This week's Insider column is a special World Superbike edition with all the news from Magny-Cours.
Welcome to a very special edition of the Racing Insider column here on MotoOnline.com.au, coming direct from a Qantas A380 as we return home from the Magny-Cours round of the Superbike World Championship in France.
The flight from Paris to Sydney via London is a lengthy journey, but not as massive as the disappointment that we endured on Monday when the post-season media test was cancelled due to a severe rain storm that lashed the circuit on Sunday evening and then throughout Monday.
Despite missing the opportunity to ride the best of the best in Superbike machinery, Kawasaki’s factory Supersport team was kind (or should I say game?) enough to let us out on Broc Parkes’ ZX-6R for a few laps in what were incredibly wet conditions.
Although we didn’t get to ride all the bikes as planned, I was lucky enough to sit on the majority of the top contenders and also get up close and personal with the bikes, teams and riders of WSBK 2010 with an all-access pass to the paddock for what was still a pretty special event.
So with our test cancelled, the race weekend became the priority of the trip, and what a weekend it was on many accounts as the season finales are always great to attend.
On track it was Cal Crutchlow who stood out as a huge standout with Superpole, the race one win and a hard-fought second behind new world champion Max Biaggi in race two.
I was lucky enough to hang out in Crutchlow’s Yamaha pit directly following race two and he was frustrated not to win his final WSBK outing before moving onto MotoGP with Tech 3 Yamaha, but there’s no doubt he is an immensely talented rider who will do great things if he can find momentum in GP.
Crutchlow had a huge fan base in France watching on, including Enduro legend David Knight and renowned Women’s AMA Motocross Championship contender Tarah Geiger!
Knighter was in town to check out the action, also scheduled to swing his leg over Jonathan Rea’s Ten Kate Honda on Monday before the rain came and spoiled that occasion.
I’ve long reported on various races that David has raced in, many of which he has won, so it was pretty cool to be able to meet him and talk about everything from Enduro racing to MotoGP.
Tarah was also incredibly laid back, happy to take a backseat to the Superbike regulars as just few people recognised her from moto fame. She’s been staying with E3 EWC champion Knight for the last week or so.
Biaggi’s form was impeccable during race two, fighting hard against Cutchlow to have the last laugh of the season and claim his 10th win in 26 races in what was a dream year for the Roman Emperor.
Cal told me after race two that Aprilia had definitely made some steps forward for race two as he couldn’t draft the RSV4 in the second leg, something that he wasn’t afraid to share following the race.
You can’t take anything away from Max though, because he has done a superb job of not only racing the Aprilia, but also in developing it to win the title in just its second year of competition.
Alitalia Aprilia Racing Team manager Francesco Guidotti told me on Monday that the relatively small Italian manufacturer didn’t expect to win the title so soon, instead planning to go for the number one plate next year. Good things happen to good people, and many admit that Max is a much more relaxed guy since becoming a family man in recent years.
I actually know Guidotti from when I tested an Aprilia 125GP bike in Italy way back in 1999 as an aspiring racer, and he is the brother of Giacomo Guidotti, who is the technical director for Suzuki Alstare.
Francesco returned to Aprilia to run the WSBK team in 2010 after working for KTM in GP racing during the past four seasons. Guidotti worked for Aprilia back in 1993 and in 2001 and 2002 was team manager for the Aprilia WSBK effort.
Guidotti then switched to the Aprilia MotoGP project in the 2003 and 2004 seasons before running the last factory Aprilia team to take part in the 250 class in 2005. Since then, he had been with KTM until this season.
He’s a class act and has been instrumental in putting the package together for Biaggi to become the best production-based racer in the world for this season.
Max was actually on a very early version of the 2011 model RSV4 at Magny-Cours, a bike that has reverted to tradition camshafts rather than the cam-driven units that Biaggi has used since round three this year.
Aprilia’s gear-driven camshafts have been outlawed for next year despite them getting clarification from the FIM that they were legal in 2010, so the team must have been satisfied to win on Sunday with the first version of next year’s bike.
Speaking of next year’s bikes, there were plenty being uncovered on Sunday night and feverishly prepared as the rain fell on Monday morning, including a vastly revised BMW S 1000 RR that Troy Corser and Leon Haslam were set to ride on Tuesday (as I’m writing this). The new Beemer has noticeably different parts on it including an all-new stumpy exhaust, and Australia engineering guru (and ex-racer) Peter Goddard has joined the team as of now.
Kawasaki also delivered a fleet of road-going ZX-10Rs to its satellite efforts on Saturday night, including both the Pedercini and Lorenzini Superstock teams, and I can tell you it’s a very slick looking motorcycle in the flesh. Once again, smaller seems to be the way to go in terms of Superbikes in the current era.
Aussie fans will be interested to know that current ASBK series leader Bryan Staring was on hand at Magny-Cours in search of a ride for next year and he was due to test on Tuesday with the Lorenzini team – becoming the first Aussie in the world to ride the all-new ZX-10R in the process. Stay tuned for all the news from his outing in the coming days, however rain was scheduled to fall as I left France.
Neither Biaggi nor injured teammate Leon Camier will be testing the 2011 model this week, however Noriyuki Haga was set to debut on a factory RSV4 that he will ride for PATA Racing next season.
The big rumour getting around right now is that Biaggi is considering hanging up his boots as world champion unless Aprilia can offer him something too good to refuse, and media representatives in the know have said that there is a ‘back-up’ plan waiting in the works if Biaggi does indeed quit. He’s had a contract for a number of weeks now, however hasn’t yet signed it or agreed to terms at this point according to sources.
It was a sad day to see Ducati’s factory WSBK campaign come to an end with the Xerox-backed team, however the major misconception out there is that Ducati is completely quitting the series.
In fact, Althea will have full factory bikes with the highest of technical support from Ducati, and the word around the paddock in France was that they’ll even feature Ducati’s signature red colour scheme for the new year along with many familiar factory engineers.
Italian Michel Fabrizio handed the team a podium in race two on Sunday and there were tears flowing from the team after that performance, however the show must go on and his customary number 84 was quickly placed on the Alstare Suzuki GSX-R1000 in readiness for this week’s testing. Something tells me he is going to be very strong for next year.
Former Suzuki rider Sylvain Guintoli will join the Liberty Racing Ducati team alongside Jakub Smrz for next year after seemingly being replaced by Fabrizio at Alstare.
Suzuki may run just one bike for next year, but the thing that gets me is why teams like that which can’t afford to race still feature massive hospitality units that are fully catered and first class. Those things look like they’d cost as much as the on-track program to run per European race weekend…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for hospitality, but when the team is struggling to keep bikes on the track, you’d think that would be the first place to cut costs. Evidently, the hospitality packages are critical in attracting sponsorship though and also retaining them, so Australia really needs to take not of many things being done and try to pick up the ball to continue growing (even if it will be on a much smaller scale). It very much is a fine line between having competitive bikes on track with good riders, all while maintaining a high level of presentation off track.
I’m one to take in all I can at these big events, even with things such as how the international media go about reporting on races or testing bikes, and I still believe the Aussie industry has a lot to learn all-round compared to the major leagues. We may not have the budgets, but little touches do go a long way, that’s for sure.
As for Ten Kate Honda, rumours are escalating that it’ll be just Jonathan Rea on the Superbike next year. I don’t think this will be the case, and I’d personally like to see James Toseland reunited with the Dutch team for one last shot at success.
Expect to see a smaller Supersport operation from Ten Kate and Honda next year, and many in the paddock are saying that Hannspree is out and will be replaced by Castrol as title sponsor of Honda’s top WSBK effort.
Some sources say that Toseland will instead be joining a satellite BMW team, and some have suggested that Alex de Angelis will join the team if he can bring backing from San Carlo.
And Kawasaki? Both Joan Lascorz and Queenslander Chris Vermeulen have already signed for next year, but now we’re hearing that Tom Sykes has earned himself a fully fledged third factory bike after showing exceptional form in the second half of the season on what has been an underperforming ZX-10R.
Before we wrap it up, massive props have to go to Jed Metcher for winning the Superstock 600 category on Sunday in France. It’s not a class that’s really followed in Australia, however I can tell you that he made a real name for himself on debut against some of the top European talent. It’s good to see when these young Aussies – including Staring – put everything on the line in order to gain that desperately wanted big break on the world stage.
If you happened to miss any of the feature stories that we posted while in France, check out The Go column, over 100 images in our Magny-Cours Pit Pass and a revealing Post Race interview with Crutchlow.
We’ve got loads more to come including a heap of interviews with Corser, Parkes and Mark Aitchison, plus some cool technical and colour stories regarding the men and machines of WSBK 2010.
We’ll also be posting a pretty cool season rundown from FOX Sports and international commentators Steve Martin, which was filmed direct from the Aprilia garage on Monday morning. Those guys are the new ‘voices’ of WSBK and we’ll be increasing our association with them heading into next season so keep an eye out for that.
All in all it was a great weekend that allowed me to catch up with a lot of old friends from around the world and also meet some new ones, even if not getting to actually ride the race bikes of WSBK 2010 has been a huge letdown.
Stay tuned next week for a massive preview edition of the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix and also the Monster Energy Super X, Australasian Supercross Championship, both of which commence next weekend.
As always, thanks for reading!
It’s been a long week, but certainly a positive one for MotoOnline as we gain an international presence, not to mention yet another influx of interest from all angles heading into 2011.