Yamaha WSB Qatar Preview - February 23rd 2005
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SBK now hosts a full-time grid of 30 riders, shortly to take part in a 12-round championship trail, from the new SBK venues like Losail and Brno to established favourites such as Monza, Phillip Island, Brands Hatch, Assen and Valencia.
Qatar, Australia, Italy, Great Britain, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and France will feature on the SBK path this year, with the promise of more new venues in the near future.
SBK’s new look entries, with Japanese produced four-cylinder machines in the forefront in terms of outright numbers, will line up for the first time at the magnificently appointed Losail International Circuit, already the scene of a pre-season test on 19 and 20 February. These sessions were a great success for most of the competitors there present, and some new names thrust themselves into the public consciousness after two hard days at the fast 5.380km track.
The established order in World Superbike is headed by the 2004 champion James Toseland (Xerox Ducati 999F05), but his testing experience at Losail was an ultimately painful one, after suffering a huge highside crash on a fast right-hander on the second day. Largely uninjured and typically resilient, Toseland will face a seemingly endless list of potential race winners in the races at Losail, such is the even match between machines and riders in this year’s series.
Toseland will find 2004 runner-up Regis Laconi a tough competitor as always, especially as he is the Englishman’s team-mate in the factory Ducati squad once more. Ranged against the big Bologna twins is an impressive phalanx of war machines from Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha, plus the technically fascinating three-cylinder, 900cc Petronas FP-1.
Former WSS champion Chris Vermeulen (Winston Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR) provided a true challenge to Ducati power in 2004, and this year he is joined by his old Supersport team-mate Karl Muggeridge, 2004’s WSS champion.
The biggest challenge this pre-season has nonetheless come from the Alstare Corona Extra Superbike duo of 1996 champion Troy Corser and fastest rider in pre-season testing at Losail, Yukio Kagayama. Only two in number, the Suzuki effort nonetheless formed the top two at the Losail test sessions.
With more bikes on the grid than any other single manufacturer, Yamaha has won the numbers fight already. In pre-season, the supposed established order of Yamaha riders has been rearranged, with Jose Luis Cardoso (Yamaha DFX Extreme Sterilgarda) and Sebastien Gimbert (Yamaha Motor France) putting in some sparkling performances, whatever the circuit or riding conditions.
Gimbert is one of four main supported Yamaha entries, with his team-mate, Norick Abe, a fellow SBK rookie, but a star all over the world. Noriyuki Haga (Yamaha Motor Italia) is an SBK Superstar of long standing, while his team-mate Andrew Pitt is making a long-desired jump to the Superbike class, having been a World Supersport Champion in 2001. Another Yamaha rider to watch in the heat of battle is Cardoso’s team-mate, Marco Borciani, a seasoned SBK competitor, while wild card rider from Spain, Ivan Silva Alberola (La Glisse Yamaha) was a true sensation at the recent Losail tests.
Kawasaki’s main two man thrust in World Superbike, Chris Walker and Mauro Sanchini, come from the PSG-1 squad, and in Walker they have a proven podium finisher. The Bertocchi squad, represented by Giovanni Bussei and Ivan Clementi, is a long-standing fixture in SBK, with a year’s experience of the ZX-10 Superbike.
Pierfrancesco Chili (Klaffi Honda) has ripped up SBK tarmac for over ten years, and in his 239 races has scored 17 wins. A little behind some other teams in terms of race readiness for Qatar, the Klaffi Honda squad are first timers in SBK. Chili is nonetheless a serious player in this or any other year. Max Neukirchner joins him in the Klaffi Superbike squad from the Supersport class.
A strong one rider effort from the Renegade Honda team sees an old SBK favourite Ben Bostrom back into the fold, bringing previous experience of the CBR1000RR with him from his past two years in American racing.
Two fierce Ducati entries, each a rookie SBK rider, will help break up the wail of four-cylinder machines with their booming Ducati exhaust notes. Fonsi Nieto and Lorenzo Lanzi, each from the Scuderia Caracchi team, are proven competitors in other race classes, each with a major point to prove in 2005.
The technically interesting and challenging Petronas three-cylinder 900cc SBK machine enjoyed podium success in 2004, as did its two new riders, Garry McCoy and Steve Martin. The latter is still looking for his first SBK race win, while McCoy’s triumph at home in Phillip Island was one of the most well-received result of 2004.
After a virtual domination of the series last year, by Ten Kate Honda rider Karl Muggeridge, this year’s Supersport battle looks to be a very open and novel affair. The traditional top two powers of Honda and Yamaha are represented by five and two supported riders respectively, each morwe than capable of securing race wins. Honda’s five-rider push includes Winston Ten Kate Honda pairing Sebastien Charpentier and Katsuaki Fujiwara, Team Megabike runners Fabien Foret and Michel Fabrizio, plus WSS rookie Tatu Lauslehto, from the Klaffi Honda team. Aussie pairing Kevin Curtain and Broc Parkes head up the Yamaha Motor Germany team. From Ducati, Gianluca Nannelli poses one of the biggest twin-cylinder threats on his SC Caracchi 749R, while Jurgen van den Goorbergh makes another change of machinery in his long racing career, on a Ducati Selmat 749.
With raceday at Losail breaking with usual SBK tradition, and taking place on a Saturday, the two days of qualifying and Superpole take place on Thursday 24 and Friday 25th. The 18 lap races, two for Superbike and one for Supersport, take place at the usual local times, with Qatar three hours ahead of GMT.