With the news that Crescent Suzuki would make a move from the British Superbike Championship, and enter into the World Superbike Championship, all eyes have been on whom the British team would field as riders. Anglo-American John Hopkins was heavily favored to be the still-unannounced teammate to Leon Camier on the squad, provided the former-MotoGP racer didn’t find his way back into the premier class. With Suzuki withdrawing from MotoGP last week and effectively ending Hopper’s 2012 MotoGP bid, Crescent Suzuki has now confirmed that Hopkins will make his return to World Superbike racing with the all-British team.
The World Superbike team roster will grow a little bit next year, as Crescent Suzuki, formerly of British Superbike fame, will join the premier production motorcycle racing series. While there was considerable chatter over whom would ride for Crescent Suzuki, the British team has confirmed that Leon Camier will race on the company’s Suzuki GSX-R1000 race bike. Leaving some room for more paddock speculation, Crescent Suzuki says it will announce Camier’s teammate at a later date, an announcement that surely is influenced by whether or not John Hopkins makes a move to the MotoGP Championship for the 2012 season.
The weather gods were appeased this Memorial Day weekend, as not a single drop of water rained down from the heavens on the World Superbike Race 1 and Race 2 that were being held at Miller Motorsports Park. This statement is of course only true if you’re not watching WSBK according to Oregon Trail rules, as riders still had to ford the river at the “Black Rock Hairpin” in Turn 5 of the Outer Course. While no oxen were lost in the attempt to cross the water feature, a bull was on the loose in the form of Carlos Checa. Would 2011 be redemption or disappointment for the Spaniard? Find out after the jump.
Despite a dismal weekend at Monza, Carlos Checa is again the fastest man on a World Superbike machine. The Spaniard posted the unofficial fastest lap of a two day test this week at Misano, beating all three Aprilia riders as well as the factory BMW team. Checa set the unofficial quickest time of the test (1:34.8) Wednesday morning, on his way to completing 140 laps of the Italian circuit. The participants were preparing for the next round at Miller Motorsports Park in almost three weeks’ time as well as the WSBK round held at Misano in mid-June.
Reigning Champion and current WSBK record speed holder Max Biaggi also tested at Misano, with teammate Leon Camier and privateer Aprilia rider Noriyuki Haga, as well as BMW Motorrad riders Troy Corser and Leon Haslam. It was Biaggi with the fastest unofficial time at the end of Tuesday, breaking the previous lap record with his time of 1:35.6. His progress seemed to go backwards on the second day, with neither the rider nor team happy with settings used Wednesday.
Reigning World Champion Max Biaggi started his home round of the 2011 World Superbike season at Monza on pole after publicly declaring that this was a weekend to make up points after mistakes at earlier rounds. He started his quest to do so with aplomb, breaking the WSBK speed record and spending extra time on track while doing so. Eugene Laverty, Jonathan Rea, and Tory Corser joined Biaggi on the front row for the start of the second race, leaving Carlos Checa surprisingly down in eleventh after a poor set of Superole sessions on Saturday for the points leader. Most riders had multiple, possibly crucial, laps deleted after running across the chicane.
Meanwhile, injuries continued to plague men already suffering from them. Chris Vermeulen added to his set of scars by tearing the skin on his elbow during a practice crash. That injury, only able to be partially closed, left him unable to race on Sunday. Meanwhile James Toseland also sat out Sunday’s races, despite some vigorous autograph signing, on his predicted return to the WSBK paddock after a testing crash left him with wires in his wrist. Later, Haslam returned to the top of the timesheets in the morning sunshine at Monza, with Biaggi, Laverty, Corser, and Camier the fastest five in Sunday morning’s warmup.
It’s been a tough season so far for Max Biaggi. The reigning World Superbike Champion has had a decent start to the 2011 season, and currently sits second in the point standings after three race weekends, but his progress has been nothing like the blitzkrieg campaign he accomplished last year. Facing a non-factory Ducati that seemingly rides like a factory bike, Biaggi is 43 points behind Carlos Checa, while the devilishly quick WSBK rookie and former MotoGP contender Marco Melandri is only four points behind his fellow Italian.
Likely feeling the pressure to bring honor to the #1 plate, we’ve already seen Biaggi revert back to some of his old antics of the past. With the “slap” incident from Donington Park still fresh in peoples’ minds, more accusations come from riders that the Roman Emperor has been blocking and in the way during the Superpole qualifying event, and this time those accusations come from inside the Aprilia garage.
Carlos Checa started the second World Superbike race at Assen in pole position, after wise tire management left him the only rider in Superpole 3 on Saturday with an unused qualifying tire. He was joined on the front row by Jakub Smrz, Eugene Laverty, and Noriyuki Haga. It was the first front row start (other than that for Race 1) for the Irish rider in his WSBK rookie season.
Laverty’s teammate Marco Melandri had worse luck, crashing on his final lap in Superpole 3 and only qualifying eighth. The second WSBK race at Assen got off to a late start after the Supersport race had multiple red flags. It had become somewhat cloudier as the afternoon progressed, but hampered the racing little.
Donington Park remained cold for the second race of the second round of the World Superbike Championship, though there was plenty of drama both on and off the track to keep things heated up. Race 1 featured a thrilling charge through the field by one protagonist, while Superpole had drama all its own. Though Checa won pole convincingly for the second time in a row this season, it was Max Biaggi who garnered the most attention after Saturday’s qualifying. Reigning champion Max Biaggi had some traffic issues during Superpole, first holding up, and then being held up by rival and WSBK rookie Marco Melandri.
Neither James Toseland nor Chris Vermeulen participated in either race. Toseland was home recovering from a fractured wrist, injured in a testing crash last week, while Vermeulen was at Donington and participated in Fridays practice sessions, only to sit out qualifying and the races with his knee still recovering from a 2010 crash and surgery.
Phillip Island proved a smashingly good weekend for Aprilia, as Max Biaggi began to defend his #1 plate by qualifying and finishing second in both races, one nearly as uncontested as Carlos Checa’s wins, and one a ray of hope for close fighting all season. Though teammate Leon Camier did not fare nearly as well, his thirteenth and sixth place finishes were remarkable for someone contending with a nasty fever.
Overall, the opening round of the 2011 World Superbike season seems to belie the suspicions that all of Aprilia’s 2010 success came down to its “unfair” gear-driven camshaft, and that Ducatis could not be competitive in WSBK’s oppressive technical formula.
Pata Racing Team Aprilia launched its 2011 World Superbike entry today at the Verona Motor Bike Expo in Italy. The largely white Aprilia has a large PATA logo on the side with accents of green and blue and other sponsor decals. As expected, Noriyuki Haga will be the sole-rider for the team that formerly fielded Jakub Smrz first on a Ducati then Aprilia for the 2010 season. The bike was unveiled by Team President Daniele Carli and Team Manager Marco Borciani, who also underscored the previous announcement that Aprilia is officially supporting the team, though no one officially from Aprilia attended.
Nitro Nori successfully stirred up some interest by saying, “I’m not worried about Max Biaggi! I think I can start winning again with this bike, and try to reach my goal of 60 career wins. Then I can retire…I’m aiming for the title, but my first objective will be to beat the factory Aprilias.”