World Superbike Donington Park Preview

June 24, 2009
Chris McNeil
The World Superbike paddock crosses the Channel for Round 9 of the 2009 World Superbike Championship at the historic Donington Park circuit in Great Britain. This year’s Donington Park round has been moved up in the schedule after last season’s September session was overshadowed by heavy rain that resulted in a number of crashes.

Xerox Ducati’s Noriyuki Haga continues to lead the championship standings, sitting 48 points ahead of runner-up Ben Spies of the Yamaha World Superbike Team. Noriyuki had little luck last year at Donington where he picked up a pair of DNFs after suffering a technical problem in Race 1 and being penalized in Race 2.

“Last year I didn’t have much luck at Donington at all, but if I put that aside, over the years I’ve done ok there and have had some race wins,” explained Haga. “I’m still in the lead but I’ll be doing all I can to extend the advantage I have. I realize that some of the Brits will be up there fighting for the podium places at their home track but I’ll be giving them a run for their money.”

Ben Spies - World Superbike  Misano
Ben Spies – Yamaha World Superbike – 2nd, 244 points
Misano was another mixed race weekend. We worked hard all weekend and it showed on both races, unfortunately without the right result in the second one, although we still took more points and got closer to the lead. It’s good to come to a circuit I know and have raced on before, giving me more time to work on the set up instead of learning the track. I really enjoyed racing here in MotoGP last year, so Sunday should be exciting! We need to leave here having taken more points away from Nori, so we can go to Brno with the championship lead in sight.”

Spies managed to shave a few points off the Japanese rider’s lead during the last round at Misano circuit, but a another technical problem at the start of Race 2 limited what should have been a more bountiful points taking. This season has proved to be an unpredictable one for the Texan, who is nearly unstoppable when in good form, but has been unusually cursed with untimely crashes and unfortunate machine failures. With six rounds left in the championship the Yamaha YZF-R1 rider will need to regain the consistency that he showed at Miller in order to narrow Nitro-Nori’s points lead sufficiently for a shot at the title. Spies will be familiar with the British circuit after racing it last year as a wildcard for the the Rizla Suzuki MotoGP team, taking 14th.

If Spies is the proverbial hare, then Michel Fabrizio would be the tortoise (albeit a ridiculously fast tortoise). The Roman rider has shown remarkable consistently of late, finishing on the podium in the last eight consecutive races and handily outshining his own teammate in Misano and Salt Lake City. Fabrizio took a spill in a slippery Race 1 at Donington Park last year, but recovered in Race 2 to land fifth. Just seven points behind the Texas Terror, the 24-year-old believes that his strong performance at Misano is proof that he can overcome this vexed-circuit.

“Well, after the results in Misano, two more podiums, I can’t help thinking about the title but I realize that to be in the running I need to secure more race wins, so that’s my aim, starting from this weekend at Donington. The best I’ve done there until now is 5th but I’d always done badly at Misano too, and then that changed this year, so we’ll see if I can make a similar improvement in the UK,” remarked Fabrizio.

Jonathan Rea - World Superbike  Misano
Jonathan Rea – Honda – 4th, 167 points
“I think the changes we’ve made, and the development with the CBR1000RR that we’ve followed for the last few races, were each demonstrated quite well in Misano. Of course, it felt amazing to get that first win under my belt and I think it all bodes well for the remainder of the season. To be honest, I’ve never set the world on fire at Donington but it was the same at Misano before I went there last week. We need to keep making progress, and to have a good Friday and Saturday to set us up for the race on Sunday. I hope it’s a good one because the British fans will only get to see one World Superbike meeting this year.”

With the Brands Hatch round off this year’s championship schedule removed, Donington Park will be the only home visit for the many rider’s in the paddock with ties to the UK. The most prominent of this ilk is the fourth-placed rider Jonathan Rea (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) who hails from Northern Ireland. Having just taken his first career win at Misano, which was also the first victory for the ‘conventional’ four-cylinder Honda since Ryuichi Kiyonari won Donington Park last year, this year’s Donington Park round could not have come at a more opportune time for Rea. The 22-year-old will be working before the races to find the optimal base setting for his new Ohlins suspension, but is prepared to doggedly fight to narrow Fabrizio’s 70 point advantage.

In fifth is Max Biaggi heading up the Aprilia campaign. The new RSV4 has not been as competitive as it was earlier in the season and both the Roman rider and his Japanese teammate Shinya Nakano are hoping that the Italian manufacturer can step-up to the plate and provide them with some needed advancements during the official test that follows Donington.

Leon Haslam (Stiggy Racing Honda) had a tough go at Misano but will be happy to be heading to a very familiar home circuit in the hopes of rekindling his early-season achievements. Haslam lives close to Donington Park in the nearby Derbyshire region and his father operates Honda Ron Haslam Race School at the Donington Park circuit.

Tom Sykes - World Superbike  Misano
Tom Sykes – Yamaha World Superbike – 7th, 130 points
“After Misano I think we’re definitely heading in the right direction towards getting the right balance on the bike for me. I should know what I need from the R1 for Donington from previous track experience. I had a good run last year as a wildcard so if I can improve on race one where I finished second I’ll be happy. There are a couple of set up options to try, I already understand the circuit so I should really get to grips with the changes we make quite easily and hopefully we can do well. I want to come away with a perfect base setting for the remainder of the season and a podium or two and some decent points!”

Tom Sykes (Yamaha World Superbike Team) will also have a home crowd on hand as the racer from Yorkshire returns to the circuit where he made an impressive appearance as a World Superbike wildcard last year, just missing out on the Race 1 victory to Troy Bayliss after a misleading flag signal caused him to slow from the lead. The 23-year-old took 8th and 7th in the last round at Misano.

Carlos Checa (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda), Jakub Smrz (Sterilgarda Ducati) and Ryuichi Kiyonari (Ten Kate Honda) round off the last three rider of the championship top-ten. Smrz had a surprisingly successful run in the last round and another strong performance by the Czech rider could affirm that Ducati’s support for its privateer riders is manifesting more competitive riders. Among these Ducati riders is UK born 2008 British Superbike champion Shane “Shakey” Byrne. Shakey took his first World Superbike podium at Misano when he pinned second in Race 1 and followed it with a strong sixth in Race 2.

At the moment, Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport are not having a good run of luck, though Ruben Xaus leading in the first half of a wet Race 1 at Misano provided the team with a ray of sunshine, in what became a difficult weekend.

John Hopkins, an American born to British parents, will be expected to be back to a higher level of fitness at Donington than Misano, where he missed Saturday and Sunday when his hip injury started to swell after Friday’s free practice and qualifying.

The other American rider to watch for will be Blake Young who replaces Suzuki Alstare Brux’s injured Max Neukirchner. Young currently sits eighth in American Superbike as the slightly overshadowed second half of the Mat Mladin Rockstar Makita Suzuki juggernaut team. The Wisconsin native will be racing beside an injured Yukio Kagayama, who took an impressive sixth in Race 1 despite riding with broken bones in his foot.

The WSBK paddock will be bit more crowded when Yamaha’s British Superbike GSE Racing team wildcards for the Donington Round. British Superbike championship leader Leon Camier and second placed rider James Ellison have won 9 out of the 10 races in the domestic series, so everyone will be excited to see how Airwaves Yamaha riders fair in the World Superbike class.

After the Donington round there is only one World Superbike race during the whole of July and August, at Brno, between 24 and 26 July. There is, however, an official test at Imola on 15 and 16 July.

Other World Superbike Donington Park Pre-Race Rider Quotes

Max Biaggi – Aprilia Racing – 5th, 135 points
“We need to take a step forward because the others have grown quite a bit and we’re not as competitive as we used to be. Now we’ll do a test after the Donington race and I hope that some important novelties will arrive from Brno.”

Leon Haslam – Stiggy Racing Honda – 6th, 134 points
“I know Donington well and I was running second there last year as a wild card before being taken out, so we know our pace is good there. The last four rounds have been tough for me because they have been held on some circuits that I have never been to before, and that just added to us not having been on top of a few issues as well. I’ve had three no finishes in those four rounds. There should be a big crowd at Donington and it will be their only chance to see us at a British race this year as well.”

Carlos Checa – Hannspree Ten Kate Honda – 8th, 109 points
“Donington is not my favorite circuit, I must admit, but we will try our very best to make it enjoyable! We made some good improvements at the weekend in Misano and, Johnny showed with his win in the second race that the package is getting very strong now. Every part of the circuit at Donington is very important – not just the fast part, or the slower part – the whole lap, including the up and down parts, needs to be just perfect. The weather is very important I believe so I hope it stays dry.”

Ryuichi Kiyonari – Ten Kate Honda Racing – 10th, 98 points
“I hope for the same kind of results as last year at Donington, but I don’t mind if the weather is wet or dry – as long as I can go faster. I think we made the wrong tire choice in Misano and Sunday seems to be the day when we have problems. In the last two races, we have had good pace on Friday and Saturday but then have problems or bad luck on Sunday. I will try the new suspension on Friday and compare the data to see the best way to go for me. But this weekend, I know we have to work even harder for a good result on all three days.”

Yukio Kagayama – Suzuki Alstare Brux – 11th, 91 points
“For me, once I am on the bike I am a racer and I forget my injuries. I have many fans in England and I want to put on a good show for them and do well. Of course, this championship is not so easy and this year is much more competitive than last year. I hope the weather will be better in Donington than Misano and the results will also be better than last year.”

Ruben Xaus – BMW Motorsport Motorrad – 16th, 42 points
“It was a great feeling leading a race last weekend, even though the final result was not the best. Last Friday’s practice in Misano was definitely a positive day for us and it is a pity that the weather did not allow us to continue our progression on Saturday and Sunday. But we learnt a lot more about the bike and have some ideas about what has to be done. Unfortunately, having another race so soon does not give our team enough time to prepare some solutions and new ideas and we will have to use Friday afternoon to try out many things. But that’s the way it is at the moment and it is up to me and Troy to do the best we can and think positively about the way ahead.”

Troy Corser – BMW Motorsport Motorrad – 17th, 36 points
“The best thing I can do is forget Misano and concentrate on Donington and that’s what I am doing. Crashing out before the first race in Misano was very unfortunate because I think I would’ve managed OK in the wet on the bike. Donington is a tough track and it’s certainly going to give us something to think about, especially in the first two sessions. We have a lot of work to do, as usual, but if we can get a good set-up early on and qualify better in Superpole, then we can chase a far more positive result.”

John Hopkins – Stiggy Racing Honda – 21th, 9 points
“We couldn’t race in Misano simply because my leg was so swollen. But now I have started to break the scar tissue inside the leg I will keep cycling and working it and hopefully we’ll be a lot stronger going into Donington, and make the full weekend there. That was the ultimate goal anyway, make the full return at Donington.”

Matthieu Lagrive – Honda Althea Racing – 24th, 6 points
“I’m looking forward to racing at Donington Park. I always like to race there. After my first two Superbike races in Misano, I can say that I really like the Superbike category – even if it’s a very difficult one to compete in. For Donington I don’t expect anything spectacular, but I’ll be aiming for Superpole and looking to score points in both races.”

Blake Young – Suzuki Alstare Brux – Max Neukirchner’s Replacement
“I’m really excited to race the Suzuki Alstare Brux GSX-R1000 at Donington Park this weekend. I’ve been racing motorcycles for as long as I can remember. I always wanted to race Superbikes and I got the chance to do that with the Rockstar Makita Suzuki team in America. Now, getting the opportunity to do a World Superbike race with the Suzuki Alstare Brux team in Europe is like a dream come true. I’m looking forward to it and want to make the most of this opportunity.”

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