Max Biaggi will be fighting to protect his points lead in the inaugural motorcycle race at Moscow Raceway.
World Superbike returns after a three week break to run the first international motorcycle race in Russia at the newly opened Moscow Raceway. FIM inspectors gave the new circuit its final examination in mid-July and turnout is expected to be high. The 2.44 mile, 17 turn raceway hosts Superbike Round 11 of 14 and the battle for the SBK title remains intense, with four riders within striking distance of Max Biaggi’s current points lead: BMW Motorrad’s Marco Melandri, Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes, Althea Racing’s Carlos Checa and Honda’s Jonathan Rea.
The Aprilia rider struggled in the previous round at Silverstone, going down in Race 1 and retiring in the final laps. He then had to settle with an 11th place finish in Race 2 after Race Direction called the contest due to unsafe conditions just eight laps in. The unusual circumstances left all title contenders off the podium, but some of Biaggi’s closest competition picked up vital points and tightened the pressure on the Roman. Heading to an unfamiliar track, Biaggi will make the most of an early test session on August 22nd in order to maintain a competitive edge.
“A new circuit is always an unknown,” said Biaggi. “The weekend tests will give us an opportunity to gain familiarity with the track. From what I’ve seen it looks like a well-built track with a more technical part and some fast sections. We are coming from two demanding races where we had to grit our teeth. This is another reason that the Moscow round is crucial from a championship standpoint. Starting on the right foot and taking maximum advantage of the package we have available to us will be vital.”
Marco Melandri has a real shot at the 2012 title, just 10.5 points off the lead with four rounds remaining in the season.
Melandri is currently Biaggi’s biggest threat, sitting just 10.5 points off the lead after gaining 10.5 on the Aprilia ace at Silverstone. Prior to the difficult British round though Melandri enjoyed a three race-win streak, splitting wins at Aragon with Biaggi and sweeping the Czech round at Brno. In clear conditions, Melandri has been consistently within the top five and he’s already doing what he can to familiarize himself with the new circuit.
“This will be my first time in Russia,” said Melandri. “I have never been there before, so it is going to be a new experience. It is a brand new circuit, but I know a little bit about it as I watched a car race on TV. The track looks good and very nice. There is a very slow section, a very long straight and long braking. It looks like it is going be very good fun and it seems to offer many overtaking opportunities.”
Sykes is 51.5 off Biaggi’s lead and is in the midst of the best Superbike season of his career. He’s earned seven of 10 pole positions, been on the podium eight times and has one race win, taken at Monza in a shortened contest. In his home round at Silverstone he finished 8-12, plagued by the weather as well as mechanical issues which forced his team to rebuild the ZX-10R prior to the first contest. He ran within the top three for 13 laps in Race 1 before his bike began to fail again and he dropped back before the checkers. In Race 2 he was one of a number of riders to fall on the oil/fuel that had mixed with growing patches of water on track and was awarded his 12th place finish after Race Direction called the contest off. Despite the difficulty in Britain, Sykes is optimistic about the round at Moscow, excited by the chance to tackle a new circuit.
“I am looking forward to the Moscow race and it will be a new adventure for everyone. I am particularly looking forward to the one-day test to try and put some more miles under the belt and improve our race weekend. I think that this coming round will be very interesting and I am quite sure it will not only be the fastest rider but also probably the smartest team that wins.”
Tom Sykes (66) and Carlos Checa (7) are third and fourth overall, with only two points separating the two.
Checa trails behind Sykes by just two points in fourth overall, and the defending world champion is far from defeated in his bid to defend the title. Though 2012 hardly resembles the 15 race win 2011 season, Checa has put in some smart performances under difficult circumstances to gather as many points as possible. In Race 1 at Silverstone, the Spaniard logged the most laps led until the rains hit and rather than risk a fall in the wet with slick tires, he reduced speed and took a respectable fifth. In Race 2 he earned sixth after battling back from a terrible start that left him in 14th, and though he tried to run wide of the oil/fuel on track mid-race, he ended up going down just prior to the red flag. It remains to be seen who will dominate the first contest in Russia, but in 2011 Checa earned wins at all of the other circuits still on schedule this year; Portimao, Magny-Cours and Nurburgring.
Rea has an outside shot at pushing against Biaggi’s lead, though he has a nearly impossible 70.5 point gap to close if he hopes contend. Considering he’s struggled to remain within the top five through the previous three rounds, falling outside the top ten in two races, it’s unlikely the British rider will seriously challenge for the title spot. With 200 points still up for grabs though, a few perfect weekends coupled with any of the top four riders finishing outside the points range at the checkers could turn the tables for Rea.
Continuing down the points list is Melandri’s teammate Leon Haslam in sixth overall, 94 points off Biaggi’s lead. He fared well at the beginning of the round at Silverstone, earning a front row start and taking sixth in Race 1. He was unfortunate in Race 2, falling back soon after the start and crashing prior to the red flag. He remounted and continued racing and had battled back up to 14th before the race was ended. Once order reverted back to the eighth lap though, he was placed 17th. He has yet to score a win this season, but has been on the podium five times and looks forward to the chance to race a new circuit in Russia.
“We first have to learn the track, but we have a test there in the week leading up to the race, so I am looking forward to Russia,” remarked Haslam. “When you go to a new track, your pace is not so fast at first and you initially have to concentrate on your riding and getting used to the circuit without changing too much. As you get faster you can concentrate on the bike’s set-up.”
“Moscow offers a great challenge as the circuit is new to all of the riders,” said Laverty. “I’m extremely motivated for the final four rounds after such a difficult mid-season.”
Biaggi’s teammate Eugene Laverty follows behind Haslam in points and continues to chase his first win aboard the RSV4. Sylvain Guintoli is eighth overall and was the recent center of controversy after Liberty Team Effenbert Racing unexpectedly dropped him from their roster. He returned with PATA Racing and scored the Race 2 win at Silverstone, marking his second victory of the season. BMW Italia GoldBet’s Michel Fabrizio capitalized on the fluctuating weather in Britain to take his first podium finish of the year in Race 1, but has struggled otherwise to be a serious contender for top three spots. Fabrizio’s teammate Ayrton Badovini also enjoyed his first podium in Race 1 at Silverstone, finishing third in the contest.
One rider many are excited to see is Sykes’ teammate Loris Baz, who astonished fans by taking the first Superbike win of his career in Race 1 at Silverstone. After joining the Superbike series mid-season and getting off to a rough start, he’s finished three of the last four races on the podium. While he may not be in contention for a title yet, he has shown immense promise in a relatively short amount of time.
“After what happened at Silverstone I feel really good, as you may imagine,” said Baz. “Maybe the fact that we go to a new track is going to help us a little bit because everybody will start the same on the bike. But, the same as every race, I want to learn and work, go step-by-step, and then on Saturday we will see where we are.”
Jakub Smrz and Maxime Berger will absent from the contest at Moscow Raceway as the Liberty Racing Team has opted out of competition for the round as they continue to examine staff organization and plan for next year.
World Supersport riders will also battle in Russia as Bogdanka PTR’s Sam Lowes and Jules Cluzel along with Kawasaki Intermoto Step’s Fabien Foret struggle to overtake current points leader Kenan Soguoglu of Kawasaki Lorenzini.
Kenan Sofuoglu (54) and Jules Cluzel (16) will face off once again in the battle for the 2012 World Supersport title.
Sofuoglu has become the most successful Supersport rider ever, having 19 wins to his credit and 45 podium finishes out of 65 races. He’s on track to win his third Supersport title in 2012 and looks to the Russian round as the same as any other, since every track is ‘new’ to him aboard the Kawasaki ZX-6R.
“Now we will go to the Russian race and hopefully it will be a good one for us,” said the Turkish rider. “This year the biggest challenge is that because this is my first time on Kawasaki every track is ‘new’, because I do not have any set-up from previous races. But in Russia we will have a test on Wednesday, so I can prepare my bike for the weekend before it really starts. Normally every time out the other riders have an early advantage because they already have a set-up for the bike but I think this time everybody will be the same. If the weather conditions are good I think I can show what I can do. I am very confident that I can go forward and win the race.”
Lowes is just 14 points back though and he has five podiums of nine races this year. Cluzel, in his rookie season, is also a threat at 28 points back. Foret is just 30 off the leader and is tied with Sofuoglu at two race wins so far this season.
Ten Kate Honda’s Broc Parkes sits fifth overall with 98 and is followed by Sofuoglu’s teammate Sheridan Morais in sixth. Parkes has three podiums to his credit this season while Morais has only one, but both riders will be challenging for a top three finish in the coming round.
Riders take advantage of an early test session Wednesday before race weekend, with practice and provisional qualifying taking place Friday in preparation for the main events on Sunday.