News 2 Mar 2009

Racing Insider #41

The Phillip Island round of the Superbike World Championship marked the opening round of the season and a great sign of things to come...

World Superbike

Haga, Spies, and Haslam on the podium in WSBK race two

Haga, Spies, and Haslam on the podium in WSBK race two

The Phillip Island round of the Superbike World Championship marked the opening round of the season and a great sign of things to come, with the fact that the top 20 riders who made it into the new Superpole being covered by less than a second after regular qualifying being an amazing feat. In fact, it was the closest ever regular qualifying, with the last time it was this close was when 19 riders were within a second of each other over 10 years ago at Sugo in Japan.

Race day was epic, with the experienced Haga proving in race one that Ducati can be winners without Troy Bayliss, before sensational rookie Ben Spies gave Yamaha its first victory with the new big-bang YZF-R1 in the second race of the day. It was an incredible weekend for Spies, who joins the series with great credentials as a three-times AMA Superbike Champion.

“Today has been my best ever performance at a first round and a great way to kick off the championship,” said Haga. “I’m very glad to be back with Ducati and I am planning on having a very good year.”

The victory was Haga’s 34th ever, and his first at Phillip Island in 11 years! His victory in race one was backed up by a second place in race two behind Spies. It is Haga’s birthday today.

“I am very happy for the win because I crashed this bike four times in winter testing, but the team has done a great job to make the bike very comfortable for riding,” he said.

Texan Spies was thrilled to win on debut, making up for a disappointing off-track excursion in the opening race of the day, where he rebounded to finish 16th.

“The first race was tough and we just were at a bad spot at the wrong time,” said Spies. “In race two the battle with Nori was great. We kept the pace high and kept it between us.

“World superbike in general is so tight and people don’t understand how many fast people are here. It was great and I am glad to be here. I can’t say enough about the Yamaha — it was a great bike and such a new machine for the team. Hopefully we can now get some more out of it.”

Spies’ triumph made him the first American to win in World SBK since Colin Edwards in 2002. Let’s not forget that Spies is tipped to replace Edwards at Tech 3 Yamaha when Edwards retires, and this is a great start to proving that he is MotoGP material in his first full world championship season.

Brit Leon Haslam also had a great ride on the Stiggy Motorsport Honda with a podium in race two, surprising many. Anthony West’s podium in World Supersport made for a memorable weekend for the team.

One of the most memorable things to happen over the weekend was when Spies asked me if I would be seeing Troy Bayliss on Sunday, wanting to catch up with him to get his Superpole trophy signed by SBK’s best ever.

One thing to mention and take notice of is the competitiveness of Aprilia and BMW already. The results may not show it, but Troy Corser’s eighth in race one was a stunning debut for BMW in what is a very competitive field.

Max Biaggi’s performance in race two was just as encouraging as he battled up front until running off the circuit late in the race and being demoted all the way back to 15th position. One of these manufacturers (maybe even both) will win at least one Superpole and race this year.

An auction from the podium raised over $30,000 for the Red Cross Bush Fire Appeal. Many of the riders donated autographed memorabilia to raise funds, with the auction raising $20,840, while public donations during the day amounted to $9800. In the auction, the items that attracted the highest bids included a set of Anthony West leathers for $1500 and a Troy Bayliss signed Ducati team shirt for $1400.

Australian Superbike

Waters leads ASBK heading into round number two in Tassie

Waters leads ASBK heading into round number two in Tassie

The feeling from the opening round of the IEG promoted Australian Superbike Championship was generally very positive, with director Yarrive Konsky satisfied with how the event was run in conjunction with the WSBK round. The appointment of a press officer only came right before the season commenced, but the amount of releases going on was a positive sign for the future and a great insight to the weekend’s racing. A post race press conference for the media was an added nice touch.

The action on track was as great as ever, with Josh Waters’ surprise victory a very popular one, although the pace in the dry of the Motologic Hondas of Glenn Allerton and Wayne Maxwell was astounding. Shawn Giles is still regaining full fitness after spending most of last year out through injury, so it was great to see him wind up the weekend with fourth overall.

Craig Coxhell began his life as a privateer, although his Brisley-sponsored CJC Racing team is arguably one of the most professionally run privateer teams ever in ASBK. His fifth position was a great sign of things to come with only one test on the bike before the weekend.

Yamaha’s debut with the new big-bang YZF-R1 was highlighted by Dan Stauffer’s second place in the opening race on Sunday, but rest assured they will be very strong come round two in Tasmania with more testing under their belts.

The team was shaving many in the industry’s head in preparation for the World’s Greatest Shave on 12-14 March. The WGS raises money for the Leukaemia Foundation, which Jamie Stauffer’s son Max has unfortunately been diagnosed with. It was a fitting moment for a great cause.

Check out Motorcycling Australia’s WSBK weekend micro-site here for great audio and video coverage of the weekend.

Kawasaki has officially returned to MotoGP, with the newly formed Hayate Racing Team making its debut with Marco Melandri at the Qatar test under lights, which began overnight.

The team is run by former Kawasaki Racing Team technical director Ichiro Yoda, while many of the former KRT technicians have also joined the effort that is believed to be supported by Dorna.

Melandri was the first rider on track at the rain-affected opening night on Sunday, eventually setting the second fastest time of the evening behind Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden.

“It was difficult getting used to being on a MotoGP bike again at first after a few months away, but the key thing is I am already feeling good on the Kawasaki,” Melandri told the official MotoGP website.

Most riders only did limited laps on the opening night, with Australian Chris Vermeulen sixth fastest on his Rizla Suzuki. Former world champion Casey Stoner didn’t complete a flying lap, nor did Valentino Rossi.

Let’s hope that today’s test provides some dry weather as MotoGP is limited in its testing for 2009.

American Supercross

CR has taken his first victory of the season

CR has taken his first victory of the season

Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Chad Reed has taken his first victory of the season in the AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, series in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Saturday night.

The Australian defending series champion broke arch rival James Stewart’s winning streak at seven, allowing him to tie up the points race again after Stewart took it over one week ago in Atlanta.

Reed got a better start and made it work for him in the main event, pressuring Stewart to a fall that allowed Reed in inch away for his first victory of his 2009 campaign.

“I knew that if I had a good start I could give myself a chance,” said Reed. “James made a mistake and I snuck around to get the win. This Indianapolis crowd made me feel like I was in front of my hometown crowd back in Australia because they were so loud and supportive.”

Third on the night was a great performance by Reed’s teammate Mike Alessi, who secured his first Supercross class podium. Third Suzuki rider Michael Byrne was next best Aussie in eighth, while Daniel McCoy (Moto Concepts Honda) didn’t make it past the LCQ.

The East Coast regional Lites class was won by Austin Stroupe (Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki), ahead of teammate and championship leader Christophe Pourcel, while Nico Izzi (Rockstar Makita Suzuki) was third.

The series now moves on to Daytona, Florida, this weekend.

AMA Supercross Points
After 9 of 17 rounds
1    J Stewart (Yam)    199
2    C Reed (Suz)    199
3    A Short (Hon)    150
4    J Grant (Yam)    138
5    R Villopoto (Kaw)    138