Sterilgarda Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow was the fastest man on Saturday morning at Imola, but a damp track meant that nobody improved on their times set yesterday in the first session of qualifying. As a result, Carlos Checa still leads going into Superpole, ahead of Johnny Rea, Leon Haslam and Noriyuki Haga.
A wet start to Saturday morning saw Broc Parkes set the fastest time in the second session of free practice for the World Supersport class at Imola. The Australian, subbing for Joan Lascorz in the Motocard.com Kawasaki team, finished just ahead of Intermoto Czech's Gino Rea, while championship leader Kenan Sofuoglu set the 3rd quickest time, ahead of his Hannspree Ten Kate Honda teamate, Michele Pirro.
Kenan Sofuoglu is on provisional pole for Sunday's World Supersport race at Imola, the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda rider continuing his domination of the WSS class. Parkalgar Honda's Eugene Laverty has cut the deficit to Sofuoglu by four tenths of a second, but is still nearly nine tenths behind the championship leader. Sofuoglu's teammate Michele Pirro was 3rd fastest during the first session of qualifying, finishing comfortably ahead of Katsuaki Fujiwara on the Motocard.com Kawasaki.
Althea Ducati's Carlos Checa continues to head the World Superbike field at Imola, taking provisional pole with a lap eight tenths of a second under the race lap record held by Noriyuki Haga. While Checa led a bevy of Ducatis during FP1, this afternoon the Spaniard found a couple four-cylinder interlopers on his tail, Hannspree Ten Kate Honda's Johnny Rea taking 2nd spot ahead of Alstare Suzuki's Leon Haslam. The Ducati Armada followed the Brits, with the Xerox Ducatis of Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio ending ahead of Shane Byrne.
Leon Haslam's dramatic improvement leaves championship leader Max Biaggi with a lot of work to do: While Haslam slashed 1.3 seconds off his earlier time, Biaggi could only get another two tenths out of his Alitalia Aprilia, leaving the Italian in lowly 14th position. Final qualifying positions will only be settled during Saturday afternoon's Superpole session, but it will be busy in the Aprilia garage tonight.
Kenan Sofuoglu has taken the first steps towards securing his second World Supersport championship this weekend by dominating the first session of free practice at Imola. The Ten Kate Honda rider was nearly a second faster than his closest rival, teammate Michele Pirro, but more importantly, Sofuoglu was 1.2 seconds quicker than the man he has to beat to take the championship, Parkalgar Honda's Eugene Laverty. 4th fastest in FP1 was Intermoto Czech's Gino Rea, with Triumph's Chaz Davies just behind in 5th.
The Althea Ducati combination Carlos Checa and Shane Byrne kicked off the Imola World Superbike round by controlling the top of the timesheets for most of the first session of free practice for the World Superbike class. Only a brief interruption by Kawasaki's Tom Sykes kept Checa and Byrne from dominating. Xerox Ducati's Michel Fabrizio made it a Ducati 1-2-3, while Ten Kate's Johnny Rea put his Hannspree Honda into 4th. The first blow in the title race was struck by Max Biaggi, who went 0.13 seconds faster than the only man who can stop him from winning his first WSBK crown, Leon Haslam. But with Biaggi in 9th and Haslam in 11th, both the Aprilia and Suzuki man have plenty of work to do.
Ever since the announcement by the Grand Prix Commission that MotoGP would be going back to 1000cc, a low-intensity battle has been going on between the World Superbike and MotoGP series, with WSBK accusing MotoGP of encroaching on its territory. That encroachment is more imaginary than real, but the criticism masks a fundamental fear on the part of Infront Motor Sports, the company which runs World Superbikes.
For the main difference between WSBK and MotoGP is the wealth of manufacturers which have chosen to enter the World Superbike series. WSBK has seven to MotoGP's four, and one of those four is hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Infront's greatest fear is that the manufacturers currently competing in World Superbikes - and especically BMW and Aprilia - will switch their focus from WSBK to MotoGP, pouring money into the new 1000cc MotoGP formula taken from their WSBK budgets. Given the rumors concerning potential interest from Aprilia, and BMW being linked to the Suter CRT bike for 2012, those fears would appear to be justified.
After a three week hiatus, The World Superbike series returns to action at the Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit at Imola, the third race of the year on Italian soil. The Ferrari circuit is a veritable roller coaster ride, with near-constant elevation changes and a plethora of challenging corners, both fast and slow. On the line this weekend is no less than the whole ball of wax; the championship itself. Imola has been the site of deciding battles for the title in World Superbikes before, the most notable being the epic two-race slugfest in 2002 between Colin Edwards and Troy Bayliss, but this year's race(s) will be a different kind of struggle.
Points leader Max Biaggi won't have the perverse luxury of being able to let it all hang out like Edwards and Bayliss and must keep an eye on the leaderboard and still ride hard enough to make a good showing on the day. In order to take the crown at Imola, Biaggi doesn't have to necessarily beat the only other rider with a shot at the title, Alstare Suzuki's Leon Haslam, but he does have to keep him from taking 8 points away from the Roman Emperor's 58 point cushion. Most importantly, Biaggi can't crash or finish very far down the order, thereby giving Haslam a shot at the final race of the year at Magny-Cours.
It's been a good news/bad news kind of week for Alitalia Aprilia's Leon Camier. The good news is that the Italian team has exercised their option to retain the young Brit for the 2011 season. The bad news is that Camier may not compete again this season. Already a scratch for this weekend's Imola round due to a broken scaphoid bone incurred in practice at the Nurburgring, Camier says that his doctors are telling him that it might not be advisable to risk re-injuring his wrist at the season-ending Magny Cours round on October 3rd.
The wrist, particularly the scaphoid, is a devilishly tricky piece of kit that sometimes frustrates attempts to predict a return to fitness. As all riders and racers know, that area of the body takes a lot of strain, especially on braking. As for Camier, although he thinks that a return to action this year is unlikely, he hasn't ruled himself out just yet, preferring instead to make the call a bit closer to the actual race date.
Aprilia has confirmed that 2009 British Superbike champion Leon Camier will continue with the Italian manufacturer in the World Superbike series for the 2011 season. Citing Camier's "excellent potential", Gigi Dall'Igna, Technical and Sport Director for Aprilia Racing, said that he believes that Camier will continue to improve in his sophomore season in WSBK.
Camier has been undeniably fast this year, but has suffered from a freshman tendancy to fling the machinery into the scenery at inopportune moments, a tendancy that will hopefully be alleviated next year with a year of experience and track knowledge under his belt. Camier is believed to be partnered again with his current team mate, Max Biaggi, who is on the cusp of clinching the 2010 WSBK championship.
With the MotoGP silly season more or less played out, and the World Superbike season winding to a close, the seats in World Superbikes are starting to be sorted out. The latest news comes from BMW, who today officially announced that they will be retaining their seasoned veteran Troy Corser for 2011. The announcement comes as no surprise, as the Australian former world champion has been instrumental in developing the brand new German Superbike over the past couple of years, and Corser continues to be motivated to ride at this level, despite being nearly 39 years of age.
The press release also mentions that they are not yet ready to announce their second rider, although it is certain that Spaniard Ruben Xaus will lose his seat with the Munich factory. Xaus has been very disappointing in 2010, after a big crash at the first round in Australia got his season off to a terrible start. In his place, the names of Sterilgarda Yamaha rider James Toseland and current Alstare Suzuki rider Leon Haslam are doing the rounds. Toseland's boss Roger Burnett has been insisting for quite some time now that Toseland is close to inking a deal with the German factory, though reports have also linked Toseland to a return to the Ten Kate Honda team for 2011, alongside Johnny Rea - if Ten Kate field a two-man team for next season.
With the Grand Prix Commission meeting what feels like every race weekend nowadays, it's hardly surprising that readers of the press releases issued get a sense of déjà vu from time to time. Today's FIM press release detailing the latest decision of the Grand Prix Commission is no exception. MotoGP's rule-making body - consisting of the organizers (Dorna), the teams (IRTA), the sanctioning body (FIM) and the manufacturers (MSMA) - introduced new restrictions on fuel pressure, limiting the pressure in fuel lines to a maximum of 10 Bar. If that had a familiar ring to it, it is because exactly the same rule was introduced for 2010 at a previous meeting of the GP Commission back in December of 2009, a rule that was quietly dropped before the start of the 2010 season.
As reported this weekend, the four-practice schedule used at Aragon was a huge hit with the teams and riders. The general consensus was that the chance to try out big changes between sessions more than outweighed the shorter time during the session to make changes. As a result, the teams asked for a return to the four-practice schedule (FP1 and FP2 on Friday, then FP3 and QP on Saturday), preferring four 45-minute sessions to three sessions of 1 hour. Saturday's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission rubber-stamped the change, and so at the Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril and the Grand Prix of Valencia, four sessions of practice will be run, with the same schedule likely to return for the whole of next year.
If Valentino Rossi's move to Ducati was one of the worst-kept secrets in the MotoGP paddock, whether Rossi's crew chief Jeremy Burgess would follow him is undoubtedly the best-kept secret. Burgess, together with entire Australian crew that has surrounded Rossi since he entered the premier class in 2000, has maintained a sphinx-like silence about the question, handily dodging the question whenever it was put to them.
For a long time, this was not a pose. While Rossi had decided to switch to Ducati as early as mid-June, Burgess was still completely undecided at Brno two months later. Such was Burgess and crew's indecision that Yamaha gave them a deadline, to allow the team to start making plans to replace them should they decide to leave. That deadline came and went at Misano, but still no word seeped out from Burgess and crew about whether they were off to Ducati along with their rider.