Max Biaggi encountered bike issues at Brno and is working hard to remedy the problems before Silverstone.
World Superbike riders enjoyed a two week break following the previous round at Brno, a time many spent resting at home with loved ones, training, testing and even racing as was the case with Honda’s Jonathan Rea and Hiroshi Aoyama as well as FIXI Crescent Suzuki’s Leon Camier. These three riders contested the prestigious Suzuka 8-Hour World Endurance race in Japan, with Rea becoming the first British rider to ever win the coveted event. WSBK Round 10 at Silverstone in Great Britain draws near though, and riders are now preparing to face-off once again in the hunt for 2012 World Superbike supremacy.
Leading the charge at the moment is Aprilia Racing’s Max Biaggi, though the Roman is undoubtedly feeling the pressure after watching BMW Motorrad’s Marco Melandri sweep Brno. Biaggi is 21 points ahead of Melandri at the top of the championship, but the BMW ace is in the midst of an incredible season, having earned five wins so far, more than any other rider on the grid. At the beginning of the year, the German marque had never scored a victory in World Superbike, but now they lead the Manufacturer’s Championship by two points over Aprilia.
Biaggi’s lead may become even more tenuous if his previous record at Silverstone is any indication of his performance to come on Sunday. The five-time world champion has never finished in podium position at the British circuit, and Aprilia has only ever taken two podiums in the class, neither of which were wins. Aprilia Racing has been testing recently at Mugello in preparation for the upcoming round and the bumpy Silverstone circuit, hoping to dial-in the RSV4 before practice and qualifying sessions.
“We have been working hard to fix the problems that slowed us down (at Brno), but until the first test session we won’t have a clear idea of our situation,” said Biaggi. “There are a lot of variables at Silverstone, from the weather to the home riders. We’ll have to stay focused on our goal and adapt quickly to the situation. It is a hard championship which will probably be decided in the last round. I want to be in it until the end.”
“I am really looking forward to Silverstone,” said the Italian rider. “I like the track very much. It is one of the fastest and longest circuits of the season. You have a lot of fast corners, so you can adopt a flowing riding style. Last year I was on the podium there twice. It will certainly be not easy, as the track is very bumpy, but I am confident. I cannot wait to ride there with my RR.”
Fellow BMW rider Leon Haslam is looking at his home round as a chance to turn his season around. While he’s made five podiums so far this year, he has yet to take a win and currently sits sixth in overall points.
“I am very positive about the weekend,” Haslam said. “Silverstone is synonymous with racing back in England, but is also means that we have left the two bogey circuits behind us. The last couple of rounds have been tough but I feel that we took important steps and can now get back to normal and to winning ways. There is no better place to do that than at my home race.”
Another British rider yearning for a win at his home track is Kawasaki Racing’s Tom Sykes. The Ninja ZX-10R rider continued his domination of Superpole qualifying at Brno, earning his seventh SP out of nine rounds this season. Though he’s struggled to translate his qualifying pace into race wins, he’s also enjoyed a fair share of podium finishes, eight in all so far in 2012. Sykes sits third in points and trails Melandri by 38.
Loris Baz (76) took an unexpected podium in Race 1 at Brno, finishing third ahead of a number of seasoned riders.
“I am looking forward to getting to Silverstone to ride in front of a home crowd,” said Sykes. “If the weather is anything like as nice as it has been in the last week then all the better. Going there, especially off the back of a strong weekend in Brno, is a little bit more exciting. We made another step in the set-up of the Ninja ZX-10R last time out and that was witnessed by a lot of people. I am confident that when we nail the set-up each time I will be able to back up my strong qualifying performances.”
Sykes’ teammate Loris Baz, filling in for the injured Joan Lascorz, stunned fans by securing the first Superbike podium finish of his career, taking third in Race 1 at Brno in only his ninth race in the premier class. He followed up in Race 2 by tying his previous best finish in eighth.
Althea Racing’s Carlos Checa has a real chance to frustrate everyone on the grid though. Last year he went 1-1 at the British circuit and returns this year aboard the most successful manufacturer at Silverstone in recent history. Ducati has 11 wins to its credit over the past 15 races at the circuit and though Checa has struggled this year to meet his 2011 world title winning performance, history favors the Spanish rider and his 1098R at Silverstone. Checa sits fourth in overall points and trails the leader, Biaggi, by 67.
If Ducati truly has the advantage at Silverstone, then Checa’s teammate Davide Giugliano may also have the chance at another podium finish. Currently he has two to his credit, a second-place finish in Race 1 at Assen and a third-place finish in Race 1 at Misano. Liberty Racing’s Jakub Smrz, also aboard the 1098R, has earned one pole position and took a fifth-place finish in Race 1 at Phillip Island.
Former Liberty Racing rider Sylvain Guintoli will join with PATA Racing for Silverstone, similarly aboard a Ducati, and already has one win to his credit this year from Race 1 at Assen. Guintoli missed out on the previous round at Brno after his team announced it was dropping him, just days before the contest was set to start.
Rea is coming fresh from Japan and his historic win at the Suzuka 8-Hour. He also has two Superbike race wins to his credit so far this season and a number of top ten finishes. The British rider sits fifth in overall points and is riding for the second most successful manufacturer at Silverstone. He missed out on the round in 2011 due to injury, but went 2-2 there in 2010.
Jonathan Rea, here riding at Brno, was part of the winning FCC TSR Honda team at the Suzuka 8-Hour race in Japan during the two week break from World Superbike.
“I’m a little tired and my body is adjusting after we got back to the UK on Monday evening but I’m looking forward to the week ahead,” said Rea after his return from Japan. “We had a very disappointing weekend at Brno last time out but I’m quite optimistic about Silverstone. I really enjoy the layout of the circuit and, although I missed last year, the bike worked pretty well there for me in 2010. I hope we can develop our new electronics package a little more this weekend and get some better throttle control.”
Camier and teammate John Hopkins are also looking forward to the contest on their team’s home turf. Last year, Camier started from the front row and finished fifth in Race 2 and Hopkins made waves as a wild-card entry in British Superbike, winning Superpole. Considering that both riders have struggled to find their pace this season, returning to a track that’s home to Camier and has positive memories for both riders is a welcome step toward turning the season around.
“To repeat last year’s pole position is not going to be easy, but there’s no reason why it cannot be done – as long as I have a good Superpole,” said an optimistic Hopkins. “The competition is very tough, but as long as I get on the front two rows of the grid, I’ll be happy – though another pole would be great! I like the track and hope Silverstone will be where I turn around my season and start posting good results again.”
In World Supersport, Kawasaki Lorenzini’s Kenan Sofuoglu remains the points leader, but holds by just 23 points over Bogdanka PTR’s Sam Lowes. The Turkish rider lost out on a win at Brno after a red flag ended the race early, reverting the finishing order to the previous lap, placing him second behind Kawasaki Intermoto Step’s Fabien Foret. Sofuoglu is heading to Silverstone focused on producing the best possible result for himself and his team.
“I think Silverstone is a nice track,” said Sofuoglu. “I do not know it on my Kawasaki but there are some very fast corners and some slow corners on the new part. I cannot say it is my favorite track but the only thing that matters is that my bike feels nice on the circuit, and that I will see on Friday. A rider should not have the chance to say he likes this track or that track; we should be able to ride well on any track.”
Lowes is feeling much more upbeat about his home round, and though he’s ridden well on nearly every track this season, is optimistic about a good result at Silverstone. He proved that the pressure of riding in front of friends, family and his countrymen only adds to his resolve to be out front, having earned the win at the first British round of 2012 at Donington.
“I’m in good spirits and feel fit,” Lowes explained. “I love Silverstone and I’m happy we go there at this time of the season trying to get back in winning ways and pushing hard for the championship. It’s my home race and a track that I like so I think it will be a really good weekend for us. Silverstone is fast and flowing which suits my style and I know that PTR is working hard to give me a good bike.”
Foret isn’t out of the race for the top either, especially if he’s able to continue the pace he set at Brno. The French rider opened the season with a second-place finish at Phillip Island and followed with a win at Imola. He fell into a bit of a slump through the next four rounds, but now has two consecutive podium finishes and is looking for a third at Silverstone. He is only 29 points off Sofuoglu’s lead and a mere six points behind Lowes.
Lowes’ PTR teammate Jules Cluzel has been one of the most consistent riders on the grid, falling outside the top five just once at Assen where he placed sixth. Ten Kate Racing’s Broc Parkes sits fifth in overall points and has yet to earn a win this season, but has two podium finishes to his credit and has finished outside the top five just twice.
Weather will play a significant factor at Silverstone for both Superbike and Supersport. Forecasts call for cool, possibly rainy conditions, further complicating the host of issues riders will face as they prepare for the second and final British round of the 2012 season.