Jonathan Rea (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR) took his second career World Superbike race win last time out but success has only made the 22-year-old Ulsterman hungrier than ever for more wins.
After some up and down early results Rea is now seen as one of the riders to beat as the season comes to a close, with the overall championship still closely contested between Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga, with Michel Fabrizio some way off the leading duo.
Some 45 points from third place rider Fabrizio, Rea has some ground to make up to get into the top three, but including Imola this weekend he has six points scoring races to advance his cause.
A July test at the slightly re-shaped Imola, now with a slow chicane added on the start finish line, was attended by most of the top World Superbike and World Supersport teams. Ominously for his rivals, Rea was fastest at that test, which was a forerunner to the first Imola WSB races since 2006.
Eugene Laverty (Parkalgar Honda CBR600RR) was not quite able to peg back long-time championship leader Cal Crutchlow at the most recent WSS race in Germany, but he was competitively fast in Imola testing in his first visit to the Italian track. Laverty is 22-points adrift of Crutchlow, with three races to go, including Imola.
Leon Haslam (Stiggy Racing Honda CBR1000RR) was looking like a podium certainty in the last WSB round, but simple bad luck got in the way at a key time, and Leon could not improve his still-impressive overall sixth place on his privateer Honda.
Kenan Sofuoglu (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR600RR) saw his WSS fortunes swing away from him once again recently, but as a two-time race winner this year, and a champion in 2007, the Turkish star can never be counted out.
Anthony West (Stiggy Racing Honda CBR600RR) is a lone Stiggy Supersport rider in Italy, as Gianluca Vizziello (Stiggy Racing Honda CBR600RR) will not run at the Imola race, due to budget constraints.
Carlos Checa (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR) has been fast and consistent in the most recent races, and is now hunting Haslam’s sixth place overall. Ryuichi Kiyonari (Ten Kate Honda
CBR1000RR) took time out of his WSB season to race in the British Superbike series for Honda recently, but he is firmly back in the WSB world this weekend, looking for his first podiums since Monza, in May.
John Hopkins (Stiggy Racing Honda CBR1000RR) will not be racing at Imola, and is a doubt for the rest of the year, as follow-up tests on his Nürburgring injuries showed he needed an operation, which has now been successfully carried out. His recuperation period is such that he will most probably miss the last few races.
Matthieu Lagrive (Honda Althea CBR1000RR) has been a revelation on his privateer Honda WSB machine since making the switch from WSS mid-season. After only eight of the 22 races run so far, he has scored enough points to sit inside the top 20, no mean feat in such a competitive season all through the field.
For 2008 World Champion Andrew Pitt (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR600RR) 2009 has been a challenge almost throughout, and he is yet to win a race, despite two early second places in Australia and Qatar. He is currently seventh.
Mark Aitchison (Althea Honda CBR600RR) has a team-mate at this race, as Flavio Gentile (Althea Honda CBR600RR) joins the Althea set-up once again. Aitchison has not had a repeat of his breakthrough podium midseason, but will be at his team’s home race in Imola.
Miguel Praia (Parkalgar Honda CBR600RR) is all set for his first top ten finish at Imola, after a successful test there in July.
SBK Rider Comments
Jonathan Rea: “The Nürburgring win in race two was good, but I needed it after messing up the first race. It just shows that I’m still learning and how much I need to keep pushing. But it was another step up for me, the team and the bike, and that’s what we’ve been looking for in each race this season. The CBR1000RR is a race-winning package now and I need to make sure that I’m there too. It’s all positive for Imola and I’m looking forward to heading back there. We’ll look to confirm the setting that we finished the July test with and then try to get down to some serious lap times, fine tuning things for Sunday.
It was a good test that we had there and I hope we can turn that, and recent form, into some decent results.”
Leon Haslam: “The spec of our bike is what it is at the minute, but we proved in Germany that we are still capable of running and battling at the front. We have tested at Imola this summer, and were third quickest on race tyres. And we didn’t get to use the best tyres at that test, whereas the official teams did. You don’t need that much top speed at Imola and our bike feels good out of the turns. We set our gearing choices at the test so we should be able to spend most of our time working on the electronics. I’m looking forward to Imola.”
Carlos Checa: “The last few races have been good for me and for the team and it has felt really nice to be up on the podium again. We have found the right balance with the bike over the last few races and I would say that 70% of the improvement has been down to the way we have been working as a team and with the new suspension technicians.
Electronics have improved, too, and the faster tracks seem to suit our bike a little better.
It’s a good thing that the last three rounds are all at those kind of circuits. We had a good test at Imola and the recent improvements and results have given us a momentum that we want to continue and given me a renewed confidence for the remainder of the season.”
Ryuichi Kiyonari: “I enjoyed going back to the British Superbike championship after the last race at Nürburgring. It was good to see the British fans again and to work with my old team.
The results were not exactly what we wanted but I enjoyed it anyway. I was feeling quite confident after the last races at Nürburgring, when the bike felt a little better during each session. I think that, with my team, I am beginning to understand the Öhlins suspension better now and I had quite a good feeling with it when we tested at Imola in July.”
Matthieu Lagrive: “I know the circuit of Imola and I like it. Our last tests here in Imola were very good and so I think we’ll be starting with a good bike set up. I have to do my best in Imola because it’s one of my team’s home races and I know we have the opportunity to earn a good result. The plan is the same as every race weekend, try to get it all working well in practice and qualifying and then take the best possible results in the races.”
WSS Rider Comments
Eugene Laverty: “I think this will be our best chance to get back in touch with Crutchlow. We had a good test there and our bike was working well. I’m hopeful of getting back on the top step of the podium it’s been a while. We should have a bit more horsepower than we had in the last race and we have a few new things to try, with gearing mainly. I’m confident in the work the team has done.”
Kenan Sofuoglu: “I was very disappointed to crash at Nürburgring and I have to put that behind me for this weekend at Imola. I think I could have taken a good second place in Germany but I was maybe pushing a little too hard so early in the race. We found some good improvements at Nürburgring, especially being able to hold a line when opening the throttle. Also, the Imola test that we had in July was very good for me so we have a good base to start from there.”
Andrew Pitt: “At Imola, we’ll be looking to carry on the good work that we did at Nürburgring, when there was a definite improvement. We have a good base to work with and the additional personnel that came from the workshop in Holland made a real difference so it’ll be good to have them back at Imola. The test there wasn’t as good for me as it was for Kenan, so we’ll start with what we had in Germany and try to continue with our good progress – especially what we’ve achieved on stability during corner entry.”
Anthony West: “I think we can get everything together for this race. We have been up and down a bit this year but we got good result in Brno two races ago, and we have tested at Imola. I think the way the bike is now is the way we will finish the season, so we’ll just go for it. We should have a good set-up as far as our suspension goes, so we need the engine to be running well. You need a strong engine coming out of the corners at Imola.”
Mark Aitchison: “I have been looking forward to this weekend ever since the German round finished a few weeks back. I have been training hard in the meantime, but now I just want to jump back on the bike and get going again. We were suffering from a few problems in the race and practice at the Nürburgring, so I hope to resolve these issues early and put ourselves in a good starting position for the race.”
Miguel Praia: “We will race in Italy with the same set-up as we did in Germany, which is fine.
It went pretty well there but the result I took was not the one we deserved. I was happy with the normal results of our tests in Imola, and it is a difficult racetrack. But after the tests I am confident I can do well. We can take a top ten, so we are looking for that.”
Flavio Gentile: “I know I am in an excellent team and I’ll work hard to reach a good result. I’m fully fit and ready for Imola. I’m familiar with this circuit because I raced here in 2006. I’ll try my best during the races but also during the practices, because it’s very important to reach a good start on the grid and I want to be in the first five positions in Sunday’s race.”