The eni FIM Superbike World Championship comes to Italy for the third time this year at a crucial point in the season, with the San Marino Round at the Misano World Circuit the venue for what promises to be one of the hottest rounds of the year, and not just because of the encroaching summer weather. After six of 14 rounds the top of the table is an extremely hard-fought affair, with Max Biaggi (Aprilia Racing Team) in the lead since the opening round of the season, followed by Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) in second, equal on points with Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team). The top 5 (Biaggi, Melandri, Sykes, Rea and reigning champion Checa), on five different manufacturer machines (respectively Aprilia, BMW, Kawasaki, Honda and Ducati), are all within 30 points of each other, and with eight rounds and 16 races left, there are plenty of points on the board for the current situation to change dramatically every weekend.
Misano hosts World Superbike for the 21st time. The first edition dates back to 1991 when the wins went to Texan Doug Polen on a Ducati, the Italo-American pairing the combination to beat at the time. This year’s edition will be the 304th round in 25 years of World Superbike, the 602nd and 603rd races in the history of the production-based racing series.
Points leader Biaggi’s win in Australia has so far been his only victory, but the Italian has defended his lead with a sequence of solid results on his Aprilia RSV4; two years ago Biaggi’s double win launched him on the path to his world title. With two wins at the last two circuits (Donington Park and Miller Motorsports Park) Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad) has rapidly caught up with his compatriot, and is now just 18 points behind. After giving BMW its first historic win, the man from Ravenna is now giving a couple of thoughts to the title, a target that just a short while ago appeared to be off-limits. BMW has a good record at Misano, where Troy Corser scored the German manufacturer’s first pole position in 2010 and then finished third. In Superbike Melandri’s experience is limited to last year’s edition on a Yamaha, the Italian finishing second in race 1 and crashing out in race 2.
Equal on points with Melandri is British rider Sykes who came close to a podium here last year. The Japanese manufacturer had its last win at Misano way back in 1994 with American Scott Russell. The team’s second rider continues to be the 19-year-old from France Loris Baz who has replaced the unfortunate Joan Lascorz, scoring encouraging results in the last two rounds.
The two previous rounds have also re-launched the title hopes of Jonathan Rea (Honda World Superbike Team), who is now just 19.5 points behind Biaggi. At Misano in 2009 Rea was virtually unbeatable but after this showing the young northern Irishman has not had much luck, missing the 2011 races due to an injury from a crash in the warm-up. The 2012-spec CBR1000RR has taken on a new lease of life and Rea has become one of the challengers for the title.
The top 5 is completed by 2011 champion Carlos Checa (Althea Racing), 30 points behind Biaggi following two untimely crashes at Donington Park and Miller Motorsports Park. Misano will offer the Spaniard the chance to get back into contention, because Ducati has always gone well here, with 28 wins and 71 podiums in 40 races. Checa was untouchable last season, and he began his run-in to the title at the Adriatic Riviera circuit.
The FIXI Crescent Suzuki team is the only one unable to score the big win so far despite the team’s big commitment and the talents of Leon Camier and John Hopkins. Misano is a special place for Hopkins who finished third behind Casey Stoner and Chris Vermeulen in the 2007 MotoGP race, again on a Suzuki.
Misano is an abrasive track on tyres and Pirelli, sole Superbike tyre supplier since 2004, has made a big effort by bringing a total of 12 solutions for teams, including three for the front and five for the rear slicks, in addition to the usual intermediate and rain solutions and the Superpole qualifying tyre.
At their home round, all eyes will also be on the Italians, in particular top rookie Davide Giugliano (Althea Racing), the 22-year-old from Rome and 2011 Superstock 1000 champion who has already stepped onto the podium with a second place in the Netherlands and who started from the front row in the previous Utah US Round. Misano could also prove to be positive for the BMW Italia pairing of Michel Fabrizio and Ayrton Badovini, while Niccolò Canepa (Red Devils Roma Ducati) and Lorenzo Zanetti (Pata Racing Aprilia) are both looking for their big breakthrough.
Points (after 6 rounds of 14): 1. Biaggi 160.5; 2. Melandri 142.5; 3. Sykes 142.5; 4. Rea 141; 5. Checa 130.5; 6. Haslam 103; 7. Guintoli 95; 8. Laverty 86; 9. Giugliano 64; 10. Smrz 61.5; etc. Manufacturers: 1. Ducati 195.5; 2. BMW 176; 3. Aprilia 171; 4. Kawasaki 148.5; 5. Honda 145; 6. Suzuki 48.5.
The World Supersport ‘wild bunch’ are back in action again with another chapter in the battle between Kawasaki and Honda; Turkey’s Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki DeltaFin Lorenzini) is on top with 81 points, and the Honda men, Sam Lowes (Bogdanka PTR) and Jules Cluzel (PTR) are right behind. Thirty-nine year-old Fabien Foret (Kawasaki Intermoto Step) is not far off the top either, just 26 points behind his fellow Kawasaki runner.
Experience tends to favour Sofuoglu who in Supersport has already conquered two world titles and 18 race wins, but 22-year-old Lowes and 24-year-old Cluzel have both broken the victory ice this season and after a good start for the Turk they have now caught him up. Kenan is back to full form since his nasty early season crash during Imola testing, and can count on the Kawasaki DeltaFin Lorenzini’s specific experience at the track, which is close to its Mantova base.
Broc Parkes (Ten Kate Racing Products Honda) hopes finally to be in a position to kick-start his season, while Alex Baldolini (Power Team Team by Suriano Triumph) is sixth on 38 points. Massimo Roccoli, who scored his only World Supersport win here in 2006, will be one man to watch as he steps in for the injured Vladimir Leonov on the Yakhnich Yamaha.
Points (after 5 rounds of 13): 1. Sofuoglu 81; 2. Lowes 76; 3. Cluzel 64; 4. Foret 55; 5. Parkes 42; 6. Baldolini 38; 7. Quarmby 34; 8. Morais 27; etc. Manufacturers: 1. Honda 111; 2. Kawasaki 106; 3. Triumph 51; 4. Yamaha 43; 5. Suzuki 6.
After a two-round break the Superstock 1000 category is back on the scene at Misano, with Romagna rider Lorenzo Savadori (Barni Racing Team Italia Ducati) leading the way; on his home track therefore Savadori will have a chance to increase his lead over Frenchman Sylvain Barrier (BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet), who has slid down to second place, three points from the top, following his crash at Monza. The new Ducati Panigale machine is also going well in the hands of Eddi La Marra, third overall just five points behind his team-mate. Meanwhile the Kawasaki MRS team has replaced Loris Baz, who has been promoted to the official Superbike team, with his compatriot Jeremy Guarnoni.
Points (after 3 rounds of 10): 1. Savadori 53; 2. Barrier 50; 3. La Marra 48; 4. Reiterberger 35; 5. Baz 30; 6. Bergman 28; 7. Massei 23; 8. Baroni 20; etc. Manufacturers: 1. Ducati 61; 2. BMW 59; 3. Kawasaki 50; 4. Honda 23; 5 Aprilia 11.