Shrine to racing still alive and kicking
One of the true spiritual homes of racing, Monza, is not just a link to racing's past glories; it is a unique challenge on the modern day SBK calendar.
No circuit features as many high speed sections, few contain as many tests
of hard braking from top absolute speed, and none has the classic last corner layout of the Parabolica - the scene of many a racing drama for all classes of Motorsport. This year current championship leader by 32 points James Toseland (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) is not just looking to be Master of Monza, he is looking to score his first ever double win in World Superbike. As statistics show, he has been able to win a race per meeting so far, until either pushes by other riders or simple bad luck have stopped him from scoring two in one day.
With five of the current top six riders having already taken at least one race win, and with four other race winners from past seasons also in the Monza mix, competition for the podium places will be as intense as ever. But for one rider Monza will take on special significance. Having been drafted into the SBK paddock this season, current second placed rider Max Biaggi (Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra) will have the chance to race in front of his home crowd for the first time in two years - and for the very first time on a Superbike. The Monaco-based Roman has lived up to the pre-season hype, scoring the first win of the year at Losail, in Qatar, and resisting the early season pressure of all but the hyper-motivated and consistent Toseland.
Biaggi is by no means the only Italian rider with his eyes on a prize at the parkland circuit this weekend. Lorenzo Lanzi (Ducati Xerox) is desperate to get back to winning ways after a prolonged dry spell, while Roby Rolfo (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) is eyeing up any colour of podium step after the success enjoyed by his team-mate Toseland this year. A dark horse pre-race is Michel Fabrizio (DFX Corse Honda) who is one of the best privateers, and has already shown he can take podiums in the top class, just not so far in 2007.
It is impossible for most riders to approach Monza without at least a nod towards the emotions that racing on such a historic and speed-obsessed circuit brings to the surface. But for two of the top few, it means even more to their teams than it does to themselves. The Yamaha Motor Italia team is based only a fast highside away from the Lesmo corners at Monza, and they more than any other team can consider Monza as a true home race. Their riders, Noriyuki Haga and Troy Corser, are currently third and fifth respectively, and each is more than capable of a race win or two on the fast new Yamaha R1.
Troy Bayliss (Ducati Xerox) has had a somewhat disturbed start to his latest championship defence, but at Assen he proved to be right back to form; stalking them mugging Toseland on the line in race two to help secure a fourth overall in the championship chase. Last year's champion loves the Monza layout as does his aerodynamically sound Ducati, and of all the riders currently chasing Toseland, he is the one who appears to have the strongest tailwind of motivation at present. Unless, of course, you count the resurgent Ruben Xaus (Sterilgarda Ducati) who has taken his 2006 factory spec Ducati to a win already this year Despite a fall at Assen big Ruben is sixth overall, one slender point ahead of Lanzi's official machine. Xaus came close to winning the championship in 2003, and is keen to get back into a position to challenge for top honours again.
There is more than one impressive rider called Max in Suzuki colours this year, as Max Neukirchner (Suzuki Germany) has been making a more than sound job of keeping a year old privateer Suzuki competitive - not just against the top privateers, but blooding the noses of many riders on even better equipment. Currently in the top eight, he should find his Suzuki fast enough to compete at Monza.
With so many fast sections at Monza, and so many areas of hard braking, the official Kawasaki duo of Regis Laconi (PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse) and Fonsi Nieto (PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse) will be looking to Monza as a good opportunity to make up the ground they have lost in the early part of the 2007 season. If they can combine their machine's impressive power output with a good set-up for the many chicanes at Monza, then the sky is the limit for riders of their undoubted class and quality. Another rider looking to get back to his usual self is Yukio Kagayama (Alstare Corona Extra Suzuki); a rider much injured this year, in terms of confidence as well as physical abilities.
With so many good officially entered machines in SBK this year, it has provided a tough theatre of dreams for the privateers to play upon. Along with Neukirchner and Fabrizio, Jakub Smrz (Caracchi SC Ducati) has been consistently impressive on his 2005 bike, with riders like Josh Brookes (Alto Evolution Honda) and Karl Muggeridge (Alto Evolution Honda) occasionally shining through the bad luck they have experienced too often for their liking so far. Steve Martin should be reunited with his DFX Honda team at Monza, and is looking for strong points after a tough start to the year.
WORLD SUPERSPORT - ONLY ONE TARGET FOR SUPERSPORT MASSES
A vast grid of riders will take on the next Supersport venue but the story of the year so far in terms of wins and podiums is all about Kenan Sofuoglu (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda). He is now a quite staggering 53 points up on his nearest challenger, after four wins and one second place. He will be joined once more by his regular team-mate, Sebastien Charpentier (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) who is fighting back from pelvic and coccyx injury. The double champion in 2005 and 2006 is currently 14th after positing only two race finishes.
Fabien Foret (GIL Kawasaki) is second overall, the only man to have deposed Sofuoglu from his perennial winning status. After a third at Assen, he will fancy his chances on his highly adept new Kawasaki at Monza. Such has been the hurly-burly of the crash-strewn Supersport battles thus far that Katsuaki Fujiwara (Althea Honda) is still third overall, despite two recent no scores, which were neither his nor his team's fault. Broc Parkes will be partnered this weekend by Anthony West in the Yamaha World Supersport Racing Team, as Kevin Curtain continues his recuperation from injuries sustained at Valencia.
SBK Press Office