News 21 Jan 2010

WSBK: World Superbike testing in Portugal this weekend

The official countdown to the season-opening Superbike World Championship round at Phillip Island commences this Friday, 22 January, when all the top teams descend on Portugal for a three-day test.

The Algarve circuit, which hosted the final round of the 2009 season three months ago, will be the location for the year’s first World Superbike action as preparation steps up a notch for the coming season – the 23rd for the four-stroke production-based championship.

Following the Portugal hitout, the teams will then make their way to Phillip Island for a second and final official test on 21-22 February, before round one is held back at the high speed Victorian circuit from 26-28 February.

There is massive anticipation heading into the new decade after one of the busiest off-seasons in world superbike history, with only two of the seven official factory teams – Ducati and BMW – rolling over with the same riders as 2009.

Ducati will again pin its hopes on world title runner-up Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio, and BMW has retained the services of Aussie dual world champion Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus.

Corser won’t be the only Australian racing in World Superbike this year, with MotoGP exile Chris Vermeulen set to spearhead Kawasaki’s rejuvenated factory-backed assault, plus Andrew Pitt (BMW) and Broc Parkes (Honda) completing the potent four-pronged Antipodean assault on privateer machinery.

Like Vermeulen, James Toseland is also returning to the sanctuary of world superbike after a fallow stint in MotoGP, where his teammate in the Yamaha factory World Superbike squad, which celebrated its first title in 2009 with American Ben Spies, will be reigning Supersport champion Cal Crutchlow.

Crutchlow is one of three rookies with impressive CVs lining up in 2010, with the others being Suzuki’s Sylvain Guintoli and privateer Kawasaki rider Roger Lee Hayden, the 2007 American Supersport Champion.

Carlos Checa, Shane Byrne and Jakub Smrz are also expected to uphold the privateer cause on their Ducatis, but the biggest threat to the likes of Toseland, Haga, Fabrizio, Max Biaggi (Aprilia), Corser and Vermeulen in 2010 is likely to come from the prodigiously gifted Jonathan Rea.

The Northern Irishman will continue with Honda after a strong finish to 2009, and his teammate will be the fast but injury-prone Max Neukirchner, who was previously riding for Suzuki.

Suzuki’s factory team will campaign Guintoli, and have signed the talented Brit Leon Haslam, last year’s leading privateer.

The 2009 British Superbike Champion, Leon Camier, completes the factory roster after gaining the second seat at Aprilia alongside Biaggi, replacing the retired Shinya Nakano.

This year’s World Superbike grid undoubtedly has more talent and depth than the 2009 version, which means we are unlikely to see a repeat of last year’s championship, which was dominated by two men – Haga and Spies.

Instead, a majority of the riders are capable of playing their part in a power-sharing arrangement, which should certainly produce a staple of fast and entertaining racing over the 13 rounds, concluding in France on 3 October.

Vermeulen will certainly take a slice of the spoils, but he knows it’s not going to be a straightforward operation.

“I’m under no illusions how hard it’s going to be in 2010, but the goal is to get the Kawasaki up the front and I’ll be doing all I can to make that happen,” he said. “If we can consistently challenge for top five spots on that bike I’ll be happy, but things can always change. If I win the first four races, then I’ll obviously have to revise that goal!

“But there are plenty of great riders in the class, and it’s going to be a massively hard year – and the dynamics have changed a little since I was last there.

“But I now feel I’m technically a better rider, and I have a better understanding of how to set-up a bike. That’s the experience I’m looking to bring across to Kawasaki.

“I’m up for this challenge, as are all the engineers and people behind the scenes,” said Vermeulen. “I love WSBK racing and I’m delighted to be back – it’s going to be a sensational year of competition, and I hope we’re battling up the front.”

Kawasaki only has one WSBK title to its credit, which was way back in 1993 with American Scott Russell.

Based on last year’s strong form, and the fact that his Ducati is already a bona-fide race-winning package, Haga must start as the favourite to win his maiden title in 2010, but this weekend’s test in Algarve will be a key indicator of how far the likes of BMW and Kawasaki have improved since their 2009 struggles.

A total of 14 hours of testing for World Superbike and nine for world supersport are scheduled for Algarve, with all the top teams expected to attend except Pitt’s Reitwagen Racing, which is instead cutting laps at Sydney’s Eastern Creek ahead of the second official test at Phillip Island.

In Supersport, Crutchlow’s departure will see another rider become world champion in 2010, with Turkey’s Kenan Sofouglu (Honda), Irishman Eugene Laverty (Honda), Briton Chaz Davies and Spaniard Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki) shaping as the main contenders.

Australian Garry McCoy was set to race for Triumph’s factory squad, but he’s just been replaced by American Jason DiSalvo.

Tickets are now on sale for the 2010 championship opener at Phillip Island. Visit or tel (03) 5952 2710.