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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
after six rounds:
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