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the Monza mash

Words by Simon Bradley, pictures as credited

Steve Martin about to be swallowed up by slower riders on faster bikes...Monza's Citadel of Speed is a contradictory circuit. On the one hand it can offer nailbitingly close finishes as riders test grip, power and the size of their cojones in a drag race around the last turn - The Parabolica - and up to the line. But on the other hand, the circuit itself is not especially exciting and racing often gets rather strung out. So it's quite common to have moments of extreme excitement, sometimes for the wrong reason like Akira Yanagawa's spectacular fireball at the Ascari chicane, sometimes for the right reasons like Bayliss and Edwards' race long duel; but often tempered with long periods of not very much happening.

But the atmosphere is electric as very few nations support motorcycle racing more fervently than the Italians.

Qualifying got exciting as an unseasonal drizzle affected some of the times as well as testing the riders' courage and skill to the limit. Monza is very fast, with two of the quickest corners on the calendar, and finding yourself running out of grip as you accelerate through a corner that you've turned in to at over a hundred miles per hour is something guaranteed to separate the men from the boys. Haga made the running from Bayliss, Corser and Toseland, with Laconi, Barros, Pitt and Xaus all within a second of the Japanese rider's time. Saturday saw more of the same, though with better weather allowing quicker times with the top nine riders within a second of Corser, the leader.Bayliss starts to make the break in race one. Good to see Muggas in there again, though...

But qualifying is only really there to decide who gets into Superpole and to sort out the rest of the field. And Superpole is always a different story. Troy Bayliss seemed to have done enough, with a scorching 1'46.36" lap which put him comfortably clear at the top. But Corser isn't known as Mr Superpole for nothing, and he blitzed the circuit in the fastest time ever recorded by a superbike at Monza, over half a second quicker than his previous best. Alex Barros did well, putting the Klaffi Honda into third place while the front row was rounded off by Kawasaki mounted Regis Laconi. Chris Walker, on the second PSG-1 Kawasaki, headed up row two from Andrew Pitt, a newly returned and eager for action Karl Muggeridge and James Toseland, while the top ten was closed out by Yukio Kagayama, who survived a major scare on his hot lap when he nearly flipped the Suzuki under braking, and a surprisingly out of sorts Nori Haga.

Monza has been changed over the years. There used to be a straight run out of the Parabolica, past the pits, across the line and into Curva Grande at some crazy speed. Then it was another flat out drag up to the Lesmo bends before running round a long, flat out left hander onto the straight which leads down to the Parabolica, approaching again at some pretty insane speed. This, it was decided, was a little too dangerous, so a number of chicanes were installed, first after Curva Grande to slow the approach to Lesmo 1, then at Ascari to slow things down before getting onto the run down to the Parabolica, and finally after the start line to slow the approach to Curva Grande. It's this last one that causes all the excitement.

The safety improvements aren't always totally effective...Race One saw Corser capitalise on his pole position and lead the pack off the line, followed by Bayliss, Muggeridge and Haga, who made a storming start. But further down the field a great pileup occurred as, I think, Michel Fabrizio lost it going into the first chicane and simply skittled six other bikes. I say I think because it might have been Nieto who went down first. Or Nannelli. Or Xaus. Either way, all of these riders plus an already very battered Norick Abe, Vittorio Iannuzzo and Max Neukirchner ended up in a heap by the side of (and, in some cases, on) the track. Nobody was badly hurt, which is a Good Thing, but it certainly created something of a gap between the group in front of the crash and the group behind, who had to pick their way through the chaos.

Anyway, back up at the front Corser lost the lead to Bayliss on the second lap while Muggas got the better of both of them to take the lead on lap three before yielding again to Bayliss' Ducati. And that's when the race got less interesting at the very front as Bayliss extended a yawning lead over Corser who was now embroiled in a battle with Haga and new lap record holder Alex Barros. Karl Muggeridge felt the effects of his reduced fitness (remember he was pretty seriously injured a few weeks ago) and gradually dropped off the pace while James Toseland fought his way up from a lowly start to hook onto the back of the fight for second. And then it all settled down. Both FPR bikes, already hopelessly outgunned down Monza's flat out straights, retired with mechanical problems. Kagayama, dicing with Toseland, clipped the Englishman after Toseland had a near highside and unfortunately lost the front and went down as a result. But it wasn't all plain sailing for the Englishman, who was riding the wheels off the Ten Kate Honda. Halfway through the penultimate lap a huge tankslapper exiting Ascari looked pretty exciting, but the entrance to Parabolica got a whole lot worse as the young Englishman ran in way too fast, hit the grass and went down hard, landing on his head and neck. Paddock gossip suggests that the tankslapper had banged the brake pads back into the calipers so he had no brakes when he went for them. But I'd have expected a rider as experienced as James to have dealt with that as soon as he was back under control by just taking a quick squeeze to make sure everything was OK and to reset the pads if they needed it. So either he made a mistake or something else went wrong. Either way, a very sore neck and a mouthful of gravel was poor reward for the commitment and effort he put in.

Race two was this close for a lot of the time. Bayliss leads Corser from Haga and ToselandBayliss cruised home nearly four seconds ahead of Alex Barros who pipped Corser into third. Haga was just squeezed off the podium, while Andrew Pitt finished nine seconds further back, just in front of Muggeridge with Laconi half a second behind them. Another five seconds saw Rolfo come in six seconds in front of factory Ducati rider Lorenzo Lanzi while Shinichi Nakatomi made a welcome visit to the top ten.

A few changes in various pit garages took place during the break, and by race two it looked as though things might just get a bit closer. And this seemed to be the case as Corser this time took and held the lead from pole, followed by Haga and Toseland, who made a fantastic start and seemed to be little affected by his earlier off. A couple of laps dicing eventually saw the Englishman passed by Bayliss under braking for that first chicane, having retaken third once already, but the group stayed quite tight and nobody seemed able to make the break. Bayliss eventually got to the front, again using the superior braking performance of the Ducati, allied to its huge mid corner acceleration to pass both Haga and Corser. But he didn't run away like before, even being re-passed by Corser twice before managing to create at least a little clear air. But the real man to watch was Alex Barros who, after making a truly appalling start, was now scything his way through the field like a trackday instructor trying to prove a point. And indeed by midway he was up into sixth and was soon homing in on the back of Toseland in fourth. Laconi saw a reversal of fortune as the very fast Kawasaki, with a different engine to the rest of the team, expired after just a couple of laps, while again the FPR team suffered a brace of retirements. Yukio Kagayama's weekend didn't improve as this time mechanical derangements took him out of the running, while Toseland, running well in a solid fourth place, ran out of fuel halfway down the last straight on the last lap, allowing Barros past to relegate him to fifth.

Bayliss took his fifth consecutive race victory, doing the double for the third time out of four visits to Monza. Corser followed him home with Haga taking third. Pitt again beat Muggeridge, this time for sixth, while Nieto and Walker brought their Kawasakis home eighth and ninth. Roberto Rolfo rounded off a good weekend's work by taking tenth.

So not the best or most exciting race we've ever seen, though the action was certainly intense when it happened. Next time we're at Silverstone for the first British round and it should be good. last year young Toseland silenced the critics with a staggering performance, and we know that there are plenty of riders and bikes capable of doing the business there. It should be great...


It was like this for Bayliss quite a lot in race one...Race One

1 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
2 A Barros (Honda)
3 Troy Corser (Suzuki)
4 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
5 Andrew Pitt (Yamaha)
6 K Muggeridge (Honda)
7 Regis Laconi (Kawasaki)
8 R Rolfo (Ducati)
9 Lorenzo Lanzi (Ducati)
10 S Nakatomi (Yamaha)

Race Two

1 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
2 Troy Corser (Suzuki)
3 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
4 A Barros (Honda)
5 J Toseland (Honda)
6 Andrew Pitt (Yamaha)
7 K Muggeridge (Honda)
8 Fonsi Nieto (Kawasaki)
9 Chris Walker (Kawasaki)
10 R Rolfo (Ducati)

Championship Standing after three rounds:

1 Troy Bayliss 175
2 Troy Corser 139
3 James Toseland 97
4 Alex Barros 95
5 Nori Haga 93
6 Andrew Pitt 79
7 Lorenzo Lanzi 59
8 R Rolfo 46
9 Norick Abe 40
10 F Nieto 37



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