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Today, Matthew, I am going to be. . .

...Really very quick

Words and pictures by Simon Bradley

Brno is the Czech Republic's second city, about 100 miles East of Prague. And it's pronounced "Burno" to answer one of the questions we had last year. It used to be a road circuit, running out through the woods North of the town itself, and though it has been shortened and civilised over the years, mainly in the name of safety, it is still a very long circuit at 5.4km or just under 3.4 miles. It still goes through the woods, though the trees have been cut back rather, and it still has elevation changes a-plenty to keep the riders on their toes. Superbikes left Brno in '96, only coming back last year when we were treated to some truly spectacular racing so the circuit's inclusion as a regular fixture is extremely welcome. It's hot, though. Not Misano heat, either, but a humid, oppressive heat that saps the energy of riders and pit teams alike. And those gentle hills which look so nice on TV are actually seriously major. That's a big deal when you're needing to lose a lot of speed for a corner and fighting gravity as well momentum. It makes it very easy to lose the front on the way into a corner, and camber changes on the way round make highsides a very real threat. Especially when it's hot enough to make grip a little unpredictable.

James Toseland sets a new lap record and still has time to nod to the trackside photographers. What a guy...Friday practice and qualifying saw one rider dominate proceedings. James Toseland absolutely flew around, posting consistently fast laps and riding with a beautifully controlled aggression that totally suits the Ten Kate Honda. Karl Muggeridge, too, is showing fine form while Troy Corser and Troy Bayliss both had off days, with Corser taking a tumble late in the last session and Bayliss simply not gelling with his bike and nearly taking a gravel bath himself. Nori Haga, who last year stunned us all by taking a win after not even making Superpole, found himself in fourth place as rain effectively stopped play. Nieto and Lanzi were second and third while Kagayama headed the board after the first session but dropped to sixth in the afternoon.

Saturday started hot but cloudy, with the threat of rain ever present. Morning qualifying was a sticky thirty-three Celsius outside the circuit with a track temperature of forty-two. That's hot, but Pirelli seemed to be up to the job as times were significantly quicker than Friday. More importantly, Yukio Kagayama and Troy Bayliss had both rediscovered their form, lapping nigh on half a second faster than Nieto and Toseland. To put that into perspective, the top nineteen riders were all within a second of Nieto's third place qualifying time. So that lead is all the more impressive.

Haga demonstrates what hard braking truly means as he fights to lose about 100mph while travelling downhill towards a chicane. And he does this  for three quarters of an hour...But of course qualifying in a group isn't Superpole, and normally where Troy Corser is in the cut it's likely that he'll be at least on the front row. Unless, it seems, it's Brno and an even numbered year. Because 2006 just seems not to be Corser's year. In free practice before Superpole it became apparent that all is still not well for the Suzuki rider as he was unable to circulate quicker than ninth. James Toseland had his problems too, launching the Ten Kate Honda into the gravel towards the end of the session and banging himself up rather in the process. Anyway, Superpole itself, with a track temperature of fifty degrees, did see Corser post the quickest time to take the lead. Until Lorenzo Lanzi went quicker just one lap later. Lanzi held the front spot for six laps until he was beaten by Haga and Toseland in quick succession, the Japanese rider going fastest of all to become the first person ever to turn in a two minute lap. Mind you, Toseland's second place is all the more impressive because he was riding hurt and was on his spare machine as well. Bayliss also rode a fast smooth lap, quicker than Corser but outqualified by Lanzi for the first time ever. Kagayama's Superpole effort was spoiled by a huge slide which saw him wheelying as the rear hooked up. His sixth place is a remarkable achievement considering the time it must have cost him. Chris Walker was similarly afflicted, nearly being thrown off and enjoying several rather lurid slides as he simply overwhelmed the rear tyre. The result was a disappointing thirteenth.

So Sunday's grid has Haga on pole from Toseland, Lanzi and Bayliss. The second row is headed by Corser with Kagayama, Pitt and Muggeridge completing it. Regis Laconi leads row three from Fonsi Nieto, Fabien Foret and Michel Fabrizio.

In warmup before it all went pear-shaped, Toseland shows Kagayama the way round...Sunday warmup was, for want of a better word, carnage. About a quarter of the way through, Marfek Svoboda, a wildcard local rider, was touring with, presumably, a mechanical problem when the leading group caught up with him. Unfortunately he had stayed on the racing line and only raised his arm to show something was wrong at the very last second. Now when you're running at race speed on a superbike and fully committed to a corner, tightening your line is not something that comes easily. The lead rider, James Toseland, managed the superhuman effort of getting his bike about a foot further in than it would naturally go but it wasn't quite enough. He clipped the Yamaha and, though he stayed on his Honda was clearly not well as it immediately started to smoke. A lot. The next bit was inevitable really. Toseland obviously realised something was wrong straight away, saw the smoke and started to get off the track and stop safely, but events overtook him. His rear tyre was clearly getting drenched in oil because the next thing was the back breaking away and spitting the hapless Englishman off in a mercifully gentle highside. The Honda then burst into flames while Toseland was incensed but unhurt. A twenty minute pause under red flags followed while the marshals cleared the entire contents of Toseland's engine from the circuit. On the restart, just two laps in Pawel Szkopek - a Polish rider standing in for the injured Max Neukirchner - had an engine failure on his Ducati. Unfortunately, nobody saw fit to tell him that his machine was smoking heavily and clearly dumping oil everywhere and the first thing the unfortunate rider knew was when he found himself looking down and back at his bike as he highsided in spectacular style, again fortunately appearing unhurt. Which left three minutes of warmup...

So on to Race One then.

Craig Jones rode a blinder on one of the FP1's final outings...After we were treated, if that's the right word, to the sight and sound of a dozen little girls with pom poms dancing to the "Crazy Frog" (I apologise to non Europeans to whom that will mean nothing at all), race one started with a bit of a bang. Steve Martin's weekend just got better and better as his Foggy Petronas caught fire underneath him while he lined up on the grid. The Australian at least got the chance to run back to the pits and get his spare bike in time to do the warmup lap from the pitlane and rejoin the grid for the start proper. And as the lights went out it was Haga who got the holeshot, as befits a pole-sitter, while Toseland managed to get the better line into turn one and come out in front. Slightly further back, Pitt and Bayliss had a bit of a coming together, the Ducati rider being pushed wide just in time to get involved with Laconi's parting company with his bike. When the dust settled we had the spectacle of an extremely apologetic Laconi and an irate Bayliss who threw his gloves onto the track and stomped off in disgust. Up at the front having made a clean break, Toseland led from Haga, Kagayama, Corser and Pitt. And though the young Englishman was extremely quick, it was Kagayama who was the man on a mission. Yuki displaced both his team-mate and Haga in fairly short order and went chasing after Toseland. Soon it was down to an interesting combination. Toseland and Kagayama had some clear air between the pursuing pack of Pitt, Haga and Corser in that order, with Michel Fabrizio behind. Lorenzo Lanzi, whose fan club was certainly the most enthusiastic at the circuit, was going well until suddenly slowing and pulling in to the pits with a shot front tyre. Though he rejoined and put on a spirited ride he was never going to be doing anything other than keeping the crowd happy. But we should applaud him for doing that anyway. Steve Martin's spare bike expired half way through though Craig Jones retained a few smiles for the Foggy team as he rode a storming race to finish seventeenth - scant reward for an excellent effort.

Michel Fabrizio. He's not short of tcourage, that's for sure. Nor, it would seem, talent. All he needs to do is learn how to start and qualify and he's there...Fabien Foret stepped off all on his own, as did Reuben Xaus a couple of laps later. But as for the rest of the field, Kagayama slipped past Toseland with just five laps to go and proceeded to open what can only be described as a commanding lead. A couple of laps earlier, Haga had muscled past Pitt and started to close on the leading pair while Pitt came under pressure from Corser. Michel Fabrizio was running well in sixth while Fonsi Nieto was gradually being caught by his team-mate Chris Walker. Shinichi Nakatomi and Norick Abe rounded out the top ten, with Frankie Chili gamely hanging onto their coat tails for eleventh. And so it ended. Except for a couple of little twists. Two laps from the end, Pitt slowed dramatically before stopping totally on the final lap with a broken engine. And while Corser and Haga argued about the last podium spot, Fabrizio sneaked up and mugged them both in a spectacularly robust combination of overtakes and defensive riding.

Kagayama finally crossed the line well ahead of Toseland before another long gap to Fabrizio, Haga and Corser. Nieto and Walker were sixth and seventh with Nakatomi, Abe and Chili following.

Race two saw a totally uneventful warmup and start. When the lights went out, Haga when off like a rat up a drainpipe, followed by Toseland, Bayliss, Corser and Muggeridge. Lanzi got a clean start too, making the Ducatisti smile for the first time, while Pitt passed Kagayama who made possibly the worst start in his career to fly backwards through the pack. Walker headed his entire team, with Nieto and Laconi hot on his heels. Once again, This close after twenty laps? Not something you see every day...the man to watch was Yukio Kagayama as he carved his way through the field until, by lap eleven, he was in third place, proving if nothing else that there are no team orders in the Alstare Suzuki camp. Either that, or that he simply wasn't prepared to obey them. Either way, four laps later both he and Corser had slipped past Toseland who appeared to be suffering from a lack of grip. Three laps further in and it was that man Fabrizio again, this time doing Toseland no favours as he continued his climb through the field to fourth, relegating the Englishman to fifth. Then it started to get really interesting, as the young Italian reeled in the front runners, closing right up with Corser before possibly the most audacious overtake of the season so far. Three abreast round the final chicane just doesn't work, and the loser was Troy Corser, pushed back into fourth while Fabrizio knocked Haga back for the second time in as many races to take a spectacularly close second place.

Second place? Yes, because Kagayama had continued his climb to take the lead from Haga with three laps to go and to build quite a convincing gap by the end.

Further down the field, Fonsi Nieto got past Walker, Pitt and Muggeridge and was closing on the stricken Toseland when he ran out of laps. Pitt's Yamaha expired for the second time so Muggeridge took a well deserved sixth after a race long battle with his fellow Australian and Lorenzo Lanzi. Lanzi demonstrated that maybe there are team orders in the Ducati garage as, having Fonsi Nieto inspects some interesting trackside insects at the hairpin. Just because he can. ..passed and comprehensively out-ridden Bayliss he then mysteriously got overtaken by the championship leader half a lap from the end. The Italian's huge celebratory wheelie over the line told the story better than any press release ever will... Behind Lanzi, Chris Walker rounded off the top ten ahead of Alex Barros.

Frankie Chili rode this weekend but, if I am to be totally honest, he was a shadow of his normal self and goes away without taking any points. It rather seems that, having announced his retirement, the old man of the racetrack has rather given up. Or at least isn't prepared to give it his all any more. Probably why he's retiring, then.

The next round is at SBK's other spiritual home - Brands Hatch. It'll be a belter, and with the championship closed right up there's everything to race for. And the top riders all go well at Brands, they've all won there on Superbikes (British in Toseland's case) and none of them are going to be taking prisoners. See you there...

SB

Race One

1 Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki)
2 James Toseland (Honda)
3 Michel Fabrizio (Honda)
4 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
5 Troy Corser (Suzuki)
6 Fonsi Nieto (Kawasaki)
7 Chris Walker (Kawasaki)
8 Shinichi Nakatomi (Yamaha)
9 Norick Abe (Yamaha)
10 Pier-Francesco Chili (Honda)

Race Two

1 Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki)
2 Michel Fabrizio (Honda)
3 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
4 Troy Corser (Suzuki)
5 James Toseland (Honda)
6 Fonsi Nieto (Kawasaki)
7 Karl Muggeridge (Honda)
8 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
9 Lorenzo Lanzi (Ducati)
10 Chris Walker (Kawasaki)

Championship Standing after seven rounds:

1 Troy Bayliss 262
2 Nori Haga 189
3 James Toseland 188
4 Troy Corser 173
5 Alex Barros 151
6 Andrew Pitt 128
7 Yukio Kagayama 106
8 Lorenzo Lanzi 97
9 Michel Fabrizio 83
10 Fonsi Nieto 81

 

 




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