Haga's New Ride
With the start of the 18th consecutive World Superbike season just around the corner, at the Losail circuit in Qatar on February 24-26, the final line up of competing manufacturers, teams and riders indicates that Superbike is in for its most competitive season on record.
The confirmed entry of 30 riders is the envy of almost any global Motorsports series, with six manufacturers represented by proven - and soon-to-be - stars of the SBK firmament.
Thanks to carefully crafted technical regulations and a single make tyre strategy, SBK has never been a more accessible and evenly matched series. Up to ten riders are approaching SBK 2005 with realistic expectations of an outright championship win; if they can keep up an impeccable level of consistency. Given the circumstances of the 2005 season, there should be something approaching 15 possible race winners, at any one round of the scheduled 12 - from Qatar in February to the finale in France on September 9.
The Bologna based manufacturer of high performance vee-twin motorcycles to the masses is the most successful in the history of the sport, having won 13 manufacturers' and 11 riders' championships. For the first time in several seasons Ducati riders are not quite the most numerous on the SBK grid, but quality has not been sacrificed in the new era of Ducati's SBK participation.
The factory Ducati Corse squad, sponsored by Xerox this season, can boast the talents of both the champion and runner up in the tightly contested 2004 title battle. Englishman James Toseland (who at 23 was the youngest champion in the history of the Superbike division) is once more teamed up with Frenchman Regis Laconi on the full factory 999F05 machines.
A very welcome and full-strength Spanish element is introduced to the class once more this year, with 250GP race winner Fonsi Nieto partnering 2004 Supersport rider Lorenzo Lanzi in the Team Ducati SC - Caracchi squad, a long-standing entry which enjoys close links with the factory.
Private entries having kept faith with Ducati are Team Pedercini's Lucio Pedercini and Alessio Velini, and Czech rider Jiri Mrkyvka, who will have the pleasure of riding on his home track this year, at Brno on 17 July.
In its debut SBK season Honda's CBR1000RR Superbike secured four race wins, one factor in the obvious popularity of Honda machinery for 2005.
A plethora of top names have opted for Honda motive force, including Winston Ten Kate riders Karl Muggeridge (2004 Supersport Champion) and Chris Vermeulen (2003 Supersport Champion and winner of those four Honda SBK victories in 2004).
In 2004 Renegade Ducati Koji won six races through the season, but for 2005 a change of rider and machine will see a single man Renegade Honda KOJI team opt for CBR power. The CBR will be piloted by seven-time SBK race winner Ben Bostrom; a very welcome high profile American rider in the cosmopolitan '05 rider line up.
Arguably the best-loved star in World Superbike, the 40 year-old Italian Pierfrancesco Chili will team up with 21-year-old German youth Max Neukirchner in a Klaffi Honda line up of contrasting experience levels. The Austrian squad, headed by former World Sidecar Champion Klaus Klaffenbock, is new to World Superbike, but has extensive track time and podium experience in World Supersport to call upon.
By far the most numerous of all the machines on display will be from the Yamaha stable, a full third of the permanent grid of 30 riders choosing the 2005 YZF-R1.
The most closely supported squad will be the Yamaha Motor Italia pairing of serial 2004 race winner Noriyuki Haga and 2001 World Supersport Champion Andrew Pitt.
Yamaha Motor France have enticed three-time 500cc Grand Prix winner Norick Abe into one of their riding slots this season, making it a double attack from Japan in terms of the entire Yamaha effort. Sebastien Gimbert, such a sensation at the final Magny Cours races in 2004, is gearing up for a full time assault with YMF this year.
Italy's Marco Borciani and Portuguese Miguel Praia will run for the DFX team in the DFXtreme Sterilgarda set-up, with Spaniard Jose Luis Cardoso (a Spanish Championship regular and GP competitor of years gone by) and 2004 European Superstock Championship winner Lorenzo Alfonsi team up in the DFXtreme squad.
Two single riders teams will also run Yamahas, European Superstock runner-up Gianluca Vizziello in the Team Lorenzini by Leoni camp and Belgian Michel Nickmans in the Team Zone Rouge pit garage.
Short on numbers, but big on talent, experience and possibility, is the Alstare Corona Extra squad, with 1996 SBK Champion Troy Corser (soon to be married to long term partner Sam) and new SBK team inductee Yukio Kagayama on their books.
Corser needs no introduction to the class but Kagayama has been making a name and garnering wins in the tough British Championship for the past two seasons. Both Suzuki riders have already set good testing times at Phillip Island on the 2005 GSX-R1000K5.
The PSG-1 team are no strangers to the top step of the podium, thanks to their now dissolved partnership with Pierfrancesco Chili. Having adopted Kawasaki ZX-10s for the 2005 season, they will run British star Chris Walker and experienced ZX-10 pilot Mauro Sanchini. Having scored a second place last year Walker in particular is the rider Kawasaki are pinning most hopes on.
Perennial SBK competitors, Bertocchi Kawasaki, will run Ivan Clementi and the always high profile Giovanni Bussei on their ZX-10s. After gaining knowledge of the machine in 2004, Bertocchi is a well-placed team for 2005.
Back for a third full year of track action the Foggy Petronas FP-1 three cylinder machine cuts a distinctive sight and emits a distinctive noise, both on and off track. With two podium finishes and two Superpole wins on the board last year, the Petronas team have invested Aussie pairing Garry McCoy and Steve Martin with the responsibility for their combined hopes and dreams in 2005.
Each experienced rider is eager to maintain their overall top seven statuses from 2004, with McCoy a winner in race two at Phillip Island and Martin a three-time Superpole winner. Each has swapped a private Ducati for the high-profile 900 Petronas triple, one of the most exciting pieces of technology ever to grace World Superbike, run by a team with four-time SBK champion Carl Fogarty at its head.
With several top Supersport exponents submitting to the gravitational pull of the Superbike class, the Supersport season is shaping up to forge a new generation of middleweight stars, as well as providing another real challenge for the 'old guard.'
Strong entries from all four Japanese factories and Ducati are led by some household names in Supersport, while others have opted for youth and enthusiasm.
Champions for the past three years, Ten Kate Honda, have Katsuaki Fujiwara and Sebastien Charpentier on their CBR600RRs, while former World Champion Fabien Foret and one-time European Superstock Champion Michel Fabrizio fill slots in the Team Italia Megabike Honda pit garage. Johan Stigefelt from Sweden adds his 250GP experience to his own Stiggy Motorsports Honda outfit.
The Yamaha Motor Germany team heads Yamaha's perennially competitive presence with their R6 product; Aussies Kevin Curtain and Broc Parkes will be forming a serious double act.
The Ducati effort, undertaken on 749R twin-cylinder equipment, comprises two single rider squads - one for Jurgen van den Goorbergh in the Selmat camp and the other servicing Gianluca Nannelli, who rides for Team Caracchi.
Kawasaki riders include former SBK factory Aprilia pilot Alessandro Antonello (Team Kawasaki Bertocchi) and NCR Ducati privateer David Garcia (Team Lightspeed Kawasaki).
The final line-up of the Moto 1 Suzuki team from France is yet to be decided, but is expected to feature two strong riders. The Alstare Corona Extra Suzuki push gets behind Spaniard Javier Fores.
For 2004 the successful European Superstock Championship has been upgraded and renamed the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup. It will have a 'little brother' in the Superstock 600 European Championship, with both series included in each European round of the SBK series.
The big Superstock class features an entry which hints at the future of the continued flowering of the SBK grid, as former champion Vittorio Iannuzzo runs one of four MV Agustas which will grace the Superstock sessions with its Italian four-cylinder pace.
The first race for the Superbike and Supersport competitors takes place at the Losail circuit in Qatar, with action beginning on Thursday 24 February, culminating on raceday, Saturday 26. The first of 12 rounds, Qatar is a new adventure for all SBK competitors, who will enjoy a two day test on the preceding weekend, to familiarise themselves with the circuit.