Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Friday, May 6, 2005

History has a way of sneaking up on you…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

For the past few weeks I’ve used my blog space on Fridays to preview the upcoming weekend’s races. This usually means I talk about the riders and their chances of success in the race. However, this time I’d like to focus on the circuit where the races will take place rather than the riders involved and that circuit is the amazing Autodromo Nazionale di Monza in Italy.

Monza track map

The Monza track is one of the classic European road race tracks, if not *the* classic track. It was built in the early 1920s and was one of the premier venues for car racing for two decades in the fabulous “between the wars” years when so many amazing factories and so many amazing racers pushed the borders of insanity on the steeply banked track. In addition to cars, motorcycles have raced on the historic track since the early days and for the past fourteen years it has hosted the World Superbike series.

Another fascinating aspect of Monza is that the motorsports complex is located in the middle of the city of Monza. I don’t mean near the city, like so many tracks in America, but *in* the city. In fact, the park that contains the famous track is just a few blocks from the city center. People who have visited the track always come back amazed at how revered the place is. With Italian’s passion for racing, Monza is treated as hallowed ground and the Italian crowds that come to watch racing at Monza are among the most passionate of anywhere in the world.

The fourteen years of Superbike racing, along with the tracks pedigree and fanatical crowed, give this weekend’s WSBK races a historic and emotional flair that no other track on the calendar can match. In addition to the track’s monumental past, it has been the fastest track on the WSBK calendar since Hockenheim was dropped from the schedule in 2001. The track layout has both long straights and high speed sweeping curves but the icing on the cake is that it contains two of the most amazing turns on any track that hosts the World Superbike series: the Varieante Ascari chicane and the Curva Parabolica. Both curves are entered at incredibly high speed and both are stunning places to watch racing motorcycles do their magic. The Parabolica, in particular, is a highlight for spectators because the powerful superbikes are going so fast through the sweeping right-hander that their rear tires are spinning the entire way around the turn and onto the finish straight as they try to accelerate while fighting all the air resistance at such high speeds.

When riders come to Monza, they bring lots of horsepower with them. Historically, Ducati, Honda and Kawasaki have done best here thanks to all three companies building superbikes with prodigious amounts of top end speed. It is rumored that Honda would even build special “Monza motors” to make sure their superbikes would perform well there. The long straights allow for drafting so races often come down to who can get the best drive out of the Curva Parabolica and many famous races have been won or lost there.

My personal favorite was the 1998 World Superbike event and it was just such a race. The most famous incident from that weekend was Akira Yanagawa’s fiery crash at the Ascari chicane during race one where his bike went flipping into the gravel trap and then exploded in an incredible fireball that was caught on TV. But the real reason that weekend was special was the battle between Castrol Honda teammates Colin Edwards and Aaron Slight. Colin was considered the “B” rider within the team and Aaron Slight was considered to be the one contending for the title. (Not an unreasonable assumption, given that the likable Kiwi had finished in the top three for five straight years, while Edwards had finished 12th the previous season). That weekend at Monza was the break through race for the tall Texan. He raced a tough race, constantly pressured by Slight, but hung on to win race one. Race two developed as a classic drafting battle between the two Castrol RC-45s with the riders swapping positions regularly on each lap. Then, just as fast as the battle reached its crescendo, it ended in dramatic fashion as Slight’s motor let go on the fast front straight leaving the bike trailing a long trail of smoke at triple digit speeds while he fought to get the bike stopped. The end result was a second win for Edwards and his first sweep of a WSBK weekend. The weekend may well have been a turning point for both riders. Edwards ascended to become one of the greats of World Superbike. Meanwhile that DNF cost Slight the 1998 championship as Fogarty beat him to the title by 5 points. That second place during race two at Monza would have given him 20. This was the last year Slight finished in the top three of the series and he only raced for two more years before being forced to retire due to a burst blood vessel in his brain.

Its hard to believe that race was seven years ago as I remember it like it was last season. Whether this weekend’s race will be another of those classic races remains to be seen but it may well be another battle between two teammates on incredibly fast motorcycles. I’m certainly looking forward to finding out!

[image from the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza web site.]

1 Comments so far


Mike P
May 9th, 2005 at 6:25 pm

Holy crap, that sounds cool!

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