The men and machines, together with the trucks and hospitality units, of the FIM Superbike World Championship have hardly had enough time to cool down since Sunday's San Marino Round before heading away for the Motorland Aragon circuit in Spain.
After racing in Spain at Jerez, Jarama, Albacete and Valencia, the world championship now makes its debut at the brand-new, purpose-built 5.345 km Motorland Aragon facility near the town of Alcaniz.
The production-based series' arrival in Spain could not have come at a better time, as a Spanish rider, Carlos Checa, is currently in the lead of the championship standings. Thanks to a run of two double wins at Miller and Misano, the Althea Racing Ducati man is on the crest of a wave and has a 72 points lead over his closest rival, Max Biaggi (Aprilia Alitalia). The reigning world champion crashed last Saturday during free practice at Misano, but rode with a swollen left foot nevertheless, scoring two second places that enable him not to lose contact with Checa. In last October's tests at Aragon, Checa set the quickest time in 1'58"3 but Biaggi was just four-tenths of a second behind.
One man looking for a good result is undoubtedly Marco Melandri (Yamaha World Superbike Team), a podium finisher with a third place in race 1, but who crashed out in the second allowing Biaggi to overhaul him in the points. For Yamaha in general the last two rounds have not lived up to the expectations generated at Monza and the Italian-based team will be aiming to get back amongst the positions that count.
Expectations are also high for BMW and Kawasaki in the wake of their Misano performances. Leon Haslam (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) stood out in the first encounter of the day but his only consolation was a fifth place in race 2. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) had the satisfaction of starting from pole position and was in contention for a number of laps, just finishing off the podium. The British rider, like Haslam, should be able to make use of the testing time spent at Aragon.
Michel Fabrizio (Alstare Suzuki) also tested last October, setting positive times, and despite riding with a suspected broken scaphoid bone after his race 1 crash, the Roman scored a notable sixth place in the second Misano encounter. Another man who went down at Misano, Jonathan Rea, will have to sit on the sidelines for the Spanish Round however due to fractures to his right arm and left collarbone he picked up in the warm-up.
Another illustrious absence in Spain will be James Toseland who in agreement with the team, has decided to miss Aragon and then return at Brno. As at Misano, he will be replaced by Italian Lorenzo Lanzi. But the BMW Motorrad Italia team will undoubtedly be galvanized by the splendid form of Ayrton Badovini, who came very close to the podium at Misano, just being edged out by Noriyuki Haga (PATA Aprilia), the Japanese star back on the podium for the first time since last year.
Two other crowd-pleasing Spaniards to keep an eye on this weekend will be multiple SBK race-winner Ruben Xaus (Castrol Honda), and the talented youngster Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki Racing Team), who is still getting to grips with his first rookie season in World Superbike.
Points (after 6 of 13 rounds): 1. Checa 245; 2. Biaggi 173; 3. Melandri 150; 4. Laverty 123; 5. Haslam 106; 6. Camier 101; 7. Fabrizio 95; 8. Rea 94; 9. Smrz 83; 10. Guintoli 72; etc. Manufacturers: 1. Ducati 252; 2. Aprilia 212; 3. Yamaha 190; 4. BMW 138; 5. Honda 111; 6. Suzuki 99; 7. Kawasaki 89.