The return of Imola to the Superbike World Championship has been greeted with glorious sunshine and a massive influx of the general public today as the gates were opened for Free Thursday. Thousands of spectators poured into the circuit SBK Open Paddock for the traditional autograph signing session and the pre-event press conference with the top riders in the WSB championship, and they were also able to get a glimpse of the various teams and mechanics making their final preparations for this weekend’s twelfth round of the series.
Seven manufacturer teams (Aprilia Racing, BMW Motorrad, Ducati Xerox, Hannspree Ten Kate Honda, Kawasaki WSRT, Suzuki Alstare Brux, Yamaha World Superbike) were represented in the press conference by their respective riders (Max Biaggi, Troy Corser, Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio, Jonathan Rea, Broc Parkes, Karl Muggeridge, Ben Spies), who were greeted by two of the figures responsible for bringing back top-class bike racing to the Autodromo Enzo & Dino Ferrari after a gap of three years, the Mayor of Imola Daniele Manca, and the Chairman of Formula Imola, Uberto Selvatico Estense.
Ben Spies: “It wasn’t that long ago that we were 88 points down and now we’re leading the table with three races to go. It’s time to get down to business, and it’s a lot more comfortable now we’re at the track and I can focus on things. We know what we need to do. It’s one of those weekends where you can’t win the championship but you can lose it. We had a good test here and the bike was working well, so let’s see where we end up on Sunday and then decide the strategy for the next four races.”
Noriyuki Haga: “Even though I didn’t take part in the tests in July because I was still injured, I know this track very well. I like Imola but I haven’t won a race here, we’ll see on Sunday. The start of the season went well, then I had a crash mid-season, but the title battle is not yet over. I’m at 99% but in the last three rounds I must win to return to the top of the championship table.”
Jonathan Rea: “To be honest I started off the season thinking that top 6 or 7 in the championship would have been good. I think we’ve been punching a bit above our weight because the bike has become stronger and stronger and now we’re racing at the front with guys like Nori, Michel and Ben, so for me it’s good and it gives me great confidence to be up there at the front now in every race.”
But the biggest news on Thursday at Imola was the arrival of stand-in rider for this event, the 250 cc World Champion Marco Simoncelli, who joins Max Biaggi in Aprilia Racing’s double-250 cc champion, double Italian line-up for the Italian WSB Round.
Marco Simoncelli: “I did some testing with Aprilia and things went quite well, I hope I can be as quick here. It’s clear that it’s going to be tough but I must try and do a good job, set the bike up and be as quick as possible in the race. My rivals are all strong, starting with Biaggi, and then Spies, Fabrizio, Rea, a load of guys. For sure it’ll be a great battle, a satisfactory result for me would be in the top 5, it would be like a win!”
Team-mate Max Biaggi added: “It’s great that guys like Simoncelli come and race occasionally in Superbike. It does their experience and our championship a lot of good. But I won’t be as happy for sure if he goes quicker than me!”