World Superbikes leaves the uncertain conditions of Assen and heads to the historic track of Monza, just north of Milan, Italy. World Superbikes has been racing here since 1990 and have provided us with some thrillingly close high-speed duels and hard-fought victories. Unfortunately, the weather looks like it could once again be damp on Saturday and Sunday.
As a kid, when you thought of racing tracks, you invariably thought of something like Monza or Hockenheim, even if you weren’t familiar with these tracks by name. These were proper tracks where the trick to winning was just going faster than the other guys. Tyres and brakes were distant thoughts, after strong engines and bold drivers. These were tracks for racing cars without seat belts, because the last thing you want is to be trapped in a huge petrol tank. Prince Bira of Siam, racing a Maserati, Juan Manuel Fangio in a Ferarri. Monza invokes all that history, with a huge banked section of track looming over the Parabolica like an inquisitive ocean liner. It was also an exceedingly dangerous track, ending the lives of Rindt, Peterson and dozens of others in its time, including Finland’s Jarno Saarinen, the exciting World Champion motorcyclist who gave us the knee-down technique, and Italian Formula 1 driver Alberto Ascari who was killed on the Curva di Vialone. The corner he died at was replaced with the Ascari Chicane, named in his honour.
This lethality would either need tempering or Monza would go the way of Hockenheim, its German analog, bulldozed and shortened to the point of neutering. Monza solved this problem of modern racing at an old track with chicanes. In 1972, they added the now-famous Ascari Chicane and fiddled with other chicanes until we get to the current configuration, where you have three proper corners, three chicanes, three straights and a huge sweeping right-hander. Nobody said Monza was complicated or fiddly.
One of the key features of Monza is that it's a fast track. Three straights that pretty much require you to use the longest gearing available. Often, gears are set so long that in top gear, you can't hit the redline without slipstreaming. Strategy for this track is a fast setup without much consideration for the rest. If you've not got a straight-line fast setup, you're not going to win, and it often provides close finishes amongst top competitors.
A lap of Monza
From the start/finish straight, we get to the Prima Variante, the first chicane, braking from flat out to nothing. This is the place where, in 2011, Max Biaggi overshot his braking position and took the wrong exit onto the track, earning himself a black flag. Next up is the Curva Grande, or big curve, where you are on the right side of the tyre at high speed. There are a few lines here, and slipstreaming is massive. A quick flick through the Roggia chicane and you’re onto the two right-handers known as Lesmo 1 and Lesmo 2. A good exit on Lesmo 2 pushes you down Serraglio (with a slight left kink in the middle) and the drive here towards the Ascari Chicane provides one of the last overtaking spots on the lap. Exiting Ascari, riders will go wide onto the back straight, many missing the track and hitting dust and grass off the run-off, trying to get the most important drive on the track. The run up to the 180 degree Parabolica is where races are won and lost. Laverty v Melandri, Fogarty v Edwards, Spies v his fuel tank, first v second, this is where you ideally want to be in the lead and perfect around the Parabolica. If you’re in second place, you will only win if you’re Carl Fogarty and Colin Edwards in front of you doesn’t get a perfect corner.
2012 World Superbikes
Don't be surprised if we see the Aprilias of Max Biaggi and Eugene Laverty, twice winner here last year, winning one or both races. A well set-up BMW should be on the podium, too, so Melandri could be in line for local glory. In fact, it’s anyone’s race, but while it could be a debut win for a BMW or for Tom Sykes or it could be Checa regaining the championship lead, the Aprilias are the most likely to take the top spots. Weather will of course affect this, and expect to see people pushing early on Friday so they don't get caught out by changing conditions.