Jonathan Rea (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR) returns to the scene of his first WSB ride for his current team this weekend, as the World Superbike Championship comes to its thrilling conclusion at the magnificent Portimao circuit, set in the hills above the holiday resorts of the Algarve. The championship is still undecided, with current table-topper Noriyuki Haga only ten points ahead of Ben Spies, and with 50 points up for grabs for any rider who wins both races.
Rea is the highest placed Honda rider in the title chase, fifth, and he is only 14 points behind Max Biaggi in the overall standings. His aim for this weekend is therefore to add to his season tally of two wins, and score enough points to go top four in the final reckoning on Sunday evening. Rea will remain with the team next year, and is already working towards the 2010 season in terms of set-up and machine development.
Eugene Laverty (Parkalgar Honda CBR600RR) suffered a blow to his World Supersport Championship hopes last time out. Now lagging Cal Crutchlow by 19 points he has to win or finish second on Sunday, and then await the results of Crutchlow’s race to determine whether or not he becomes WSS champion at the first time of asking.
At his team’s home race, Laverty will not suffer from lack of support in his quest.
For top WSB privateer Leon Haslam (Stiggy Racing Honda CBR1000RR) 2009 has seen him take four podium finishes so far, and he is out for more at a circuit he has competed at before, and indeed scored a WSB podium at, during a 2008 wildcard ride.
Kenan Sofuoglu (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR600RR) won the World Supersport race at Portimao last year, when he returned to the 600cc category in a machine swap with Jonathan Rea one race before the end of the year. He has been a race winner three times already this season, and needs to earn good points to keep his closest rival Joan Lascorz behind him and remain third overall.
Honda is leading the Manufacturers’ Championship in the Supersport class by only a single point, a factor that brings special significance to more than just the results of the Riders’ Championship this weekend.
Anthony West (Stiggy Racing Honda CBR600RR) will not be competing at Portimao as his team had been forced to make drastic cuts in its budget, and with an unchanging score of 117 points he is now in danger of being overhauled in the championship standings by Fabien Foret (on 115 points) and outgoing World Champion for Honda, Andrew Pitt (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR600RR) who has 114 points.
Ryuichi Kiyonari (Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR) injured his collarbone yet again at Magny-Cours last time out, but will attempt to race to the maximum possible this weekend, after recuperating at home in Japan.
For Carlos Checa (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR) Portimao will be his final race for the team, and he aims to go out with a strong result, and consolidate his overall seventh place in the rankings. He is 24 points ahead of the next rider in line.
For Portuguese rider Miguel Praia (Parkalgar Honda CBR600RR) the Portimao race is the most significant of the year, and having now hit his
2009 target of at least one top ten race finish, he will be all out to set a new personal best of a top six placing at the track he knows better than anyone else.
Matthieu Lagrive (Honda Althea CBR1000RR) is back in the Superbike class this weekend, focused on turning his enjoyment at riding around Portimao to his advantage in terms of final race positions.
Mark Aitchison (Althea Honda CBR600RR) is another rider who raves about Portimao, and he will be re-joined by young Italian hopeful Flavio Gentile (Althea Honda CBR600RR), who is back in the 600cc division, after swapping classes with Lagrive at Magny-Cours. Aitchison is eighth in the rankings now, tied on points with Garry McCoy.
After the races on Sunday there will be an extensive two-day test, 27 and 28 October, where Honda riders old and new will get the chance to start preparing for the 2010 season.
Jonathan Rea: “Last year, Portimao was my first race on a Ten Kate Honda Superbike and I really had a lot of fun. Although the track has quite a difficult layout, I really enjoy riding it and I’m looking forward to going back there. The bike is completely different to the one I rode last year and at the pre-season test, so we’ll be working from a much better starting point. Although it’s the final round, there’s still a chance for me to improve my overall position in the championship so we’ll be working really hard for that. I’m aiming for a fun end to the season and will be going for two more good finishes to end the year on a high.”
Leon Haslam: “I want to go out of the season on a high with the Stiggy Team to say thank you to them for the opportunity I have had this year. We got on the podium a few times on a privateer machine and we will be going for that again in the final rounds. I rode a Honda at Portimao last year, and got a podium, so that experience should help us this weekend.”
Carlos Checa: “Last year’s races at Portimao were quite eventful but good for me, with a podium in the first race. It was looking good also for race two but I got caught in another rider’s crash and had to go off the track. Portimao is one of the best circuits on the calendar – really good fun and very special – so I hope to finish the season with some good results, as a farewell gift for the team. I’d like to thank them for a very enjoyable two years and for the opportunity to join the World Superbike championship. It’s a shame we were not able to fight for the title this season as we hoped, but I will try to make sure we finish with a good race.”
Ryuichi Kiyonari: “I have been recovering in Japan, after breaking my collarbone again at the last round in Magny-Cours. It was a shame because I felt that we were beginning to find some improvement and a better feeling on the bike. It has been a difficult season and, at times, I have had some problems finding the right setting, but I want to try my best to finish the season with some good results. I struggled a little bit at Portimao last year, but I think that was because it was a new circuit for me. I like the layout very much and we went back for testing in January, although the weather was not so good. I hope my shoulder will be OK this weekend so that I can do my best for the team.”
Matthieu Lagrive: “I’m looking forward to racing at the Parkalgar track. I always like to race at this Portuguese circuit because it’s really beautiful. The weather may be changeable for us this weekend but either way our bike is working well in wet or dry conditions. These are the last races of the year so I would like to finish well, for me and especially for our team.”
WSS Rider Comments
Eugene Laverty: “We did some good lap times in a recent test here and it is always enjoyable to ride around such a great track. We went in a bit of a different direction with the chassis set-up at the front, something we have wanted to try for a while. Sometimes in qualifying you have to go for a quick fix that you know will work, but we had time to work at this test and found something good. It is all still to play for in this championship.”
Kenan Sofuoglu: “Since Magny-Cours, I have had a good rest back home with some light training, and now everything is perfect for the final race of the year. I know my main rivals have tested at Portimao recently, but I don’t feel I need any more preparation. I know the circuit and I like it very much, especially after winning there last season. I also know my bike, which has improved so much in the last few races. We will look for more improvement this weekend and I know exactly what I need to do to help Honda win the title and for me to keep third in the championship.”
Andrew Pitt: “It’s been a difficult season, for sure, but things have finally begun to work with the bike over the last few races. Portimao is a really nice track so it’ll be good to get the CBR600RR working there, too. It hasn’t gone our way at a lot of tracks this year but I’m glad that the championship won’t be decided until this weekend. It means I can go into Sunday’s race knowing that I’m still world champion and that I’ve still got the number one plate on the bike, which a few people may have forgotten. The whole team will be working as hard as ever to get a good result and hopefully bring home the Manufacturer’s title for Honda.”
Miguel Praia: “Portimao is special for me not only because it is my home race but the fact that I saw the track being built from the very beginning. It is always a very nice feeling to have the WSB ad WSS teams and the whole paddock arriving here in my place. I have to be honest and say it also makes me more nervous than any other round, but there is great motivation from my family, friends, sponsors and media. To race here is huge. We had a good test here last week so I am confident. I will try to take a finish in the top six. To get to the podium I would have to find half a second per lap that I don’t have now, but we have more things to try in practice and qualifying.”
Mark Aitchison: “I am really looking forward to this weekend in Portimao. I enjoyed racing at this circuit last year and my focus is on strong performances in practice, qualifying and the race. At the moment we have our bike working well and hopefully my team and I can tailor the right setup to help me fight for the podium, which would be great to repay my crew for all their hard work throughout this year. Also I just can’t wait to race again and have some fun!”
Flavio Gentile: “I’m just happy to have this chance this weekend. Portimao is a new circuit that I have never ridden on, so I’m excited to go there. The layout looks good and the safety is supposed to be great. I’m determined to end the Supersport season on a high note and secure as many points as possible on my fast Honda CBR600RR.”