The 2012 eni FIM Superbike World Championship continues its first European leg of races this coming weekend at the Donington Park circuit in the UK, where it all began back in 1988, the year of the very first round of the production-based series. 25 years and 301 rounds further on, the East Midlands track 180 kms north of London is getting ready to offer even more excitement at what will be the fifth of 14 rounds this season and races number 598 and 599 in its history.
The complicated Monza weekend left the points standings virtually unchanged, Max Biaggi (Aprilia Racing) still in control but with a two-point lead over Carlos Checa (Althea Racing Ducati). With his triumph at the fastest circuit on the calendar Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) is now just six points away from the top slot and ready to make the most of home advantage. Donington is ideal ground for another great race by Sykes, who first emerged on the world scene in 2008 when he finished second on a Suzuki as a wild-card rider behind the three-times champion Troy Bayliss.
Biaggi has never won at Donington but he does have a 50% podium record, four times out of eight. His compatriot Marco Melandri, currently fourth in the table 25 points behind the leader, has gone better in the UK, taking his first win in Superbike last year and sharing the day with Carlos Checa.
In 2011 the Spaniard picked up the most points (45 out of 50 with a win and a second place) on a Ducati, a bike that in all of its different versions has won at Donington 17 times in 38 races. Another rider to keep an eye on will be Jonathan Rea, fifth in the points table but 27.5 points behind Biaggi: the spectacular northern Irishman has never been on the podium at Donington while Honda have not won a race here since 2008 when Ryuichi Kiyonari scored the double in a wet race.
The numerous UK fans expected to pack into Donington will also be cheering on their local hero Leon Haslam, the BMW Motorrad man who hails from just down the road near Derby. Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli (Effenbert-Liberty Racing Ducati), who scored his first win in the wet at Assen but then had to take a rain check from pole at Monza due to a problem in the warm-up lap, is also sure to be back on the ball this weekend.
It will also be a home round for the Crescent FIXI Suzuki team, which will line up with Leon Camier, podium finisher in 2011 with Aprilia and American John Hopkins who will probably not be in perfect form after picking up a broken bone in his foot at Monza. With the possibility of utilizing reference data accumulated in recent editions of the BSB championship, the Suzuki GSX-R might be in with a chance of gate-crashing the WSB regulars’ party.
Good news comes on the weather front, with a sunny weekend on the cards: after the rain that has ruined the last two rounds at Assen and Monza, the British crowd will be hoping for some true Superbike action at their home event.
Points (after 4 of 14 rounds): 1. Biaggi 97.5; 2. Checa 95.5; 3. Sykes 91.5; 4. Melandri 72.5; 5. Rea 70; 6. Haslam 68; 7. Guintoli 66; 8. Laverty 64; 9. Smrz 42.5; 10. Giugliano 41; etc. Manufacturers: 1. Ducati 140.5; 2. Aprilia 108; 3. Kawasaki 97.5; 4. BMW 96; 5. Honda 74; 6. Suzuki 20.5.
The Supersport World Championship for the medium cylinder sector bikes continues its unpredictable run with four different winners in four rounds and a spectacular start to the season. The group is headed by former double champ, Turkey’s Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki DeltaFin Lorenzini) who after claiming the opening round win has proved to be the most consistent rider in terms of results and placements. The chasing group is led by Sam Lowes (Bogdanka PTR Honda), who is yet to win a race but who provided such a great spectacle to finish runner-up at Monza, a result that allowed him to cut the gap to the Turk to just ten points. Unlike Superbike, Supersport is run over a single race format and each win assigns 25 points.
The biggest step forward in this sense has been made by series newcomer Jules Cluzel (PTR Honda) who was brilliant in the wet to conquer his first win in the category and move to within 13 points of Sofuoglu. Just one point ahead of Cluzel is his fellow Frenchman Fabien Foret (Kawasaki Intermoto Step) who is still up in the leading positions despite only notching up four points in the last two outings.
Alex Baldolini (Power Team by Suriano Triumph) is the leading Italian in the points, in fifth place and the only man capable of keeping up with the front-runners, if one excludes Lorenzo Lanzi who dominated in the wet at Assen in a one-off outing. Baldolini knows Donington well, having raced there in Moto2, while right behind him is Australian Broc Parkes (Ten Kate Racing Products Honda) whose season has gone from bad to worse recently after he crashed out of the lead at Monza.
The Donington weekend event schedule will not include the two Superstock categories or the KTM European Junior Cup which now take a break until the next round at Misano on June 8-10.
Points (after 4 of 13 rounds): 1. Sofuoglu 61; 2. Lowes 51; 3. Foret 49; 4. Cluzel 48; 5. Baldolini 34; 6. Parkes 29; 7. Leonov 26; 8. Lanzi 25; etc. Manufacturers: 1. Honda 86; 2. Kawasaki 86; 3. Yamaha 40; 4. Triumph 40; 5. Suzuki 6.