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scusa, dove il parco di monza ?

Words by Laura Bradley, pictures by Simon Bradley & Richard Handley

Max Biaggi, local hero, brilliant rider and surprisingly nice bloke...Monza, where the sun is shining and the motorbike noises never sleep and the roads never get you to the right places. As we all know, the Italians love their racing, so wherever on the stands you look there are seas of waving, screaming and shouting people who, like all racing lovers, want to see some good close racing.

And where else would you get that great racing than here? Monza is one of the oldest, most evocative circuits there is. The old banked track is still here, and you can almost feel the history - and the ghosts - reaching out to you from the crumbling concrete and rusting armco. The current track, of course, is rather less intimidating. And has been made less so over the years as more chicanes have been introduced to slow things down. Even so, two of the most daunting corners in the world - Curva Grande and The Parabolica - are still here and still as scary as ever.

Last year James Toseland had a high speed crash here in one race and then finished fifth in the other - not his best result of the year - but this year he has come as a favourite for the crowds and the bookies, and has been on the case of anybody who dares overtake him on the time sheets.

Free practice and first qualifying on Friday saw the Englishman cement his position at the top of the table, running both fast and consistently, which boded well for the rest of the weekend. Saturday saw an increase in temperature, which always changes things a little, and the timesheets saw a surprise return to form from Regis Laconi who put himself at the top very shortly before highsiding at Prima Variante - that great safety improvement which always sees highsides and carnage in the first few laps of any race but does slow riders down a little before Curva Grande. The Frenchman was fortunately uninjured so took his place as the last rider to go out for Superpole, ahead of Toseland. Which probably made Laconi smile while straining the entente cordiale just a little.

So superpole started with Lorenzo Lanzi, who did a fast lap and held pole position from the next rider out, Marco Borciani...but then Kagayama went even faster and held the top spot over Nieto, Xaus, Neukirchner, Brookes and Fabrizio, who all were on the case and riding well. However Kagayama's reign at the top spot was short lived for, after Michel Fabrizio came in, Muggeridge did a fantastic and unexpectedly fast lap which put him in pole. Sadly Bayliss got a faster time on his lap and he held superpole through Troy Corser, Roby Rolfo Regis Laconi also made a return to the top of the timesheets and foundsome of the form that has deserted him for so long...and Max Biaggi's laps. Haga immediately showed that he meant business by racing through the track as if his life depended on it, and had it have done, his life would have been spared because he kept and held superpole. Toseland, despite being on the case and fast, ended up fifth on the grid after overcooking it at Prima Variante and doing well to remain on the bike, and Laconi ended up seventh, leaving the standings Haga, Bayliss, Biaggi and Corser making up the front row and Toseland, Muggeridge, Laconi and Kagayama making up the second row. Considering that it was Toseland's very good fortune that emphasised Muggeridge's bad luck last season and lost him his ride with Ten Kate Honda, it could be interesting to see how Muggas gets his own back on his ex team mate when they're placed next to each other on the grid.

Race day turned out to be slightly cooler than Saturday though still rather warm and sticky. Tyres might well prove to be a problem as lots of the teams were huddled in their pit boxes trying to make last minute decisions after warmup.

Race One started with Biaggi taking the lead, Lanzi made a brave attempt to overtake him and then ran off track, but he was very quick before that... Roby Rolfo impressed the crowds by joining Kagayama to overtake Biaggi on the first lap and seeing this Toseland decided to join the party and overtake Biaggi as well. The battle of the team mates commenced as Toseland overtook Kagayama and started to chase fellow Ten Kate Honda rider Roby Rolfo, whilst behind them the two factory Suzukis, Biaggi and Kagayama, battled for third. Behind Biaggi and Kagayama team mates Troy Corser and Nori Haga were also battling for fifth place. Roby Rolfo, although giving an impressive performance so far, seemed no match for Toseland as he yielded first place, leaving Biaggi to take Kagayama who in turn had just overtaken Corser, ending the battle of the team mates! So at the beginning on lap two the standings showed Toseland in first place and followed by Rolfo, Haga, Biaggi, Kagayama and Corser.

James Toseland held first place for a long time but out of the blue Haga took Rolfo and was immediately on the young Brit's heels. Rolfo was not going to lie down and let Haga past and worked very hard to overtake him again, but sadly Haga retook Rolfo and once again started pursuit of the main man – Toseland. And that was the story that saw the battle between James Toseland and Nori Haga commence, and despite Haga's greatest efforts every time he tried to overtake Toseland would take it immediately back, as if Toseland was teasing Haga as one would hold food just out of reach of a hungry dog.

Roby Rolfo is immensely popular at home rounds, and it's fair to say that today he did his fans proud. Now if only he could do it for the rest of the season...At this point in the race it seemed that it was going to be a constant battle between the Hondas, Yamahas and Suzukis but as if by magic Bayliss had suddenly appeared and overtaken Kagayama – there is no way this world champion was losing his title without a fight. But back to first, Haga kept trying to overtake Toseland but never seemed to get far ahead enough to keep it. Everything about Toseland's riding made it plain that he really wanted that win and he was prepared to work for it. However Haga's constant efforts paid off as he took Toseland. As seems quite common with these two, they actually brushed each other but Toseland was having none of that and took Haga back on the next corner. Haga's luck came in and he attempted to overtake James again on the third or fourth corner of lap five and stuck in first for a few corners but Toseland caught up again and he and Haga were battling on the brakes and going round corners completely neck and neck. Toseland immediately took advantage of that situation and changed his braking to as late as possible so that he was able to take the lead again. However this retake of the lead was not to last long as Haga took Toseland again at the start of lap six and managed to hold it and even pull a way a bit as Toseland appeared dropped back and was unable to retake Haga, leaving Nitro Nori to make a spectacular comeback and keep the top spot from the potential World Champion.

Whilst this battle for first was happening, the crowd's favourite, Biaggi was holding up in fourth behind Roby Rolfo in front of his home crowd and there was still hope of him getting a podium place. So lap 10 saw Haga in the lead, still followed VERY closely by Toseland, then Rolfo, Biaggi, Bayliss and Kagayama, who was being chased by his ex team mate – Corser. Bayliss, in the meantime, had worked his way up and overtaken Biaggi, much to the home crowd's disgust.

At the start of lap twelve Max Biaggi went off track for a short time, allowing Bayliss to start the pursuit of Roby Rolfo, who had his hands full with trying to overtake his team mate. There seemed to be a problem with the tyres on James Toseland's bike, and lost his second place in the race by lap fifteen. Sadly, the bad fortune was not yet over for Hanspree Ten Kate Honda. With the tyre failure on Toseland's bike Troy Bayliss was able to overtake the young Brit, leaving Toseland to finish fourth, but in the meantime Roby Rolfo was running second and on the last corner of the last lap, he ran out of fuel and ended up finishing seventeenth. So Nori Haga won race one with Troy Bayliss second and Max Biaggi third. Not the best start for Ten Kate Honda.

Race 2 had a shaky start but eventually saw Toseland in front, a promising start for the young brit, followed closely by his old championship rival, and former team-mate, Regis Laconi. Toseland was able to pull away when a battle for second started with Roby Rolfo, Regis Laconi and the two factory Yamaha riders, which at first resulted in Roby taking Laconi, but that didn't last long because Nitro Nori had, once again, crept up towards the front and shortly overtook Laconi before engaging in another battle with Rolfo. Sadly for green fans everywhere, Laconi went back another place after Troy Corser overtook him. So the start of lap 2 saw Toseland in the lead, followed by Rolfo, Haga, Corser and Laconi. Laconi's time in the top five was short lived when local hero Max Biaggi overtook the Frenchman to start the battle for third with Roby and Haga - who had overtaken Rolfo by this point and started off after Toseland - and Troy Bayliss who had also crept up on and passed Laconi. Unfortunately for Ten Kate Honda, Haga seemed to be faster on the bike than Toseland and soon caught him up to start a battle for first place.

James Toseland and Nori Haga like each other's bikes so much they keep swapping bits...While the second round of the Toseland Haga freestyle bike fight went on at the front there was another battle going on between Biaggi, Corser and Rolfo which saw Corser and Biaggi both overtake Rolfo leaving him fifth. Haga took Toseland in a neat overtake and sadly Toseland was not able to take it back, so the end of lap eight saw Haga in first and extending a gap, followed by Toseland, Rolfo, Biaggi, Corser and Bayliss.

The battle for third place was more interesting throughout the rest of the race, with Bayliss having joined the group and overtaking Corser while Biaggi was having a constant battle with Rolfo, who I think it is fair to say was on top form for this round. Richard, our photographer, actually commented on how you could hear the bashing of fairings as the group overtook each other. Despite Rolfo's efforts Bayliss still managed to overtake him and get into fourth place by lap sixteen and start giving Biaggi hassle.

By the final lap Biaggi had caught James Toseland up and attempted to overtake him - which Toseland was of course not about to accept, and immediately took second place back. But the trouble for Toseland came in double doses as Bayliss overtook Biaggi and then overtook Toseland - which, again, Toseland was not going to have and immediately took second back again. So with all this battle going on Nitro Nori had taken over a second lead on Toseland and ended up finishing race two as a winner, the first person to do the double so far this season.

The championship comes back to the UK in two weeks time, when Silverstone hosts the seventh round. The gap at the top is getting smaller and Haga is very, very quick around the Northamptonshire circuit. But Toseland was quicker last year and has the benefit of about sixty thousand people cheering him on as well. Whatever happens, it's sure to be a great race.

Oh, and where is Parco di Monza? Why, it's in Monza, of course...

Nori Haga, the first person this season to do the double and a likely title challenger...Race One

1 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
2 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
3 Max Biaggi (Suzuki)
4 James Toseland (Honda)
5 Troy Corser (Yamaha)
6 Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki)
7 Lorenzo Lanzi (Ducati)
8 Michel Fabrizio (Honda)
9 Karl Muggeridge (Honda)
10 Max Neukirchner (Suzuki)

Race Two

1 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
2 James Toseland (Honda)
3 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
4 Roby Rolfo (Honda)
5 Max Biaggi (Suzuki)
6 Troy Corser (Yamaha)
7 Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki)
8 Regis Laconi (Kawasaki)
9 Karl Muggeridge (Honda)
10 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)

Championship Standing after six rounds:

1 James Toseland 229
2 Nori Haga 194
3 Max Biaggi 191
4Troy Bayliss 164
5 Troy Corser 135
6 Lorenzo Lanzi 107
7 Ruben Xaus 106
8 Max Neukirchner 81
9 Roby Rolfo 77
10 Yukio Kagayama 60



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