatement as the four cylinder bikes completely reshaped the World Superbike series last year.

The excitement for the season actually started early in the pre-season. The Alstare Suzuki team of Troy Corser and Yukio Yagayama showed up at the first test at Phillip Island and immediately started turning laps considerably faster than any of the other riders. At the end of the weekend, Corser topped the timing sheets with a considerable advantage over everyone else. What made this interesting was the fact that Alstare didn’t have their 2005 bikes in time for the initial test. Instead, they pulled an old 2003 GSXR 750, previously raced by Gregorio Lavilla, out of storage and then put the new 1000cc motor in it. The fact that Troy could still put in the fastest laps on a two year old bike was a pretty clear sign that the four cylinder bikes in general, and Corser in particular, where back in World Superbike.

Troy Corser

The second official test went much the same way. The Alstare guys showed up with their new 2005 bikes and then proceeded to dominate with both again topping the charts. In fact, the two Suzukis ended the test almost half a second faster than the other riders. Also impressive at the second test were the Yamahas with five of the top ten positions being posted by R1s. The big surprise was that the Ten Kate Honda team, who had fought for the title in ‘04, were turning in some of the slowest laps at the tests. Clearly there was a problem in the Honda camp.

Corser had looked threatening during testing but it was at the first race at Qatar where that message was really driven home. Race one was all about Corser with Kagayama running a strong second. Regis Laconi, who had shown solid speed at the second WSBK test, rounded out the podium. Race two started out the same but Corser’s pushed too hard, too early and wore out his front tire. From there it was all Kagayama as the Japanese rider stormed away to his maiden WSBK victory. Laconi, followed up his race one podium with another by getting second in race two.

When the teams returned to Phillip Island for the second race of the season, it was all Corser. The Aussie doubled by winning both races while his teammate continued his string of strong finishes by following his teammate across the line in both races. The excitement of the weekend became watching the battle for the final podium spot. In race one, it was Chris Vermeulen who showed a thankful return to his 2004 form while in race two it was World Superbike rookie Max Neukirchner who thrilled everyone on the way to his maiden podium.

The European leg of the series started at Valencia, Spain but still looked the same as Phillip Island with Corser again dominating and bringing home the double. Vermeulen made another step forward to bring home two second place finishes while the final step was again split. Kagayama continued his string of podium appearances in race one while a rapidly improving Walker took the spot in the final race of the weekend.

From Spain, the WSBK circuit moved to Monza Italy and the home of Ducati. As a result, the Xerox Ducati riders seemed to find a little extra. Still, it wasn’t enough to stop Corser who one race one, his fifth straight win, again followed home by his teammate. However, it was James Toseland on his Ducati who rounded out the rostrum in race one. Race two was a complete reshuffle with Vermeulen taking his first win of the season. Laconi represented the nearby Bologna based Ducati factory on the podium with a second and Corser was third.

Race five was held at the Silverstone circuit in the UK and for the first time all year a Suzuki didn’t win either race. It was Laconi, building on the momentum from his Monza podium, who won the first race ahead of Corser and Toseland. Race two switched up with Toseland winning over Corser. The final spot in the second race was taken by Noriyuki Haga. Despite the fast times turned in my Yamaha in the pre-season, the R1 riders struggled in the first races of the season but Silverstone seemed to mark the end of their troubles and the start of Haga’s return to competitiveness.

The series then returned to the boot with a mid-summer race at the Misano circuit in San Marino. I guess the Italian air really suits the Ducatis because Regis Laconi turned in a stunning double, winning both races. Vermeulen topped Corser in both races and gained enough points to jump into second in the championship chase.

Next up was the race at Brno in the Czech Republic. After not winning in the past five races, Corser turned in a crushing performance in the first race, running away to a commanding victory. The two Ducatis of Toseland and Laconi continued their strong runs by rounding out the podium. However, Haga made a strong statement in race two by starting slow but then charging forward to lead, and eventually win, the race over Corser. Vermeulen rounded out the rostrom.

A repeat visit to England was on tap for the eighth race of the season, this time to the Brands Hatch circuit. Corser was quick to retaliate, after losing a race at Brno, and did so by winning the first race after a fantastic battle with Haga. In fact, it should have been Haga’s race but his crazed riding shagged his tires and allowed Corser through in the last laps. Laconi finished a distant, and struggling, third. However, Haga learned from the first race and put that knowledge to good use with an authoritative win in the second race. Corser and Vermeulen both turned in strong rides but it was all Haga in race two.

Race nine was held at the Assen circuit in the Netherlands. This is the home circuit of the Ten Kate Honda team and the pressure was on Vermeulen to get focused after an impressive, though inconsistent, start to the season. As it turns out, the young Aussie did just that by doubling both races of the weekend. Toseland, who had struggled at Brands Hatch, came through for a pair of podium finishes with a second in race one and a third in race two. Haga swapped the two spots with Toseland between the two races. However, the real surprise of the weekend was Corser who, for the first time of the season, didn’t finish on the podium and thus broke his string of sixteen straight top three results.

Corser bounced back at the next race at the Lausitzring in German with a third place finish in the first race, being beaten by a dual Vermeulen and Haga. Race two was another barn burner but this time it was Lorenzo Lanzi, standing in for the injured Laconi, who stormed away to victory in race two. Vermeulen and Haga continued their battle but had to settle for second and third, respectively, after Lanzi dominated the race.

Coming into the penultimate race of the season at Imola, Vermeulen needed a double win to mathematically keep the championship alive. The stuck to his plan with another impressive ride and a win in race one but Corser did what he needed to do by finishing second. Haga finished out the top three finishers. Then came the rain and the officials had to cancel the race. This took away the points that Vermeulen desperately needed and thus handed the 2006 World Superbike Championship title to Troy Corser.

The final race of the year, at Magny Cours, was a fascinating race. Vermeulen, determined to show he could have won the title had all the races been run, won the first race. Meanwhile, Kagayama returned to his early season form with a strong second place finish. It was Toseland, also trying to make a point after a dismal season on the Ducati, who rounded out the podium. Race two was another exciting race with Lanzi taking his temporary factory Ducati to his second win. Kagayama again took home second after a great duel with his fellow countryman Haga.

When the points for the season were added up, it was Corser with 433 and the title. Vermeulen was 54 points back with 379. Haga was in third, over one hundred points down on Vermuelen, at 271. Toseland was fouth with 254 while Kagayama was just two points back in fifth sitting on 252 points. The second half of the top ten was headed by Laconi in sixth with 221 points, Walker with 160, Pitt just behind him with 156 and Lanzi just a few more back at 150. Finally, it was Chili who rounded out the top ten with just 131 points.

I think the major stories of the season were:

First up, the strength of the Suzukis. Of the 23 races run, GSXRs won 9 of them. Of the 69 possible podium positions, the Alstare Suzuki teammates carried 26 of them.

Second, from a slightly higher altitude, is that dominance of the four cylinder bikes. Of those same 23 podium positions, the inline fours took 17 of them. Of the 69 podium spots, a stunning 52 of them.

Third, the Pirelli tires continue to lack compared to the Michelin and Dunlops that pr0ceeded them. Lap times in 2005 were similiar to 2004 and still generally slower than 2003. Additionally, the tires were visibily sliding after the first third of each race. While the spec tire does level the playing field and put all the riders on an equal footing, I think the tires are actually holding the riders back and perhaps leveling things too much. Also, when these greasy tires do let go, it generally results in a nasty high side. Removing a competitive advantage is a good thing but decreasing the safety of the racing is another. Pirelli needs to step up to the plate in 2006 with a better tire.

Fourth, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Corser seemed washed up and ready for the retirement home after three years on the dodgy Foggy Petronas FP1 but he showed the world that he’s faster now than he’s ever been. His utter domination of the races in 2005 make him a worthy champion to carry the World Superbike #1 plate for a second time.

Finally, I do think that despite being dominated by one of the most experienced riders in the paddock, the series still showed a lot of hope for the future. Clearly Vermeulen backed up his incredible 2004 year with a second season of contending for the title. Likewise, it is hard to ignore the two wins by the young Lanzi as a sign that he will play a big role in the future of the series. Kagayama looked like a championship threat at the beginning of the season but faded in the middle before returning to form with strong finishes at the end. He is clearly someone who will help shape the future of the sport. Finally, Neukirchner’s initial podium pegged him as a future star but his five DNFs during the season show that he still has plenty to learn.

Alright, with the series review out of the way, let me take a second to rate my own predictions. As I mentioned at the top of this article, I did a posting before the 2005 season where I ranked each rider. I had some misses but I also had a few direct hits.

I forecast that Laconi would win the championship. Survey says “Baamp”. However, I also said that if he didn’t win he would be out at Ducati and perhaps the series. He did get shown the door out of Bologna and nearly missed riding in ‘06 altogether until PSG-1 Kawasaki came up with a third bike.

I also predicted that Vermeulen would be the biggest threat for the championship. I hit the bulls-eye there, though it was Corser he challenged rather than Laconi.

As for Corser, I said that I thought he and Alstare would struggle getting the GSXR into WSBK trim. Oh, could I be more wrong. He not only booted the Ducati guys off the podium, as I’d hope, he nearly locked them out of the top step.

I won’t bother going through them all but I think I did a pretty decent job with my predictions. I certainly think I had a greater than 50% success ratio. I’ll do a similar preview for WSBK in a couple of weeks and then rate myself again at the end of the season to see how I do.

Alright, well, the 2005 season was a fantastic one for World Superbike. In fact, the return of the Japanese factories, even if it is only with back door help to their support teams, so completely reversed the previous trend of the grid being dominated by Ducatis that ‘05 may have been the most important season ever in the series history. With experienced big name riders like Corser, Laconi, and Chili being joined by ex-MotoGP guys in 2006 the competition will only improve. Then add in the young bucks like Lanzi, Neukirchner, Pitt, Muggeridge and Kagayama who are trying to dethrone the elders of the sport and you have a whole other level of excitement. 2005 was great and I expect even more to come in 2006. Tune in and enjoy!

[image from the Suzuki web site.]

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Pod people…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

Somehow, I always seem to get myself in over my head. A little over a year ago, I had a little too much time on my hands and decided to start a blog. It then proceeded to swallow my life for much of 2005.

WSBKPod icon

Then, over the recent three day Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial holiday weekend, I again had a little extra time on my hands and thought “Hey, I should do a podcast”. Well, the last three weeks have been a virtual haze of audio recording software, computer speakers, jumbled note pads and late nights talking into a microphone. I’m now convinced that I’ve finally gone completely over the edge and that I should be shot for starting a podcast. Nonetheless, sometime after midnight Tuesday morning the WSBKPod podcast was born.

With this podcast, which I hope to put out weekly (if not weakly) I will be covering the World Superbike series. I’ll be covering the pre-season tests, doing race results, talking about the riders and passing along rumors that I read and hear throughout the year. Why did I pick the World Superbike series you might ask? Well, there is already a podcast dedicated to the MotoGP series so that was unavailable. Additionally, there is another podcast which touches on the AMA Superbike series and a third podcast which focuses on privateers racing in America. Thus my choice was primarily me attempting to fill a vacuum. Nonetheless, the 2006 World Superbike season looks to be the best it has ever been so I think it will be a great series to cover.

I’ll admit up front that there will be a bit of overlap between some of my blog postings and what I put into the podcast. However, I will do everything I can to keep the two unique. I will also admit that the first episode of the WSBKPod podcast is a bit dry. I had a lot to learn in a short amount of time (not to mention getting over the mental discomfort of knowing I was being recorded while I spoke) As a result, I wrote up a script and the process of reading it dulled down a lot of the passion I wanted to inject. I’ll try to improve on this in the future, especially as I become more proficient with the software and more comfortable talking into microphone.

If you like podcasts, please give it a listen. I’m open to hearing whatever comments, suggestions, and complaints you might have so that I can work on improving this as the project progresses.

[image from my photo collection.]

Monday, January 23, 2006

Aged like fine wine…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, AMA Superbikes, AMA Supermoto, MotoGP, Other Forms Of Racing, WSBK

So I, like most of the official motorcycle press, spent a lot of time last year heralding the new guys that were joining the sport of bike racing. Guys like James Stewart, Ben Spies, Max Neukirchner, and Marco Melandri got more than their fair share of bits and bytes at the beginning of the season. However, as it turns out, 2005 was a good year to be one of the old folks. Despite many current racers being considered near retirement age, the old guys generally stuck it to the youngsters last year. What is really amazing is that this trend was pretty consistent across all disciplines of motorcycle racing.

First off, the sports of Supercross and Motocross have always been considered a young man’s sport. They are two of the most physically intensive sports in the world and the combination of jumps, ruts and crashes can exact a harsh toll on the body. The top news story at the beginning of the 2005 AMA Supercross season was the 19 year old sensation James Stewart. However, at the end of the season, it was the seasoned veteran Ricky Carmichael, at 25 years old, who swept both premier AMA Supercross and Motocross classes. In SX, 23 year old Chad Reed was second overall but the runner-up in the outdoor series was Kevin Windham who is two years older than Carmichael. Impressive stuff for guys on the second half of their twenties but the real surprises are found just a little further down the championship points listing.

As I pointed out in a blog posting last season, old timer Mike Larocco embarrassed most of the factory teams by bringing his privateer Honda home in 5th place in championship. Not bad for a then 33 year old. Even 34 year old Jeremy McGrath turned in some strong riders in his one-off appearances in ‘05, showing that the King of Supercross can still teach the youngsters a thing or two.

John Dowd at Washougal

Want to really blow your mind? Take a look at the AMA Motocross points table for 2005. Despite competing in the most physically demanding form of dirt bike racing, 40 year old John Dowd managed to snag 7th overall in the AMA Motocross division aboard his privateer Suzuki! This guy was born in 1965, turned pro in 1988 and was the 1998 West Coast 125cc Supercross Championship…the year Dowd start racing in the Pro ranks James Bubba Stewart was two years old and Chad Reed had just turned six. For a little perspective, remember that Reed finished the ‘05 season in 8th, 15 points *behind* Dowd, while Stewart finished up in 12th a staggering 135 points down on the vet. Lets all say it together now…”JD is the man!”

Alright, so the more experienced riders did well in the premier class. Surely the young guys made their mark in the entry level 125 classes. I mean, there has to be a whole hoard of teenagers out there just waiting for their chance to race with the twenty-somethings, right? Well, sorry to disappoint but the stats don’t bare that out either. The 125 champs, Grant Langton (1st in 125 SX East and 4th in 125 MX) and Ivan Tedesco (1st in SX West and 1st in 125 MX), are both already in their twenties. Langston was 23 last year and and Tedesco a year older. Not exactly ready to hand up their riding boots but not representative of a youth movement either.

Fortunately, things in the dirt world aren’t totally bleak. James Stewart looks to have turned around a miserable ‘05 and is riding strong this year and starting to live up to the hype. The teenage Alessi brothers seemed to have knocked the edge off their egos and are steadily improving as riders. Ryan Sipes, who had some strong showings in the 125 class last season, is just barely breaking the twenty mark. The two Ryans, Villopoto and Mills, are still in their teens and both are riding well so far in this year’s Supercross Lites class. Hopefully these are the guys that can step it up and run with the grey hairs. Frankly, I think they will have to if they want to justify their getting a factory ride in the year couple of years.

Okay, lets shift gears now and look at my personal favorite: Road racing. Its generally understood that road racing is an environment where older and more experienced riders can be competitive against the young up-and-comers. Still, the stats for 2005 have to be a little disappointing for the folks that are looking to the younger generation for the next big thing. Of the four championships crowned in the AMA series, three of them went to riders who are in their thirties. Matt Mladin won his *sixth* AMA Superbike title while at the same time celebrating birthday number 33. His 32 year old teammate Aaron Yates topped the ultra-competitive Superstock class to put a third championship trophy on his mantle. Miguel Duhamel, the elder statesman of the AMA series, brought home his seventh AMA title by winning the Formula Xtreme class despite being just a couple years shy of forty. Even Tommy Hayden, the relative spring chicken of the 2005 AMA champions, isn’t exactly representing the youth movement since he was 27 when he sewed up his second straight AMA Supersport title. This trend towards old riders is generally true across the entire AMA Superbike paddock with only a handful of riders under the drinking age and all of them eligible to vote.

Okay, lets look a little further afield. 2005 World Superbike Champ Troy Corser was 34 when he lofted the title trophy last summer. In fact, the WSBK paddock has more riders over the age of 25 than they have riders under that age and the series appear to be skewing their average even higher in 2006 with ex-GP castaways like Alex Barros, Troy Bayliss and Max Biaggi rumored to be racing there. It is nearing the point where WSBK teams should drop sponsorship from youth oriented companies like Corona or Koji and switch over to old foggie brands like Geritol and Metamucil.

Alright, since I mentioned the topic of MotoGP up there I’ll admit that things are looking better in the Grand Prix paddock. While seven time World Champ and 2005 title winner Valentino Rossi isn’t exactly a rookie at 26 he’s also a decade years younger than some of his competitors were in ‘05. Things really start to look up when checking the stats of second place Marco Melandri (23) and third place Nicky Hayden (24). The outlook is even brighter when checking the age of the new comers to MotoGP for ‘06 as Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Chris Vermeulen are all under 25. Finally, things are downright heartening in the 250 and 125 classes were the average age on the podium is regularly under 20.

Alright, how about a couple more quick examples of how old age and experience is overcoming the exuberance of youth? In the world of AMA Flat track racing, it has been Chris Carr who has dominated for the past half decade. The younger riders in series look up to him as a mentor and, at 37, its a good thing they do because he is old enough to be their father.

Finally, as a sign of respect, I’ve saved the oldest for last. Logic would dictate that a rider that is 44 years of age shouldn’t be able to win at anything in competitive motorcycle racing. Yet the legendary Jeff Ward did just that in 2004 by tying up the premier class in the AMA Supermoto series and it was only a stalled bike in the final round that prevented him from winning it in 2005 as well. In fact, the past three seasons have netted Ward one Supermoto championship and two second place finishes…not bad for a guy who won seven AMA Motocross championships in the 80s.

I want to see the various forms of motorcycle racing grow and thus I’m always looking at the young guys to see who will be the next big thing. However, for 2006, I have to say “Viva la Veterans!”.

[image from the web site.]

Monday, January 16, 2006

Feed me, Seymour…

Author: site admin
Category: MotoGP, WSBK

So, it has been over a month since I posted my last entry. I guess I took a longer break than I’d anticipated after hitting the one year milestone on the blog. Well, all that time off hasn’t been completely wasted though it will take awhile for the full impact the break to actually bear any fruit here. On a more personal note, I also used that time off to take a relaxing holiday vacation to Savannah, GA, to catch up on some other aspects of my website that needed attending, to make a small dent in the large stack of books that had built up on my night stand and to watch quite a few movies that had been on my “must see” list. I’m now recharged and very excited about resuming the blog here in the new year. I hope all the readers had a good holiday and that you are excited about the upcoming year of motorcycling. Now, on to one of the backlog of topics I’ve been wanting to write up…

When the MotoGP class introduced 990cc four strokes in 2002 (after having been dominated by 500cc two strokes since 1975) it brought Grand Prix bikes to a new level of performance. It also opened the door for speculation that the racers of four stroke production based Superbikes could be the future stars of MotoGP rather than the two stroke 250cc GP riders which made up the traditional training ground of world champs. The most logical feeder series for MotoGP was seen to be the World Superbike series and by 2003 two of the biggest stars of World Superbike were sitting astride MotoGP bikes: Colin Edwards and Troy Bayliss .

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the 2003 MotoGP championship…the old guard continued to dominate aboard the new four strokes. Rossi won the title in ‘03 with Gibernau and Biaggi rounding out the top three. Young American Superbike champ Nicky Hayden was the top guy with previous production bike experience finishing out his freshman year in fifth just behind Loris Capirossi.

Despite other Superbike pilots like Neil Hodgson, Noriyuki Haga, John Hopkins, Ruben Xaus, Shane Byrne, James Ellison and Kurtis Roberts all giving the MotoGP bikes a go over the past few years, none have had much success against the more experienced Grand Prix racers in general and Valentino Rossi in particular. For 2005 there appear to be only two riders on the MotoGP who came up through the World Superbike ranks: Colin Edwards and Chris Vermeulen.

Max Biaggi at the Bologna Motorcycle Show

In contrast, half of the riders currently confirmed for the ‘06 World Superbike season have prior Grand Prix experience: Norick Abe, Alex Barros, Franco Battaini, Troy Bayliss, Max Biaggi, Pier Francesco Chili, Troy Corser, Michel Fabrizio, Noriyuki Haga, Regis Laconi, Fonzi Nieto, Andrew Pitt, Roberto Rolfo, Chris Walker and Ruben Xaus. Of these riders, eight are guys who came up through the GP ranks (Abe, Barros, Battaini, Biaggi, Chili, Laconi, Nieto, Rolfo) before moving into World Superbikes. This leads to the question of which is really the feeder series for which?

Granted, most of the riders moving from MotoGP to World Superbike are generally regarded as being in the twilight of their careers but that doesn’t make the depth of the field any shallower. In fact, given the number of riders over the age of 30 who have won titles in the past few years the whole idea that someone is beyond winning at age 35 is being seriously challenged. The MotoGP series is banking on younger riders, primarily those from the 250cc class, to carry their torch into the future and of the current MotoGP riders only six have previous world championships (Rossi, Edwards, Pedrosa, Melandri, Vermeulen, Capirossi). World Superbike, on the other hand, seems to have built a hugely competitive roster made up primarily of experienced riders of which ten have prior world championships (Corser, Bayliss, Biaggi, Iannuzzo, Foret, Gimbert, Fabrizio, Muggeridge, Alfonsi and Pitt). Clearly World Superbike holds the edge when it comes to bragging rights about their riders.

Now, I don’t think that any current rider would pass over a decent MotoGP ride for a World Superbike ride but I do think that the World Superbike series has taken a huge step forward in the past year towards becoming the premier world class motorcycle road race series. Depending on what happens with riders and teams in ‘07 when MotoGP switches to the 800cc bikes (and costs again take a big jump) there is still a chance for World Superbikes to surpass MotoGP in power, popularity and perhaps even prestige. In the meantime, MotoGP needs to hope some of their young riders can finally beat Valentino Rossi so they will deserve the reputation afforded GP racers.

[image from the Max Biaggi web site.]

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Its a hard knock life…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

Periodically this year I have done blog entries tracking the progress of American Nicky Wimbauer’s season in the World 600 Superstock series (which is a support class for the World Superbike series. Well, it has been a couple of weeks since the last World Superbike race of the season so it is time to give a final update on how Nicky did over the course of the season.

First, his ‘05 results:

Valencia - 8th
Monza - 23th
Silverstone - 13th
Misano - 12th
Brno - 14th
Brands Hatch - 6th
Assen - DNF (crash)
Lausitz - DNF (crash)
Imola - DNS (blown motor)
Magny-Cours - 14th

Final position in 2005 World 600 Superstock championship: 15th

Now I’m sure that fifteenth wasn’t what Nicky hoped for when he started the year but I think it is a quite respectible finish. This was his first full season racing at the world level which means he was going to have to learn the tracks, deal with all the difficulties of travel and fast track his skill improvements to be able to race at that level. He had the advantage of racing for the Moto 1 team which is a very professional privateer outfit running with factory support from Suzuki but the disadvantage of never having raced any of the European riders before while many of them had been racing against each other in their national series for years.

For a little perspective on that 15th place finish keep in mind that there were a total of 37 riders from 11 different countries who scored points during the ten rounds of the ‘05 season. Unlike the 600 Supersport series which has been dominated by Honda the past few years the level of parity among the bikes in 600 STK is amazing. All four of the Japanese manufacturers were represented in the top five positions of the 600 Superstock championship. The series was lead primarily by two riders: Italian Claudio Corti on a Yamaha and Frenchman Yoann Tiberio on a Honda. Only eight points separated the two riders at the end of the season, so it was a thrilling championship to watch.

…but back to the point of this article. Nicky Wimbauer went into the season with high hopes. In the end, I doubt he is happy with his performance but as a somewhat neutral outsider I think that he did well. He was consistent with top fifteen finishes in ever race were he wasn’t taken out by another rider or didn’t have mechanical problems. He learned all the tracks and was able to improve his lap times over the course of each weekend. He showed everyone that he was a responsible rider with talent and an desire to win.

The bike after the crash at Assen

With all that said, I think Nicky now has to focus on what to improve next. I’ll be the first to admit that luck plays a big part in racing but I also think a rider sometime has to made his own luck. Wimbauer, like Nicky Hayden during the first two years of his MotoGP career, has been struggling with qualifying. There is a huge amount of pressure when racing against the clock. The mental and physical effort required to turn a single fast lap during a qualifying sessions is intense. Still, three of Nicky’s DNFs have been because of first turn incidents where he has been taken out by another rider. If Nicky can improve his qualifying then he’ll be starting further up the grid and thus lessening the chance that a mistake by another rider is going to affect him. Getting knocked down by someone else’s crash is bad luck. Qualifying well enough that you aren’t there to get hit when a crash happens is making your own luck. Job one for next year is to improve in that regard.

It hasn’t been announced yet whether Nicky will have a ride with Moto 1 next year. If not, I hope that some team owner is willing to give him another shot in one of the world roadrace series. He has shown that he is willing to take on challenges head first and that he’s got the raw talent of a champion. I’m confident that he’ll be given another chance to show off those skills some more in ‘06.

Oh and in case you are just checking in, you can read my past postings about Nicky Wimbauer here:

December of ‘04 - pre-season preview

April of ‘05 - First race review

August of ‘05 - mid-season review

[image from the Nicky Wimbauer web site.]

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The end is the beginning…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

Last weekend at the Magny Cours circuit in France the books were closed on the 2005 World Superbike season. I’ll do a full season review soon but here is my race review.

First of all, while this was the end of the season it was the start of better things for at least two riders: Chris Vermeulen and Lorenzo Lanzi.

Race 1: the Chris Vermeulen story. With rain at Imola ending any chance that the Australian had of bringing the World Superbike title to Honda this year the only thing left for the youngster to do was to win races. With the news out that Chris would be racing the last three MotoGP rounds in place of the injured Troy Bayliss it wasn’t really like he needed to impress anyone but that was clearly his goal at Magny Cours. Vermeulen absolutely destroyed all comers in Superpole to turn in a time nearly half a second faster than anyone else. When race time rolled around he did a repeat of that crushing performance. When the light went green in race one he simply checked out on everyone else. Suzuki mounted Kagayama ran fast enough trying to catch the Ten Kate Honda that he pulled away from the battle for third but was never a threat to Vermeulen out front. Therefore the focus of the race shifted back to a stellar fight between Toseland and Muggeridge. For the Ducati mounted Englishman it was an effort to convince the Italian company that he should be on their payroll in ‘06. For the Honda mounted Aussie, it was simply a chance to show everyone he is as talented as his spotlight grabbing teammate. Both proved their points but it was Toseland that made the last of the close passes shared by the two riders but even then the final outcome wasn’t clear until the last corner. Corser brought his Suzuki home in fifth, not exactly what he was looking for after claiming at Imola that he would win again at the final round to prove his championship wasn’t a fluke.

Magny Cours

Race 2: the Lorenzo Lanzi story: In qualifying before the race, it was the up and coming Ducati star Lanzi who had been the fastest man on the circuit. He couldn’t quite match that performance in superpole but still found himself second on the grid. In race one, Lanzi had tire problems which held him back for an eventual ninth place finish. Race number two is actually two stories. The first, which only lasted to the first corner, is less about any particular rider and more about how dangerous motorcycle racing can be. When the lights went green the entire field stormed into turn one at around 90 miles per hour in third gear. Muggeridge had some sort of problem which sent him careening into the back of Pitt. This started a chain reaction that also took down Bussei, Martin and the French wildcard Da Costa. Muggeridge and Bussei were both transported with injuries. Pitt and Da Costa limped back to their pits and their backup bikes for the restart. Martin didn’t have a spare Foggy bike and was thus done for the day. The story of the second start was all Lanzi. In order to make up for his heartbreaking result in the first race, after building such high hopes in qualifying, Lanzi came out for the race two restart on a mission. Vermeulen got the holeshot at the light and actually pulled nearly a second gap over the rest of the field. Lanzi, however, was not to be denied. He used his factory Ducati motor loaned to his Caracchi team to its full potential and turned in a new lap record to close the gap back down. Lanzi’s speed also allowed him to pull away from the trailing scrap between Kagayama and Haga. They, in turn, pulled a gap over an equally fierce fight between Brits Toseland and Walker. After Lanzi closed the gap up front he seemed content to follow Vermeulen and look for a chance to strike near the end of the race. That opportunity was gifted to the Italian sooner than expected when the lead Honda’s chain jumped the sprocket on lap 18 and ended Vermeulen’s day. Lanzi, who now had a huge lead, maintained his pace and took his second win of the season. As the race wore on, Yagayama was able to break Haga to end the most spectacular tussle on the track and thus to secure a second place result. Haga held on for the final podium spot in third. ‘05 Superbike title holder Corser found some late race speed to pass the two Englishmen and nab a fourth place finish. The intra-country competition between Toseland and Walker was eventually won by the injured Kawasaki rider despite a spirited defense by the Ducati mounted ex-champ. Walker deserves that fifth place more than anyone given the amazing ride he put in despite still recovering from a broken elbow.

So it is the end of the year for Superbikes. As I said at the start of this article this weekend also marked two beginnings. For Vermeulen, this starts his internship in MotoGP as he will spend the couple of months racing the Camel Honda as a replacement for Bayliss. He’ll be racing at home in Australia this coming weekend, then at a track in Turkey that is new for all the riders and finally the season closer at Valencia. If Vermeulen can put in respectible performances aboard the RC211V then he will be assured of a MotoGP ride in ‘06. Its hard to get a better new beginning than that. For Lanzi, his win at Magny Cours has assuredly locked up his ‘06 ride on the factory Ducati. Having an Italian rider aboard the Italian bike is always a dream of both the company and it’s fans. Lanzi has put in some spectacular rides this season aboard a privateer Ducati and seemed to naturally fall into this position once Laconi was injured. His results speak for themselves in that regard. Whether the 999 can be competitive near year against the in-line fours is yet to be seen but they have a rider who is certain to add excitement to the series in 2006.

Congrats to both of these young riders for having such a strong finish for the season and best of luck to them as they take the next step in their respective careers.

[image from the web site.]

Friday, October 7, 2005

Au revoir…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

This weekend the World Superbike paddock bids “Adieu” to another season. The closer is again the magnificent Magny Cours Circuit in France. The track is built to European Formula 1 car specs but is still a fantastic motorcycle racing venue. So much so, in fact, that the annual Bol D’Or 24 hour endurance motorcycle race was moved to the track from its original home at Paul Ricard. Unlike America, where endurance racing is barely a blip on the screen of even die hard motorcycle racing enthusiasts, the Bol D’Or is hugely popular in France and thus it says a lot that Magny Cours hosts the event.

Magny Cours track map

The 2.74 mile long track has a bit of everything. Like most F1 tracks, there are chicanes and hairpin turns which slow the bikes down to first gear. There are a few of these which stand out. First is the Adelaide Hairpin about halfway through a lap where the bikes have to turn back practically 180 degrees. The second is the Imola Chicane where the bikes have to transition from right to left while very near top speed. This then leads into the third slow section which is the Chateau d’Eau Hairpin. Put all of these together than the bikes will have to run relatively stiff front end to deal with all the braking forces. Technically, the track is listed as having 14 turns but there are large number of little kinks around the tracks so that count is a bit deceiving. These same slight bends are what give the track a completely different character than the tight turns might initially indicate. The first quarter of the track from the time the bikes leave Estoril all the way through Golf corner and into the Adelaide hairpin is a long sweeping right hand turn. The front forks which have been set up to deal with major braking will now be too stiff for the fast sweeping corners. For the riders, it means finding a compromise on suspension and, in turn, deciding which part of the track they will be fast on and which they will sacrifice. It should be very interesting to watch the splits to see which riders made which choice.

In addition to the excellent track facilities there will also be the bike crazed French fans on hand. As with any home race, expect the native riders to put in noticable performances. In France, that means Regis Laconi and Sebastian Gimbert. Laconi is still recovering from his tendon injury and was visibly slowed by it last weekend at Imola. Only time will tell whether the energy from the French fans will help him over come his pain. Gimbert actually has two things going for him. First, is the fact that he is racing on home soil. Second is the fact that the former endurance champ probably has more laps around Magny Cours that any living motorcycle racer. Last year, Gimbert really showed his stuff at Magny Cours so keep an eye on him to do the same. Finally, another endurance racing star will be on hand, in this case it is David Checa who is making another wildcard appearance for Yamaha. Like Gimbert, Checa knows the circuit better than most since the Spanish rider has been racing in the World Endurance series for the past few years, so expect him to be further up the order that wildcards generally appear.

Still, the favorites this weekend have to again be Troy Corser and Chris Vermeulen. The two riders have been the class of the field over the past three or four weekends and I suspect they will continue that at Magny Cours. Both riders have something to prove: Corser wants to show that he was just playing conservative over the last few races and not that he was out classed by his Honda rival. Vermeulen, on the other hand, wants to show that he is the best rider on the track and that it was only bike problems early in the season that allowed his Suzuki counterpart to build up the insurmountable points lead.

There are a lot of riders that are still out trying to get rides for next season. James Toseland probably tops the list, although it isn’t clear whether this teammate Laconi is signed for ‘06 either. Likewise, Kagayama will be out to show that he deserves to be back in WSBK next year as his season as been inconclusive with early season success followed by a mid season slump. Most of the Yamaha riders are still looking for a job and riders like Pitt and Abe could go either way at this point. Both need to show they can do better than struggle for top ten finishes.

Also on the list of riders that will be hoping to end the season strong is the long list of guys joining Laconi on the injured reserve list. Ben Bostrom is still recovering from a back injury and if anybody needs a decent result to close out the season its Benny. The Kawasaki squad of Chris Walker and Mauro Sanchini are still recovering from elbow injuries so they will again have Fonsi Nieto on board as a wildcard in France. Gary McCoy is still out but Foggy has brought in test rider Andi Notman to ride the second Petronas bike.

Looks like the racing this weekend will make for a great way to close out the season.

[image from the eTracks web site.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Weathering the storm…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

A storm has been brewing in the World Superbike over the three rounds as Ten Kate Honda’s Chris Vermeulen has been winning races and clawing back championship points in the battle against leader Troy Corser. With the World Superbike series winding down to just two weekends remaining the recent races at Imola where a watershed moment.

Coming into the race the pressure was on Vermeulen as he trailed Corser by 60 points at the start of the weekend. However, Vermeulen was looking good having won three off the last four races and coming in second behind Lanzi in the race he didn’t win. This streak meant he had been consistently out scoring his rival countryman and slowly closing the points gap. If Vermuelen could add to his string of victories at Imola then he could keep his title hopes alive until the final round at Magny Cours.

As early as the first practice it was obvious that both Australian riders came to Italy prepared to do what needed to be done. Both were among the fastest riders in the first practice and both were one-two in the first qualifying session with Corser holding a slim tenth of a second advantage in lap times when the sticky tires were mounted up. The two riders were again quick in the second qualifying round, again separated by little more than a tenth of a second, although Corser’s teammate Kagayama split the two for second on the provisional grid. When superpole rolled around Chris did what he had to do and turned in the fastest lap seen all weekend with a blistering 1:48.075 lap time. Corser ended up a half second back in third, the two kept apart on the grid by Ducati’s Regis Laconi. The second Ducati of James Toseland finished off the front row.

Speaking of the two Ducati riders, this is a good time to give a brief review of the state of the Superbike grid. Having both of the Ducs on the front row is amazing and a testament to how hard their riders were pushing to impress the team bosses with them racing so close to Bologna. Laconi was back for his first time on the bike after his Assen accident that damaged a tendon in his arm. Toseland, likewise, was racing injured having bruised his hand in a practice crash on Friday. Lanzi ended qualifying at the front of the second row on his loaner factory Ducati meaning all three factory bikes were in the top five. Given Ducati’s history at Imola this surely had the Italian bosses worked into a frenzy. Things weren’t quite so rosy over at Kawasaki where injured riders Walker and Sanchini were both recovering from broken elbows. Kawasaki brought in newly unemployeed Fonsi Nieto to ride a third bike but given his performance for Yamaha earlier in the season this didn’t necessarily look to improve their the green team’s chances. I’m sure there were long faces in the Kawasaki garages all weekend but this was especially so after qualifying where Walker was mired back in 16th with his two teammates further down the grid behind him. Another rider that was riding injured was Ben Bostrom who was flung off his Honda during qualifying. No major injuries but a general battering that wasn’t going to do him any favors. Missing completely from the grid was Foggy Petronas’ McCoy who was out with a broken coccyx. The Aussie is likely out for the remainder of the season.

The injury list aside there were a few other surprises when qualifying was over. The second row, as I’ve already mentioned, was headed by Lanzi followed by Haga, Kagayama and then the bombshell of Bostrom who turned in the eighth fastest time despite his aches and pains. Given how poorly he’s qualified for most of this year, maybe he needs to start highsiding during practice on a more frequent basis as it seems to actually improve his results. Another surprise was Frankie Chili who was down in 14th on the grid. He has been running closer to the front that than all season and I thought he would get caught up in the spirit of racing in front of his home crowd as he usually does at Monza. Just racing in Italy is usually good for a front row start for the Honda rider but apparently that wasn’t the case this weekend.

With the dark clouds gathering, both figuratively and literally, the riders lined up for race one. Before things could get started the clouds opened up with a brief shower that drenched the track. The marshalls decided to give all the riders a brief wet weather practice and then get things started under “wet race” rules. With the track damp but drying, most of the riders went with slicks but Vermeulen took a big gamble to go with an intermediate front. This meant he should have more confidence in the early laps but would risk destroying the tire should the track dry up during the race.

When the green lights came on it was Corser who made the leap off the line to the front of the pack with Vermeulen a close second. Half way through the first lap Chris put the grooved tire to good use to make the pass on Troy. Even as early as the first lap the wet conditions started to cause problems for riders. Chili and Silva crashed out immediately and Muggeridge retired with mechanical problems after overheating his clutch trying to get the slicks to hook up on the wet start. Within a few laps others would join the crashers with Abe, Kagayama, Lanzi and Pitt all dropping their bikes due to the wet surface. Pitt and Kagayama were both able to restart but both were outside the points by the time they returned to the track.

The race quickly broke into three main battles. Up front, the two championship leaders were stuck tight together with Vermeulen holding the tire advantage but Corser clearly with the horse power needed to force a pass despite his more tentative corner entries. A few seconds back was another dog fight, this one between Toseland and Haga. The third group, a few seconds even further behind, was a scrap between Walker, Martin, Neukirchner and Gimbert. In all three groups, passes were frequent but the most spectacular racing was between Haga and Toseland. Neither was willing to let the other lead and both were making risky passes given the mixed track conditions. Despite their antics, the battle for second place started to make up ground on the lead pair which made it look as if the fight for victory would boil down to a four bike scrap. However, two events happened almost simultaneously which changed all that. First, Vermeulen made another pass on Corser to retake the lead but then upped the pace to the same lap times being running by the chasing riders. Second, with six laps to go Toseland ran wide and allowed Haga past for third. With Toseland loosing valuable time and Haga stalled in his forward progress, the battle boiled down to just the two men in front.

Once Vermeulen went to the point position Corser seemed content to park on this rear wheel and wait for a last lap pass. This was probably a wise strategy, especially considering that the track had indeed dried up during the course of the race which mean that Vermeulen’s intermediate front tire was busy over-heating with each lap. It also looked as if his rear tire was taking a beating as well since he was drifting the rear each time he tried to get the Honda’s power to the ground. By the last lap, Chris was all over the track but despite his obvious tire problems his lap times weren’t dropping off. To the surprise of everyone, and no one more so that Troy Corser, the Honda rider was able to maintain his lead through the last lap, despite an attempt by Corser for a pass, and to hold on to win the race. This victory allowed him to close another five points on Corser and keep the championship storm rolling into the second race. Haga head on to third and Toseland recovered from his off track mistake to finish fourth. Martin made a last lap pass on the wounded Walker to close out the top five. The rain took its toll with only 16 bikes completing the race despite 34 bikes originally lining up for the start.

Unfortunately, Vermeulen’s dream weekend came to a rapid halt when the real storm intervened. While the riders were preparing for the second race another cloud burst soaked the track and this time it wasn’t likely to dry up. After some of the top riders were given a tour of the circuit in the pace car it was decided that the track was too dangerous to continue the event and the second race was cancelled. While it is always disappointing to have a race cancelled I applaud the race marshalls for making that decision. (This is especially true given how poorly the marshalls handled the rain storm that happened during the World Supersport race earlier in the day!).

Troy Corser at Imola

With race two cancelled due to the rain, the math worked out that there weren’t enough points available at the upcoming Magny Cours rounds to allow Vermeulen to catch Corser. The sun broke through the proverbial clouds and shown down upon Corser as the cancellation made Troy Corser the 2005 World Superbike champion with a 55 point lead over Vermeulen. This marks the first ever WSBK championship for Suzuki and the second WSBK title for Corser. As I mentioned at the beginning of the season, Corser had a deep desire this year to show that his poor results over the past four seasons while he rode the Petronas were because of the bike he was on and not a lack of talent on his part. He has definitely proved that this year.

I remember watching Troy ride the Fast by Ferraci Ducati in ‘94 enroute to the AMA Superbike championship and knowing he was a spectacular rider. That opinion was reinforced in 1996 when he won the World Superbike title. I think this title shows just how much his talent was wasted in the years between 2002 and 2005. I think Corser could have given both Hodgson and Toseland runs for their money during their respective championships if he’d just had something decent underneath him.

Finally, congratulations to Troy Corser and the Corona Suzuki team for winning the ‘05 Superbike title.

[image from the Alstare Corona Suzuki web site.]

Friday, September 30, 2005

Another one bites the dust…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Supermoto, MRA, MotoGP, WSBK

This weekend will be another one that is jammed packed with racing. Since there are a lot of racing I’ll just say a little about each one.

Losail Circuit in Qatar

First up, the MotoGP guys return for their second ever race at the Losail circuit in Doha, Qatar. The race is being held on Saturday, in deference to the local Muslim population, which means the bikes, teams and riders have had to get from Malaysia to Qater in just four days to be ready for first practice on Thursday. The 3.36 mile, 16 corner track has a right hand bias with 10 of the turns heading in that direction. Like most of the new tracks built primarily for F1 the track surface is billiard table flat and the asphalt is almost perfectly smooth. In the the only negative thing that can be said about the track, because after all it is in the middle of a freakin’ desert, is that it is hot and sandy. This means that it will again be a race where tires may be the deciding factor. Because the track is so smooth and the circuit is so flowing the bikes can be set up with a relatively soft suspension. This is definitely a good thing because it will help the riders with all important front tire feel which is essential due to the heat and sand. It is especially true in turn 1 were the riders are slowing down from around 200mph for one of the slowest parts of the track. Last year this race was the most dramatic of the season with the now infamous penalty against Rossi’s team for their cleaning his grid position by doing burn-outs with a pit scooter. One of the repercussions of that was the Rossi “curse” which was placed on Gibernau forecasting that the Spainard would never win again. After Sete won at Qatar last year, that prediction has held true. If Gibernau could win at Qatar it would be an amazing turn of events. The favorite going in, other than Rossi, has to be Capirossi who has won two in a row on the resurgent Ducati. Biaggi desperately needs a good race to maintain his spot as #2 in the title chase. Melandri is still riding hurt after his foot injury in Motegi. Hoffman and Bayliss are still out. Jacque is riding the Kawasaki while Byrne is again subbing at Camel Honda. Finally, there should be some more silly season info leaking out this weekend so watch for that news.

Next up is the World Superbike race at Imola. This is the penultimate race for the WSBK series so the riders hoping to claw their way back into the championship points battle better be on the ball at the Santamonica track. Obviously, all eyes will be on the championship battle between Chris Vermeulen and Troy Corser. Both of the Australians will probably be at the forefront all weekend though both have histories of having championship runs fizzle at the end of a season. The other riders to watch at Imola will be the Ducatis. With Bologna only a short hope away, the riders of the Italian equipment will be under a lot of pressure to perform for the bosses. To add to that pressure, the four year history of WSBK coming to Imola shows Ducati have won five of the eight races and that every race has been won by a v-twin. Talk about big expectations! Toseland is probably looking for a job next year and thus needs to impress. Laconi is coming back from injury and needs to settle any lingering doubts among his bosses that he should be their star rider in ‘06. Superstar Lanzi is back with the privateer team but now armed with factory bikes. He’s looking to solidify his position as Laconi’s teammate at the factory next year. The field of honor for this weekend’s event is a historic track with a fantastic layout. The 3.01 mile long track has 16 turns with over half of those being of the left hand variety. Nearly half a lap at Imola is spent at high speed making flip-flop transitions through fast, flowing turns. There are three tight left hand turns and one right hander but otherwise its a high speed circuit. Add in a rough track surface and you have an event where the suspension guys will be earning their money. The always slippery Pirelli tires will get a workout so expect some guys to have tire trouble in the later stages of the first race unless everyone decides to run the hardest thing in the tire truck.

The big finale of the AMA Supermoto series is being held this weekend in Reno and it promises to be a hoot. Both the Supermoto and Supermoto Unlimited classes are yet to crown a champion, though Jeff Ward will almost certainly tie up the former but with double points being paid in the second race there is still a chance for second place Jurgen Kunzel to win the thing. The Unlimited class champ is anyone’s guess as three riders are all bunched within six points of each other: Darryl Atkins, Micky Dymond and Troy Herfoss all have a shot at the title this weekend. Even David Baffeleuf and Robert Loire still have a long shot chance being only 23 and 24 points back respectively. Mark Burkhart has already sewn up the Supermoto Lites championship. The track is a mix of really cool stuff and some pretty boring stuff. The 12 turn, 1 mile track has a small but technical dirt section and a interesting sounding banked turn that goes up onto the side of a building. Sadly, about half of each lap is a point-n-shoot style square going around a city block with three short straights connected by 90 degree right hand turns (why not turn the track around 180 degrees so these turns become left handers and thus give the dirt track guys an advantage?!?). Not exactly the most inspired layout in that sense but with this being in the middle of downtown Reno it is example of the philosophy that Supermoto racing can be set up anywhere. I *love* Supermotos so I suspect the track will prove exciting and the racing will be good. It bad enough that I can’t be there to watch but to add insult to injury OLN isn’t broadcasting the race until mid-November.

Finally, another series is coming to a close this weekend. With fall right around the corner here in Colorado this Sunday marks the season ending race for our local MRA club. As as been the tradition the past few years the final race of the season is being held at Second Creek Raceway out by Denver International Airport. As is typical of the tracks our club races at the place is small. In fact, it is only 1.7 miles in length but with 10 turns crammed into that short space. Despite its size the the layout is actually interesting and it makes for some great racing. Shane Turpin has already tied up the premier Race of the Rockies GTO title but needs to win this weekend to complete a sweep of every race for the season. Likewise, he has already locked up the Race of the Rockies GTU championship as well but a uncharacteristic fourth at Pikes Peak ruined any chance of him sweeping every Race of the Rockies event this year. I’m heading down on Sunday to watch the racing and to catch up with my buddies ‘05 SuperTwins GTO champ Jim Brewer and Modern Vintage GTU points leader Tony Baker.

[image from the Losail Circuit web site.]