What’s happening at Yamaha Italia?
Well we are now four rounds into the 2010 World Superbike Championship and for one team within the paddock there has been a dramatic turn in fortune from 2009. The Sterilgarda Yamaha team who were rarely off the podium twelve months prior with the impressive YZF-R1 with crossplane crankshaft in the hands of Ben Spies started their new campaign with a host of issues which hampered the early season challenge of World Champions James Toseland and Cal Crutchlow.
Despite it’s results in 2009, reports appeared to suggest that the Yamaha wasn’t as much of a weapon as everyone would have liked to believe. This rumour gained greater momentum with the raft of changes that the Italian based Yamaha team attempted to implement before the new season got underway. The changes mainly revolved around weight reduction and increasing the power output from the engine and unfortunately these small changes all added up to making one major mess.
The two riders left the opening round in Australia with a solitary 9th and 10th place to their names, but it appeared as thought the two riders were suffering from very different issues. Cal, like Ben from the season before appeared to be struggling with front-end feel. His two crashes in race 1 in Australia and race 1 in Portimao were both when the front-end folded from under him on a dusty track., a similar issue which plagued Spies at Valencia and Assen last season. Cal did also experience a nasty high-side but this was mainly down to positioning on the bike, which Cal has now rectified with his crew chief.
Toseland on the other hand appears to be struggling with the electronics on the bike. A couple of monster high-sides in Australia left the double World Superbike champion battered and bruised and things didn’t exactly improve when he got to Portimao. Another monster get-off in qualifying left Toseland down the grid and with work to do.
If there is one thing that works in the favour of the two World Champions, then it will be the fact that the Yamaha Italia squad normally improves over the course of the season. When the team fielded Troy Corser and Noriyuki Haga as their riders, the team always appeared to start slowly, but beyond the midway point in the season the Yamaha’s were regularly battling for podiums and they were always in or around the title contenders comes the end of the season.
As we head into the fourth round of the Championship at Assen this weekend it appears as though the team are starting to head in the right direction. Cal ran consistently at Porimao and managed to score the teams first podium of the year with a hard fought third, a result that Toseland obtained in the following round at Valencia. Cal has shown that he has the ability to blitz anyone on one lap pace with a qualifier, but if either rider is to mount a challenge to the likes of Haslam, Haga, Checa or Biaggi then the team will need to provide them with a motorcycle that will work over the course of the entire race distance.
If the 2010 Yamaha YZF-R1 is as they say lighter and faster, then that just emphasises just what a fantastic job Ben Spies done on the bike in 2009. Tom Sykes as we all know is a very good rider, but he couldn’t get the Yamaha onto the podium, whereas six months earlier he had been confidently leading a round of the World Superbike Championship at Donington Park ahead of Troy Bayliss before the race was stopped.
Ben has already shown a quick glimpse of what his potential in MotoGP could be with a fifth place in the opening round at Qatar, and I’ve no doubt that Crutchlow, Toseland and the rest of the World Superbike paddock will be watching on with interest as they look to plan out their futures.