Phillip Island promises thrills aplenty
After an even more dramatic and unpredictable start to World Superbike racing's 20th year of continuous action than anyone could have predicted at Losail a few days ago, it's the turn of Phillip Island to form the backdrop to what
will surely be just as momentous a weekend.
The SBK championship will have its Australian visa stamped at Phillip Island for the 17th time this time around, making the seaside circuit one of the longest serving - and most popular - in SBK's 20 years of racing life. Its entire 4,445km length is littered with challenges to any rider's abilities, with wind and weather also capable of playing their part in any individual race outcome.
With Max Biaggi (Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra) winning on his Superbike debut and with James Toseland (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) scoring the second leg win the series is currently tied, but of almost as much importance to the local Aussie fans right now is the question of how the European based Australian riders will fare after Qatar's disappointments. Reigning champion Troy Bayliss (Ducati Xerox) was in the rare position of having his team-mate Lorenzo Lanzi (Ducati Xerox) step on the podium instead of Troy himself, but on his home track the technical and tyre choice issues that dogged him at Losail should be eradicated before raceday.
Lanzi is currently third in the table, with Bayliss seventh.
The other double championship winning Aussie Troy, Troy Corser (Yamaha Motor Italia), scored pole and a podium for third place in race two in round one, and at his all-time favourite circuit, all things seem possible - even in what will only be his second meeting on the new Yamaha. The good news for the Aussie duo is that not just home advantage but also previous form favour them - with Corser and Bayliss each winning a PI race in 2006.
Despite some brilliant showings in practice at Losail, Noriyuki Haga (Yamaha Motor Italia) was unfortunate on raceday, but few would write off Haga on the eve of a meeting as important as Phillip Island. He will be joined by a fellow Japanese rider in the list of PI possibles, Yukio Kagayama (Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra), who is only two points ahead of Haga in the points table. Another Suzuki rider, Max Neukirchner (Suzuki Germany) will be out to repeat his stunning sixth place from race one at Losail, which helped make him the best-placed rider on a non-factory bike in Qatar, of any vintage.
An unfortunate clash with his team-mate put Fonsi Nieto (PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse) out of race one at Losail, but a brilliant fifth place in the second running showed Nieto's true mettle when it counted. Another Spanish rider Ruben Xaus (Sterilgarda Ducati) is one place ahead of Nieto, after two top tens in Qatar on the 2006 factory-spec 999 Ducati. Roby Rolfo (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) had one solid seventh and a DNF at Losail, but the talented Italian is well on his way to better things. The current top 12 is rounded out by the second factory Kawasaki of Regis Laconi (PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse).
Steve Martin and Michel Fabrizio (both DFX Corse Honda CBR1000RR) will be two riders to watch in Australia, while more Aussie talent resides in the Alto Evolution Honda team, with Karl Muggeridge and Josh Brookes looking to overcome a relative lack of pace from their current spec of engines. Shinichi Nakatomi (Team Yamaha YZF) scored a point in only a single race at Losail, but in his second SBK season, Phillip Island should not be so daunting a challenge as last year.
After the long trek back to Europe is completed, the SBK paddock reforms in Spain, but not quite in readiness for the Valencia race. On 17, 18 and 19 March, there will be an official FGSport test at Valencia, but this year the first European race will be held at Donington Park, with race day itself taking place on 1 April. This will be the first Donington SBK race since 2001, and the first of three SBK rounds in the UK in 2007.
SUPERSPORT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
The rapid development of Kenan Sofuoglu (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) in World Supersport was remarkable at the tail end of the 2006 season, and his winning curve got higher at the first round this year, after Sebastien Charpentier (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) fell from their battle for the lead. In Australia, Charpentier is sure to shine again as he goes for three race wins in a row at PI, while Losail's second placed rider, Kevin Curtain (Yamaha SSP Racing) is ready to push all the way for his second home victory. Curtain's team-mate Broc Parkes is looking for his first points of the 2007 season at his home circuit.
On all-new machinery GIL Kawasaki riders Fabien Foret and Pere Riba had superb fourth and fifth place finishes in round one, while Gianluca Nannelli (Team Caracchi Ducati SC 749R) struggled after a bright qualifying battle. For Suzuki, a winter test at Phillip Island will help their official duo, Barry Veneman and Vesa Kallio, from the Hoegee Suzuki team. Practice for Supersport, like in Superbike, gets underway on Friday 2 March.
SBK Press Office