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The cracks start to appear?

Words by Simon Bradley, pictures as credited

The lack of straights helped the FP1...the temperature didn't, though.Misano is a beautiful, technical circuit which is immaculately prepared and has, in common with all Italian circuits, a fantastic atmosphere. It's a pain to get to, demanding either a premium rate flight into Rimini or something cheap n' cheerful into Bologna followed by a 200km drive in a rented Smart car... But I digress. One other thing that Misano is, though, is hot. Really, really hot. Track temperatures are driven up into the low fifties centigrade and as a result the tarmac softens and gets polished by the constant abrasion of grippy rubber being pushed past. The circuit is tight and twisty without any particularly long straights, so it suits vee twins rather well with their advantage in corner speed and drive. In fact, since Superbike racing came to Misano in 1991, only four races have ever been won by anything other than vee twins. Two when Aaron Slight did the double on the Honda RC45 - a vee four - in 1998, one the previous year for John Kocinski, also on the RC45 then right back in '94 when Scott Russell took the ZXR750 Kawasaki to first place.

Did I say it's hot? Last year James Toseland melted his boot and burnt his foot on the footpeg of his Ducati during the race. This is a meeting that really makes the riders earn their salt.

Practice and qualifying were hot, dry and threw up no real surprises. Troy Bayliss staked his claim to the top of the leaderboard in his normal style while Troy Corser, recovering from chicken pox, hung around near the top with Toseland, Pitt, Laconi, Haga, Walker - all the usual suspects, basically. Steve Martin rode the wheels off the FP1 to stay up there as well, the slightly underpowered triple being maybe a little less disadvantaged in the searing heat as it's sweet handling and relatively soft on tyres. And so to superpole with Bayliss clearly favourite to take it again.

Should have put money on it, though, because the likeable Aussie couldn't manage any better than seventh, just three hundredths of a second quicker than all season disappointing Lorenzo Lanzi. Behind the factory Ducati pairing we saw Regis Laconi and Yukio Kagayama rounding out the top ten while at the front James Toseland took his first pole of the season in emphatic style from an all Australian lineup of Corser, Pitt and Martin. Row two put Walker fifth, ahead of Haga, Bayliss and Lanzi.

Guess what the weather was like on race day? No, not raining, though that would have made things, um, interesting. It was hot, still and dry. Hey - at least the teams all had track data to work with for settings, then. Warmup saw Bayliss putting a stick firmly in the ground with lap after lap at a consistently fast race pace on normal rubber. Nieto, Muggeridge and Toseland were the closest following, with Corser over a second off the pace. Indeed, the Suzuki rider seemed to be a bit off colour all weekend. Partly I'm sure as a result of his recent illness but also partly because the twisty circuit really doesn't suit the big powerful Suzuki. Or, perhaps, his style despite his having done the double there for Aprilia in 2000.

Try as he might, this was as close as Toseland could get in race oneBut warmup doesn't make the race. Nor does Superpole. A fact no doubt very near the front of James Toseland's mind as he rocketed off the line to take the lead into the first corner and capitalise on his hard earned pole position. Andrew Pitt, too, made a great start though not as impressive as Haga who shot through to slot into third from his lowly starting position, ahead of Corser. Chris walker made another legendary Stalker Start to take fourth from Bayliss, himself no slouch off the line, while Steve Martin got gobbled up to round out the first lap back in tenth. Pitt's challenge faded after just a couple of laps, the fast but ragged Australian tangling with his team-mate Nori Haga and seeming to lose focus a little before losing the front as well and crashing out, unhurt, at the chicane on lap eight. Corser found himself being passed by Walker on the second lap and Bayliss shortly afterwards, the champion riding without his usual verve. He rallied for a while, climbing back up to third for a while before, unthinkably, having an unforced crash on lap sixteen. Though unhurt, the Australian won't have done his title defence any good at all. Walker and Haga had a spirited clash which ended up with Walker having to brake to avoid running into the Japanese rider on the turn in to the chicane. Braking that bit harder and tipping in as well proved too much for the front tyre which folded, dumping the battling Brit on his backside and out of the race.

Up at the front, Bayliss' progress was inexorable. Although the Ducati wasn't proving to be the missile that everyone expected, it's advantage in corner speed and drive was showing. As was the undoubted talent of it's rider. Bayliss made his way up through the field with a series of impeccable overtakes planned through several corners, closing tight through a complex and allowing the quicker turning Ducati to flick over fast and get the advantaged line for the next section. And that's exactly what he did to take the lead from Toseland on lap eleven. And the young Englishman, though absolutely stretching the Honda to the limit (and maybe a little beyond it on occasions) could do nothing to stop the Ducati rider from extending his lead on the clear track and romping home to victory by some seven seconds.

Nobody can say Steve Martin isn't a trooper. Riding his heart out before the FP1's engine called it a day...Behind the leading pair, Yukio Kagayama was taking full advantage of his team leader's departure, riding an inch perfect race. Coming off better out of a three way dice between himself, Haga and Barros, Yukio managed to make some space and take a safe third. Haga and Barros continued to duke it out to the line, swapping places and probably paint countless times. Barros managed to take and maintain an advantage over Haga just a couple of laps from the end, finally crossing the line a quarter second ahead. Regis Laconi maintained a steady race pace to take a safe but hardly inspiring sixth from Lorenzo Lanzi whose local knowledge should surely have stood him in better stead in his own back yard. Fonsi Nieto came in eighth with Ruben Xaus in ninth and Norick Abe rounding out the top ten. Steve martin, who had been going well after an appalling start, retired when the oil temperature of his bike went off the clock. A good thing, as it happens, for later examination showed that the engine was indeed about to let go. Andrew Pitt rejoined after his fall and bravely rode around to take sixteenth after rejoining near the back.

Race two was even hotter, as track temperatures were boosted by some seriously hard Supersports action between Superbikes rounds. Oh, and the sun shone some more too. This time when the lights went out it was Andrew Pitt who capitalised on his front row position. Though not as well as Troy Corser who, anxious to make amends for his dismal first race, went off like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe to take the lead. Though not gapping Pitt as any expected, the champion certainly looked pretty comfortable at the front and was setting a cracking pace. Behind the leading pair, James Toseland dropped neatly into third while Walker and Haga continued where they left off, banging fairings and swapping paint for a few laps before Bayliss briefly interceded, then resuming hostilities as the Australian got out of the way. Talking of Bayliss, the would be champion's progress through the field was distinctly more hesitant than in race one. it took him an age to pass Haga and Walker, and though once he got clear of them he went quite a lot quicker he looked far less invincible than he had before.

Bayliss and Corser before it all went wrong. Haga watches from behind.Further down the field, Yukio Kagayama was again making steady progress, dispatching Regis Laconi and seeing off the challenge of Ruben Xaus. But the real man on the move was Alex Barros, whose appalling starting gives him so much work to do when, if he could just work out how to get off the line properly he'd be racing at the front instead of cutting through the pack and getting knotted up.

Up at the front the pressure was on. Pitt and Corser had made a small gap over the pursuing Toseland when, on lap eight, Corser again overcooked it going into the chicane, ran wide to avoid some cement dust which remained from an earlier incident and, for the second time, crashed out of contention.

Which left James Toseland hunting down Andrew Pitt, which he did remorselessly. But not before Troy Bayliss finished battling with Haga and Walker and set off after the lead. Lap ten saw the Australian clear to chase Toseland, and it didn't take him very long to catch the Englishman. But catching and passing, as you will so often hear, are two different things. Especially when you're trying to pass someone as quick and determined as James Toseland. Lap fourteen saw Bayliss make the pass, with Toseland coming straight back with an extremely forceful move on the next lap to reclaim his place. And so it continued until, on lap eighteen, Bayliss overcommitted to a corner, locked the front and simply crashed out. Somehow the Ducati either kept running or could be restarted, and Bayliss rejoined a distant twelfth. Which just left Toseland to go and take the win from Pitt. And so it should have been, expect that the superheated track had more tricks up its sleeve. Accelerating out of the hairpin and through the fast left kink afterwards, the rear of Toseland's Honda lost grip and broke away. It took all his considerable skill to catch the slide, but although the young Englishman managed to stay upright he was unable to avoid a trip across the gravel trap. That gravel trap is huge and it took what seemed an age for him to rejoin the circuit, having ceded four places in the process. Vibration afterwards made it impossible for Toseland to maintain his previous pace and he struggled, ultimately unsuccessfully, to maintain sixth from Fabrizio and Lanzi.

Andrew Pitt rode an inch perfect race for a deserved first win...So up at the front of a rather depleted pack, Haga and Walker carried on fighting for second while Pitt made hay and space. But while the scrap for second got more and more heated, Alex Barros made the most of the fact that neither Haga nor Walker would be concentrating on what was going on behind them very much and closed right up with them. And, on lap twenty, he struck, leapfrogging from fourth to second in one hit, showing spectacular style in the process. And there he stayed, while Walker and Haga continued to slug it out for the last podium in race long, no quarter fight which was finally decided in Haga's favour. Behind the lead group, Yukio Kagayama had been steadily closing, and would certainly have been in the fray had the race lasted another couple of laps. As it was, the Japanese rider had to settle for fifth ahead of Michel Fabrizio on the DFX Honda, Lanzi on the works Ducati, Toseland and Xaus with Fabian Foret rounding out the top ten. Pitt, meantime, cruised to a relaxed and impeccable win.

The championship has been shaken up a little, with Bayliss' lead at least reduced. Haga now sits in second place, much to Toseland's chagrin, while the Englishman is three points adrift. Brno is next, a circuit which only Haga and Corser have won at. History, of course, is no indicator of future performance. Bayliss will be quick there for sure though without the benefit of circuit knowledge. Toseland has a second place there, so maybe it's the place for Bayliss' relentless advance to be stopped.

Who knows?

SB

Race One

1 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
2 James Toseland (Honda)
3 Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki)
4 Alex Barros (Honda)
5 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
6 Regis Laconi (Kawasaki)
7 Lorenzo Lanzi (Ducati)
8 Fonsi Nieto (Kawasaki)
9 Ruben Xaus (Ducati)
10 Norick Abe (Yamaha)

Race Two

1 Andrew Pitt (Yamaha)
2 Alex Barros (Honda)
3 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
4 Chris Walker (Kawasaki)
5 Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki)
6 Michel Fabrizio (Honda)
7 Lorenzo Lanzi (Ducati)
8 James Toseland (Honda)
9 Ruben Xaus (Ducati)
10 Fabian Foret (Suzuki)

Championship Standing after six rounds:

1 Troy Bayliss 254
2 Nori Haga 160
3 James Toseland 157
4 Troy Corser 149
5 Alex Barros 146
6 Andrew Pitt 128
7 Lorenzo Lanzi 80
8 Ruben Xaus 70
9 Chris Walker 64
10 Fonsi Nieto 61

 

 




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