Max Biaggi, the current points leader, has earned four Superbike victories at Brno and seven in other classes.
World Superbike riders will soon be back to work, coming off a three-week break, to face off at Brno in the Czech Republic for Round 9 of the 2012 FIM Superbike World Championship. The contest marks the 10th WSBK event at Brno and the 14-turn, 3.35-mile circuit, loaded with some of the most drastic drops and rises of any course on the 2012 schedule, is sure to push every rider on the grid to their limit.
Aprilia Racing’s Max Biaggi enters the round holding the points lead by 48 over BMW Motorrad’s Marco Melandri. Biaggi has a stellar record at the Czech circuit with nine Superbike podium finishes, four of which were wins, as well as seven additional victories he’s taken in various other classes. The Roman fell into a mild, early season slump after winning the first race at Phillip Island, missing out on a series of podiums, with his worst finish coming in Race 2 at Assen where he placed eighth. Beside the singular hiccup in the Netherlands, Biaggi has been a regular fixture in the top five, and more recently a predicable face atop the podium. Last year he split wins with Melandri at Brno and will undoubtedly face pressure from the factory BMW rider once again this year.
“Arriving at Brno as ranking leader certainly adds pressure,” Biaggi confessed after testing. “This year, more than any other, we have battled and earned every result, against strong rivals and seasoned teams. The 11 wins I’ve taken here do not provide any certainties. Even if this is a track where we have always been strong we cannot delude ourselves. The improvements our adversaries have made are quite clear. We will have to give it our all and make no mistakes.”
Melandri will push for his second career Superbike win at the circuit, the first for BMW at Brno if he can pull it off, to help shore up the points gap between himself and Biaggi. Last year he went 1-2 and posted the fastest lap in both races. Melandri has faced more obstacles than Biaggi this season though, retiring after the epic crash at Donington in which he and teammate Leon Haslam collided, giving Honda rider Jonathan Rea a line to move to the front in the final lap of the race. He also retired from Race 1 at Misano, thankfully in less dramatic style, taking to the pits after 22 laps due to excessive tire wear. In spite of the difficulties, Melandri has earned six podiums and three wins this season and will likely challenge Biaggi much more in the coming rounds, especially if he’s able to avoid any more race-ending incidents. He is excited to return to the Czech circuit since it’s conducive to his riding style.
Marco Melandri took a win at Brno in 2011 after a battle with Biaggi and is confident he will perform well there this year.
“I really like Brno because it is a very fast and smooth circuit,” said Melandri. “The turns are not too fast, most of them are second gear corners and just a few times you turn in third gear. However, you can use all the power of the engine between the corners. The layout is really good fun because it is up and down and the track is very wide. Last year I was successful there and I am confident for this race weekend.”
Fellow BMW S1000RR pilot, Haslam, currently sits sixth in points and is still looking for his first win of the season. The British rider has five podiums to his credit in 2012 and posted an 8-7 finish at Brno last year. He echoed Melandri’s sentiments regarding the circuit, “I am really looking forward to Brno. I love racing there. The circuit has a lot of history. It is fast, flowing and wide and the layout is quite unique with its up and down sections. The characteristics of the circuit should suit our RR.”
Third in overall points is Honda’s Jonathan Rea. The CBR1000RR rider missed out on last year’s round at Brno due to injury, but went 1-2 there in 2010, splitting wins with Biaggi. He’s finished regularly in the top ten this season, only having to retire once in Race 1 at Assen, but then rebounding to take the win in Race 2. In the previous round at Aragon, he crashed early in the first race and remounted at the back of the pack, only to recover to 16th before the checkers. Rea has 65.5 points to make up if he hopes to catch Biaggi and have a chance at the title.
Behind Rea in points is Althea Racing’s Carlos Checa. The 2011 world champion has never won at Brno in the premier class, but has three podiums to his credit at the venue over the past four years. Last year the Ducati rider went 3-3, earning his best overall result at the circuit. He knows that scoring big points at this stage in the season is crucial, sitting 73 off the lead, and hopes to improve upon his previous placements, “I like this track actually, despite the long straightway. Last season brought me my best Brno SBK result so far; the double podium finish gave me solid points at an important stage of the championship. I definitely need a points boost now, and hope that conditions allow us to make two strong races on Sunday. We’re now into the second half of the championship and competition will be tough but we’re ready to fight.”
Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes trails behind Checa by a mere three points. He has earned a single victory this season in a rain-soaked round at Monza and has five additional podium finishes to his credit. Despite being an almost sure bet to score pole position, he has six of eight so far this season, he’s struggled to sustain his pace in the main events. The single race at Monza was less a win than others , with riders earning half the points after the contest was cut short due to dangerous weather conditions with eight laps to go while Sykes was in the lead. In the previous round at Aragon, Sykes was in position to take a podium spot for all but the final moments in Race 1 when BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet’s Ayrton Badovini made contact with the Kawasaki rider, taking both riders down and leaving them each with DNFs. Recent tests at Brno have left Sykes feeling positive that he, his bike and the circuit are well suited for one another.
“The layout is great for the riders and it is a well thought-out circuit. It has a fantastic atmosphere and hopefully now the Ninja ZX-10R has an even better feel with the front end and I am a bit more excited to go there after our successful test. I cannot wait for Friday morning free practice.”
Seventh in points is Biaggi’s teammate Eugene Laverty who enters the round coming off his best finish of the season in Race 2 at Aragon, where he placed second. He cites improvements to his bike as one of primary factors contributing to his recent improvement, but knows taking home a victory at Brno is a tall order with the likes of Biaggi, Melandri and Rea on track.
John Hopkins of FIXI Crescent Suzuki spent some of his time away from the track on a motocross bike, mountain bike and he even went skydiving to train for the round at Brno.
“The bike is working better than ever with big improvements made at the Monday test following the Aragon race weekend. My crew has done a fantastic job bringing the RSV4 back towards the top of the timesheets. My goal next time out at Brno is a debut victory onboard the Aprilia where I expect Melandri, Rea and my teammate Max to be the toughest opposition.”
Prague-based Liberty Racing Team Effenbert, whose riders include Sylvain Guintoli, Jakub Smrz and Maxime Berger, will enjoy a fair amount of home-track support and all riders will be looking to clock in high on the timesheet.
FIXI Crescent Suzuki’s Leon Camier and John Hopkins have been preparing for Brno in their own ways, with Hopkins focused on tuning his body through a variety of activities and Camier taking to Japan to test a Yoshimura Suzuki bike that’s set to take part in the Suzuki 8-hour race.
“I returned to the USA after Aragon and since then I have been very busy with getting myself fit,” Hopkins explained. “I’ve done many full days on my motocross bike, plus a lot of time training hard on my mountain bike and my road bike, so I’m feeling pretty fit as I head to Brno. I’ve also had the chance to do a few skydives, which has been really fun and enjoyable.”
Kawasaki Lorenzini’s Kenan Sofuoglu will take to the track the points leader with Bogdanka PTR’s Sam Lowes close behind, just 16 points down in second. Lowes took his second win of the season in the previous round at Aragon, tying him with the Turkish rider for victories so far in 2012.
After Aragon, Sofuoglu went to Turkey to undergo knee surgery to address lingering issues following his crash at Imola.“I had an operation on my left knee after the Motorland Aragon round and I am now reaching the fitness level I want,” said Sofuoglu. “My last training session left me feeling happy and confident and I think I am really ready now to ride at Brno, especially after a difficult raceday at Aragon. I want to take away a good result at the next race.”
Lowes’ PTR teammate Jules Cluzel, third in overall points, crashed out at Aragon and will be intent on finishing on the podium at Brno. Kawasaki Intermoto Step’s Fabien Foret benefitted from Cluzel’s crash, moving up in position and taking second at the checkers. Sofuoglu’s teammate Sheridan Morais took his first Supersport podium at Aragon and is doing all he can to prepare for Brno.
“We went to a circuit just near my team’s base, at Cremona, just for a day of testing to try a few things in bike set-up and get to ride the bike a bit more,” Morais said. “I think we did over 30 laps there, so that was good. I have also just been at the house of one of my mechanics, up near Modena in the mountains for four or five days. Just training and riding a bike so I feel I am ready for Brno now.”
Riders hit the track on Friday for practice sessions in preparation for the races Sunday.