WSB Round 1 Review: What We Know So Far
The World Superbike Championship for 2010 got underway at the undulating track of Phillip Island on the 28th February in what turned out to be a fascinating encounter. We are going to have a look back over the action and analyse what we can, as the competition crossed swords for the first time in anger.
The first thing that is plainly obvious is that the dominant team of 2009 is likely to be just as dominant this year and that team is obviously Ducati. The team has maintained its presence as the pace makers and with no personnel changes to worry about, apart from the departure of Davide Tardozzi, it looks as though the team will once again play a major role in deciding where the title ends up. But will inward fighting between the team-mates cost Ducati another world title?
Suzuki has emerged as major contenders in 2010. The Alstare team has always had a good package, but throughout 2008/09 they struggled to put a championship charge together through injured personnel. In 2010 there is a completely fresh line up in the form of Leon Haslam and Sylvain Guintoli.
Leon has adapted well to the new package and is clearly flourishing now he has managed to obtain a full factory ride with all the trick equipment and trimmings. Fastest in most of the winter tests, Leon looked comfortable through qualifying and seemed fully in control of the bike throughout both races emerging with an impressive 45 points out of a possible 50.
Leon has never lacked the ability or desire to win a title, but previous attempts on the BSB crown were thwarted by mechanical failure, disqualifications or bad timing. Aged just 26, but with a wealth of MotoGP, World and British Superbike experience behind him, maybe 2010 could be the year when Leon obtains reward for all the years of hard effort and toil.
Sylvain has half a years experience on the Suzuki from British Superbikes in 2009. However, that was cut drastically short due to the collision at the Melbourne loop in which Sylvain’s leg was shattered. Since then he has made a spectacular recovery and proved to the world what a talent he was when he took the lead of the second race at PI on Sunday.
Sylvain is another rider who hasn’t always had the best package. He made the Tech 3 M1 on Dunlop tyres look competitive when in reality it was outdated and lacking support from the factory. Sylvain should grow with confidence and there is every reason to believe that he could be a major player in the championship as well.
Ten Kate Honda
Ten Kate had an indifferent weekend in PI. While the team appears to suffer from the same jinx as Suzuki at the Australia circuit it didn’t stop Johnny Rea from continuing to show the world what a talent he is. Very aware that points win prizes, Rea rode two controlled races to maximise his points total on a circuit where they appear to struggle. A hard fought fourth in race one where he battled with Biaggi and Checa was only surpassed by the brilliance of his charge through the field from 22nd to 6th in race 2 as he battled back past Biaggi, Toseland, Crutchlow and Byrne. It was truly the ride of a championship contender and if the Ten Kate package remains strong then we should be hearing plenty more about JR over the course of the season. On the other side of the garage things didn’t go so great for Max Neukirchner. The question has to be asked if he is fully fit.
The roller-coaster is in full effect at Yamaha Italia. Talk was rife of problems with the bike in the final test session before PI. But both riders managed to make it into the final stage of qualifying, which seemed to provide some optimism. Race 1 was one to forget with James Toseland highsiding spectacularly out of the race before World Supersport champion, Cal Crutchlow lost the front of his YZF-R1 at Honda hairpin. Race 2 was slightly more promising, although both riders seemed to lack the race pace to get amongst the front runners in the end finishing in 9th and 10th places.
A lot of the problems appear to have been caused by weight reduction, which in turn has caused stability issues when in the corners. Yamaha needs to solve this issue and quickly if either rider is to mount any form of attack on the title in 2010. Clearly the team felt that they needed to make significant improvements to the bike over the winter, but for Portimao it might be worth them having a 2009 spec bike ready as a backup incase the issues re-emerge.
Aprilia appears to have a good base setting again for 2010, but the results just weren’t forthcoming in PI. Biaggi failed to make it into the top eight in qualifying and he seemed unable to do anything about passing JR in race 1. Camier on the other hand had a productive weekend on the bike and showed moments of his true potential when he finished up second quickest in morning warm-up. He once more regularly lapped around the pace of the leaders in the race. Hopefully over time as the season progresses we will see him truly develop with the bike and he may even eclipse Biaggi, which would be interesting to see.
Aprilia, now starting their second season with the RSV4 will now have some base settings for each of the tracks. They improved progressively over 2009 and hopefully they will continue to progress this year and we will see them add more victories to the 1 they obtained in Brno last year.
Kawasaki World Superbike Team
Kawasaki have made massive strides forward over the off season and this was demonstrated by the fact that both riders made it safely through the opening section of Superpole on Saturday. Vermuelen also ran near the front in race 2 before a monster crash which saw his ZX10 machine follow him closely into the tyre wall took him out of the race. Tom Sykes who is hoping for better luck in 2010 did manage to score some point for Kawasaki and he will be hoping that he can improve on this performance when the series reconvenes at Portimao near the end of March.
BMW World Superbike Team
BMW didn’t have too much to cheer about over the course of the weekend, with Ruben Xaus tangling with Nori Haga into turn 1 during practice, which saw the Spaniards confidence knocked once more. There were positive signs for BMW with Troy Corser’s race pace, but it still appears as though the overall package is lacking that half a second that will see them get to the front of the pack and challenging the Ducati’s and Suzuki’s. Can Troy help them to find it over the course of 2010? Only time will tell.
The nicest surprise of the weekend was down to the Althea Ducati squad. The team had showed much promise throughout winter testing, but as a wise man once told me, anyone can be quick in testing, it is what happens when the racing starts that matters. Thankfully for Althea and their two riders it appears as though their pre-season form hasn’t been a complete bluff, with Carlos Checa more than able to match the pace of the factory Xerox Ducati boys.
The team will no doubt be boosted by Carlos’ victory in race 2, which will hopefully encourage the sponsors to be a bit more ruthless with the cheque book over the remainder of the season. It certainly seems like Althea have the funds to supply Byrne and Checa with reliable equipment and that can only be a good thing for the championship.
In conclusion it appears like we could be about to be treated to one of the closest and most fascinating World Superbike season in a long time. Certainly we haven’t seen the whole picture from the two races at Phillip Island and there will undoubtedly be a few more names in contention for the victory at Portimao. One thing is for certain though, and that is that you will not want to miss the next round in four weeks time.