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The rain in england falls mainly on. . .

Words by Simon Bradley, pictures by simon bradley and Richard Handley

Qualifying saw the track start to dry out, partly helped , I suspect, by the Kawasaki flame-thrower. Here, Chris Walker splashes around behind Yukio Kagayama on a  circuit which  had already dried quite a lot......Silverstone. It used to be an airfield, in common with many other UK circuits, and as a result is a little exposed. It gets the best and worst of the weather, frequently in the space of one day. And so it transpired this weekend as rain squalls and high winds alternated with blue skies and balmy conditions to produce a mix that kept everyone on their toes.

Friday qualifying turned into a bit of a mess as the drying track caught out several riders. Damp patches just off the main line caused a string of crashes, particularly at Brooklands - the left hander before the chicane. In a short few moments, James Toseland highsided the Ten Kate Honda, followed by Troy Bayliss who landed hard. In a show of sportsmanship typical of the series, Toseland stayed in harms way to help Bayliss up and flag down the other riders before a marshal was able to get to the scene. Almost as soon as they cleared the scene, Chris Walker crashed in the same place, happily without injury. It seems that moisture is drawn up through the track by the pressure of tyres going over, and because it's not on the regular line then there isn't enough traffic to clear it. Surprisingly, though, Bayliss remounted and managed to turn in a provisional pole. Not bad for a man who crashed out twice in the same session...

Saturday was worse, with heavy rain all morning. Qualifying was, well, a wash-out. A very depleted field splashed around the waterlogged circuit with many riders electing not to come out at all unless they really needed to.

A few moments of semi lightening sky gave us high hopes for Superpole, but the rain hadn't eased off at all for the last free practice session - simply an opportunity for those who hadn't come out earlier to get dialled in to their wet settings. An impressive performance saw BSB wildcard Tommy Hill top the timesheets for a while before being ousted by Bayliss. And still the rain came down, despite the strong hints that it may stop any moment...

Karl Muggeridge gets about as out of shape as possible without actually falling off. Note the concentration - this is a man who is not having a good time...Superpole, because of the wet conditions, wasn't the usual one lap. Instead the riders had a 50 minute window and a maximum of twelve laps to set their qualifying time. It had stopped raining and started to dry out but that didn't stop Sebastien Gimbert throwing the Yamaha down the track so fast that his crash didn't actually finish until the next corner. And it was uphill, too. Lap times started to come down but it was the local talent in the form of Chris Walker and Tommy Hill who were really making the running, none of the normally favoured riders being able to get really close. And despite Hill coming off with a couple of laps still to go, it was the Virgin Yamaha wildcard rider who finished up on pole, with Bayliss managing to put in a late spurt to take second from Walker and Haga. Toseland, still distinctly second hand after his crashes on Friday, was a distant and plainly uncomfortable fourteenth - a yawning three seconds off the pace. It's not all his fault though, as the Ten Kate Honda was clearly struggling for grip under both Toseland and a back on form Muggeridge. So the grid consisted of Hill, Bayliss, Walker and Haga on the front row, ahead of Fabrizio, who had been flying all weekend, Barros, Xaus and Muggeridge. Row three had Laconi ahead of Corser, who really didn't get on well at all, Pitt and Gimbert. Kagayama was the only injury of the day, though it happily transpired that rumours of broken bones were exaggerated.

So race day dawned, as expected, clear and bright and dry. Nothing like going racing with no practice for the conditions, is there? The warm-up session was interesting to say the least, the main change of note being that Toseland was riding with at least some sign of his old form and turned in consistent top five times. And the clouds stayed away.

Hey sport, you heard the one about... Toseland and Muggeridge have a chat on the way into the chicane.  Or not...With such fine conditions, so unlike practice, the start was always going to be interesting. But nobody could possibly guess just how interesting. As the pack approached the first corner, Corser got rammed from behind and highsided, taking out Barros, Nieto and Foret. I think. Either way, there was a huge pileup with bikes on fire - the whole nine yards. Barros gets the award for the luckiest man in the paddock as he actually jumped over his burning bike which was sliding towards him - heaven only knows what would have happened if he had got it wrong. Inevitably the red flag came out and the race was stopped, much to the chagrin of James Toseland who had made a blinding start. To make things more exciting, before the red flags came out Craig Jones crashed at high speed. The young FPR rider's concussion meant that he was suffering from double vision on the grid and so wasn't safe to take the restart.

When chicanes bite back -  Corser bites the dust in race one.James Toseland again made a fantastic start, making up several places in the first lap while pole sitter Tommy Hill went backwards, ending the lap in tenth place. So the end of the first lap saw Haga pulling a lead out on Bayliss with Walker and Xaus in hot pursuit. Corser made a slow start, just ahead of Muggeridge and Toseland with Pitt and Laconi behind. Lap two saw a completely out of character error by Corser, the champion losing the front and crashing out at the chicane. Though he remounted, to the delight of the crowd, the gap was so great that he ran a couple of laps and then retired. The two men on the move were Xaus and Toseland, the two former works Ducati riders carving through the field with Xaus climbing as high as second place, ahead of Bayliss, while Haga continued to pull clear. But after half a dozen laps or so Bayliss clearly got into his rhythm and got his head down. Lap nineteen saw Bayliss take the lead for a while after dispensing with Xaus a few laps before. Haga fought back to retake the lead several times before Bayliss finally managed to make a pass stick and pulled away to take a clear victory.

Xaus tried but wasn't able  to get any closer than this...Behind the lead pair, though, Toseland had really got the bit between his teeth. A neat overtake on his team-mate was followed by some fabulously fast laps and some really classy though rather aggressive passes to bring him through the field and up to third place. A few more laps would have seen him right up with Haga, but it wasn't to be and the fourteenth place starter had to content himself with third place - a magnificent achievement in itself after the trials of qualifying. Andrew Pitt rode an excellent race to take and hold fifth place from Walker whose challenge started to fade as the big Kawasaki sapped his energy. Laconi held off a race long challenge from a determined and on form Karl Muggeridge to take seventh while Alex Barros climbed back into the top ten to take ninth ahead of Norick Abe. Tommy Hill finished just outside the top ten in twelfth - a brilliant performance from a semi-privateer rider who only came into Superbikes a year ago.

Race two saw the sun keep shining, the track stay warm and Chris Walker make one of his celebrated Stalker starts from Bayliss and Haga. Toseland replicated his excellent off the line performance to complete the first lap in seventh place while Tommy Hill did well to settle in fourth ahead of Corser. Muggeridge ended the first lap ahead of Toseland, but a gentlemanly yet firm pass saw the young Englishman move up the table by lap two. Xaus, Pitt and Fabrizio formed an unruly bundle rounding out the top ten. Walker's briliant start and phenomenal pace through the back of the circuit saw him hold the lead for a couple of laps before being passed by Haga, who had taken Bayliss earlier the same lap. Some extremely robust riding by Walker kept Bayliss behind him for a while, as indeed it had made Walker sportingly gives Bayliss a ride. Complete with his very hard indeed for Haga to pass in the first place, but eventually the Ducati rider was able to get through on the brakes and set off after Haga. And it only took one lap for Bayliss to hunt down, catch and pass Haga for the lead, and despite a brief upset on lap sixteen, that's where he stayed until the chequered flag in a masterly display of exactly why Ducati don't need another 200cc to remain competitive. Tommy Hill managed to stay ahead of Corser for two laps before the world champion came past, hotly pursued by Toseland and Muggeridge, while Pitt and Xaus came past a lap later. Barros relegated the British wildcard a further place, whil Laconi did the same a few laps later. Hill settled into a steady pace, coming off distinctly the better in a long term dice with Norick Abe, and was starting to close back up on Nieto for a while before, I suspect, running out of tyres and dropping off the pace to finish a still highly respectable twelfth again.

Up towards the front of the field again, Toseland finally managed to break away from his team-mate passing Pitt, Corser and Walker to get back into third place. Pitt looked threatening for a while, but never managed to get close enough to make a challenge and faded towards the end, finally finishing two and a half seconds back. Bayliss and Haga were in a class of their own, opening a massive ten second lead over Toseland who was riding incredibly smoothly and was showing all the signs of being right back on the form which won him a title. I am certain that, had he qualified better, he would have led, and possibly won, both races from the off. But it wasn't to be.

Chris Walker, who had started so well, gradually slipped down the field despite his best efforts, and though his riding was extremely spirited he was unable to prevent first Toseland, then Pitt and Barros coming past. A heated tussle with Xaus which saw positions swap more than once, was decided in favour of the Ducati rider and Corser eventually managed to muscle through as well to salvage the best he could from the weekend. Muggeridge faded a little towards the end too, dropping to ninth but closing on Walker while remaining comfortably ahead of tenth placed Fonsi Nieto.

...and the ladies went wild...The end of race celebrations were fantastic, as Hill and Walker pulled over to the side of the track to treat their loyal and noisy fans to a synchronised burnout. Toseland went one better, leaving his bike with a marshal and jumping the fence into the crowd and reappearing a few moments later without any clothes on.

So an appalling weekend for Foggy Petronas saw them gain no points whatsoever as Steve Martin retired from both races ans Craig Jones didn't start. An almost as bad outing for Suzuki saw World Champion Troy Corser pick up just ten points while Kagayama took nothing but a lot of bruising away with him. As far as the championship goes, though, it's a mixed story. Bayliss has extended his lead at the top while Corser has slipped back towards the chasing pack. Haga has overhauled Toseland to take third place by a narrow margin, while the Englishman has done his title hopes no harm at all with a good solid performance.

Misano is next, and it should be interesting. All the top runners have had varied experiences there so I'm not making any bets. Except that it will be great, that is...


Race OneBayliss has his own version of the Kawasaki flame thrower...

1 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
2 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
3 James Toseland (Honda)
4 Ruben Xaus (Ducati)
5 Andrew Pitt (Yamaha)
6 Chris Walker (Kawasaki)
7 Regis Laconi (Kawasaki)
8 Karl Muggeridge (Honda)
9 Alex Barros (Honda)
10 Norick Abe (Yamaha)

Race Two

1 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
2 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
3 James Toseland (Honda)
4 Andrew Pitt(Yamaha)
5 Alex Barros (Honda)
6 Troy Corser (Suzuki)
7 Ruben Xaus (Ducati)
8 Chris Walker (Kawasaki)
9 Karl Muggeridge (Honda)
10 Fonsi Nieto (Kawasaki)

Championship Standing after five rounds:

1 Troy Bayliss 225
2 Troy Corser 149
3 Nori Haga 133
4 James Toseland 129
5 Alex Barros 113
6 Andrew Pitt 103
7 Lorenzo Lanzi 62
8 Ruben Xaus 56
9 Norick Abe 51
10 Chris Walker 51



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