With Max Biaggi (Aprilia Racing) at the top of the points table, the eni FIM Superbike World Championship returns to Italy for the second of three events, this time at Monza, the fastest round of the calendar. The production-based racing series will be celebrating its 25th anniversary at the fourth of its 14 rounds, with a glittering array of riders and bikes present throughout the four days. The legends of then and now will be present on Saturday and Sunday in the SBK Paddock Show and for Italian fans it will be a unique opportunity to get close and personal with the men and machines who have contributed to the success of the championship over the past quarter-century.
Monza is the venue for a championship round for the 21st time: the first edition was held in 1990 and it saw a double win for Fabrizio Pirovano on a Yamaha. This will also be the 301st World Superbike round, which will reach the 600-race mark next time out at Donington the following weekend.
2010 champion Biaggi is back at the top of the points once again despite struggling to get on the podium at a rain-disturbed Assen. Last year's champion Carlos Checa (Althea Racing Ducati) lies just one point behind, but the top of the table is a tightly-fought affair with eight riders (Biaggi, Checa, Sykes, Guintoli, Melandri, Rea, Haslam and Laverty) on five different manufacturer machines separated by just 36 points. Each one of the remaining 22 races will assign 25 points for the winner.
Aprilia are present with their latest-spec engine that may help Biaggi to increase his points lead and improve on last year's record top speed of 334.8 km/h and average lap speed of 204.405 km/h he set during Superpole. The Italian rider has started from pole in the last two Monza rounds and also scored a double win in 2010. Twelve months ago he finished second and eighth on what became Eugene Laverty's incredible day of success for Yamaha. The 25 year-old Irishman, who is now his team-mate, is another Monza specialist, having also won the Supersport race the previous year.
Ducati have a great tradition at Monza (18 wins, 40 podiums), but their twin-cylinder bike has not won there since 2009. Checa's best result is eighth place in 2008, when he was with Ten Kate Honda, while another competitive Ducati machine will be in the hands of Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli (Effenbert Liberty Racing), who is on a roll following his maiden win in the Netherlands. Honda World Superbike Team's Jonathan Rea also broke the ice at Assen and will be aiming to continue his move up the points table after his first win of the year.
Monza's long straights should help to boost the chances of the other four-cylinder machines present in this year's championship, starting with Kawasaki. The phenomenon of the season so far, at least in the Tissot-Superpole challenge where he has a perfect 100% record, has been Britain's Tom Sykes, and it will be interesting to see how well the ZX-10R goes this time around. At the time of press, no replacement has yet been slated in for the injured Joan Lascorz.
After twice throwing away a first win at Assen, BMW are extremely confident things will go well this time around; Marco Melandri scored two seconds in 2011 when racing for Yamaha, while Leon Haslam is always up amongst the front runners. BMW scored the first of its eight podiums here in 2010 and the time is right for a first historic triumph. In the Italian-run BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet squad, both Ayrton Badovini (who crashed at Assen while in the lead) and former Monza winner Michel Fabrizio will again be entrusted with the task of improving on their difficult start to the season. While over at Suzuki, Crescent FIXI men Leon Camier and John Hopkins also showed a true competitive nature following a disappointing opening couple of rounds.