Just like buses. . .

SBK Phillip Island, 2008

Words by Simon Bradley, pictures as credited

Max Biaggi seems to have taken to the Ducati, despite it being a very diffeent machine to ride. Certainly he looks good on it, anyway...Yes, you wait ages for a Superbike race and then two come along together. Or in this case, just a week apart. Well, a week and 7500 miles. It's a long way from Qatar to Phillip Island, and the circuits are, in so many ways, a world apart. From the beautifully laid out but artificially sterile desert circuit we find ourselves among the natural splendour of Australia's South Coast. Phillip Island is a real racer's circuit, relatively easy to ride at about ninety percent but incredibly challenging to take at a competitive race pace. And it's a circuit which rewards both track knowledge and accuracy as well as speed. The main straight is long and spectacularly fast, entered from a sweeping left hander and ending up in a fast but notoriously unforgiving right, while the elevation changes which abound can easily unload the bike and contribute to the frequent large and messy highsides which punctuate race meets here. The weather, too, plays a part. Phillip Island is, it should come as no surprise to hear, on the coast and as such is prone to rather changeable climatic conditions. It's frequently windy, often wet and occasionally bitterly cold. Sometimes all on the same day.

Practice and qualifying were dry, which was nice. The two Troys, Bayliss and Corser, made the most of their local knowledge and dominated throughout. Fabrizio showed that he deserves that factory ride by making regular appearances at the sharp end of the timesheets, as did rookie Carlos Checa. If you can call a multiple GP winner a rookie, that is. Xaus and Biaggi also took their Ducatis up to the front, as did the ever improving Jakub Smrz while Haga made a brief foray to the front and then faded, suffering from the battering he received in Qatar last week. Max Neukirchner and Fonsi Nieto were slightly disappointing, and disappointed, neither of them really threatening the front runners, while Yukio Kagayama stayed at home, ruled out of the race with the broken collarbone he collected in race two last week.

Mr Superpole, Troy "smooth as you like" Corser in action.Superpole
was again dry, though all the riders were commenting on the bumpiness of the circuit which robbed them of traction and caused several high profile crashes in the earlier part of the weekend, fortunately without serious injury. And again it was between the two Troys, with Ducati mounted Bayliss taking it by just over six hundredths of a second from an on form andconsistent Corser, out to break his winning drought and get his championship challenge back on track. Michel Fabrizio continued to shine, taking the second Xerox Ducati to the third place on the grid, while Carlos Checa used his circuit knowledge, considerable talent and excellent set up to nab the last front row place. Fonsi Nieto and Max Neukirchner are the second row bookends, sandwiching Jakub Smrz and Nori Haga, whose hot lap was spoilt by a couple of lurid slides that meant he had to back off. The third row was also bookended by team-mates, Russell Holland and Karl Muggeridge having the best qualifying results in memory for the DFX team, with Regis Laconi and Ruben Xaus between them. Max Biaggi deserves a mention after an excellent qualifying ride that saw him go sixth fastest with better to come. Starting out on his Superpole lap, the Ducati gearlever snapped. That puts him sixteenth, the last Superpole qualifier, but should at leats make for some interesting racing as he carves his way through the field. Either that or he'll overdo it and end up either gravel surfing or killing the bike, of course.

Race day started pleasantly warm and dry. Warmup showed little than the fact that nobody seemed to be suffering too many ill effects from either earlier crashes or mechanical derangements, and we looked forward to the races starting with keen anticipation...

But nobody could have anticipated the way that race one started. As the lights went out, Michel Fabrizio stalled on the front row of the grid. Unusual, but not a really big deal. Except when the stalled bike gets clipped by a couple of back markers. First of all Kenan Michel Fabrizio is just about as touch as they come, it seems. He certainly bounces back from adversity quite well...Sofuoglu just clipped the edge of the Ducati as he tried to avoid it. Then Vittorio Iannuzzo, accelerating hard from the back row, hit Fabrizio full on at around eightly miles per hour. The impact was sufifcient to shatter the back wheel of the Ducati and to rip Fabrizio's right boot clean off. Iannuzzo, meantime, was flipped off his bike and landed hard. Underneath his bike. Inevitably the red flags came out, immediately followed by another huge crash as Russell Holland (I think) rear ended Carlos Checa at the top of Lukie Heights, firing him into the grass and taking both Kiyonari and Sofuoglu off the track as well. Hannspree Ten Kate's season hasn't, it's fair to say, got off to the best start yet. While Fabrizio was battered and sore but able to restart, the luckless Ianuzzo was hospitalised with a broken wrist.

The restart went smoothly, with Troy Bayliss getting the holeshot from Corser and Haga. Nieto and Neukirchner made strong starts as well. Bayliss made the most of the Ducati's performanc, opening a slight gap over the pursuing Yamahas, with neither Haga not Corser giving an inch. Further back, Biaggi was making huge progress and Regis Laconi too showing how circuit knowledge pays. Three laps in and Bayliss had extended a clear lead while Max Neukirchner simply powered past both Haga and Corser to take second. Another rider mixing huge talent with circuit knowledge was Carlos Checa, who sliced through the field with aplomb. Haga, still carrying injuries from last wek, started to fade early , dropping back into the clutches of the following pack and promptly being devoured. Interestingly, both Biaggi and Checa, as MotoGP refugees, made their moves in the same place, cleanly and with no possible comeback, dropping into the MG turn.

A couple of laps earlier. Or is it later. Either way, the Xaus/Fabrizio battle was ongoing and ferocious. While Bayliss pulled away in front, a huge scrap ensued for second place, dominated by Corser, Checa and Biaggi with Fabrizio, clearly unhampered by his unpleasant start, and Neukirchner within a fraction of a second. Biaggi really rode a fabulous race, taking second place within ten laps, climbing from sixteenth on the grid. Some seriously aggressive riding in the front pack saw places swapped along with paintwork and, I suspect, some strong language as well. But at the front, Bayliss was just romping away. Max Biaggi, though, managed to break away from the pack slightly and immediately set about hunting the Australian down. And it looked as though he was going to manage it for a while, before overcooking it and throwing the Sterilgarda Ducati into the gravel. Some extremely, um robust riding by Michel Fabrizio saw him take second for a while before Troy Corser, riding so far beyond the limit that it was really quite scary, took second place back and held onto it in a welter of lurid slides. Fabrizio and Xaus then had an extremely physical battle for the last podium place, the factory rider finally coming out on top.

Race two started with an historic event. Troy Corser became the most prolific rider in World Superbikes history, starting his two hundred and seventy ninth start. And it rapidly turned into a start he'd rather forget, too as in a remarkable joint cock-up, no less that four riders jumped the lights, Corser among them. Proof indeed that even the most experienced can make mistakes, though in fairness the starting lights were held on for an incredibly long time. But Corser compounded theerror by then stopping and gaining no advantage at all. In fact it ruined his rhythm completely and handed the holeshot to Troy Bayliss, followed by Nieto and Haga with Xaus and Fonsi Nieto is another rider who has really come into his own now that someone has given him a good bike. Here he holds off Biaggi, Fabrizio and Xaus, and still manages to keep it looking tidy, too.Checa snapping at their heels, closely followed by Karl Muggeridge making a welcome return towards the front of the pack. Just into lap two and Troy Corser made the mother of all overtakes, slicing past Haga then diving inside both Nieto and Bayliss to take a clean lead in what has to be the highlight move of the season so far. Neukirchner had a dreadful couple of laps, dropping way back and being overtaken by Regis Laconi, though the Frenchman had to endure a ride-through penalty for his jump start, along with Roby Rolfo and Michel Fabrizio. Lap five and the four ride throughs had just been announced when Corser, leading and looking comfortable at the front, lost the front on what appeared to be oil or coolant and slid off into the gravel, unhurt but distinctly unimpressed. Which left Troy Bayliss in the lead. A situation which the Australian proceeded to capitalise on as he would up the pressure and simply pulled away from the chasing pack. Max Biaggi, storming up from his lowly start, looked as though he might be able to challenge the Xerox rider when, moving for an outbraking attempt on second placed Fonsi Nieto at the end of the straight, the Italian appeared to change his mind and lost control of the Ducati in an attempt to avoid skittling the Suzuki rider as well as himself. A huge and very violent crash ensued that utterly totalled the Ducati, which went high into the air and landed hard and messily just inches from the rider, while Biaggi broke his wrist. Now it was down to Xaus to try for the podium, and he went for it in the only way he knows how. And soon the two became three as Carlos Checa joined in this pan Iberian scrap for honours. This time it was Checa who prevailed, slicing through neatly and again setting off after Bayliss, while the other two continued to swap places and paint as before. I suspect this is going to be a common sight this season, to be honest.

Troy Corser rode to, and indeed beyond, the ragged edge in an inspired display that should have netted him more points than it did...A little further back, Kenan Sofuoglu was riding a fantastic race, as was his team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari. Sofuoglu got himself all the way up to fifth before eventually succumbing to the incredible pressure of having Nori Haga, Max Neukirchner and quite a lot more of the field breathing down his neck. Neukirchner breezed past on power while Haga got through around the outside in an overtake that I honestly don't believe anyone else could have pulled off. Or, indeed, would have tried. But anyway. At the front, Bayliss cruised to a comfortable victory, matching any attempt that Checa made to close the gap and then raising the stakes a little each time. Checa rode a faultless race to take a well earned first Honda podium of the season while Nieto just managed to hold Xaus off for the final step. Sofuoglu yielded a few more places, ending up just a couple of hundredths of asecond behind Muggeridge, who rode a stalwart race to take tenth behind his rookie team-mate Holland. Greg Lavilla did brilliantly on the Paul Bird Honda, finally seeming to have gelled with the Pirelli tyres while Haga had to give the best to another wild Japanese rider, current British champion Ryuichi Kiyonari on the Hannspree Honda.

So Bayliss, who has announced his retirement at the end of this season, made it five straight wins in a row at his local track. One heck of an achievement given the competition, especially with a supposedly below par bike last year and some seriously quick similar machinery this year. If he keeps going at this rate he'll be in with a shot at Carl Fogarty's "most SBK wins" title as well, needing (by my maths) just sixteen more wins to get it. I'm not about to bet against him or the seemingly invincible Ducati.

Next round is Valencia in four weeks time, and we'll be there in force. I can't wait...

Troy Bayliss spent the whole weekend looking as relaxed and unflustered as someone out for a sunday stroll. Just a very fast Sunday stroll...Race One

1 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
2 Troy Corser (Yamaha)
3 Michel Fabrizio (Ducati)
4 Ruben Xaus (Ducati)
5 Fonsi Nieto (Suzuki)
6 Carlos Checa (Honda)
7 Max Neukirchner (Suzuki)
8 Nori Haga (Yamaha)
9 Ryuichi Kiyonari (Honda)
10 Roby Rolfo (Honda)

Race Two

1 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
2 Carlos Checa (Honda)
3 Fonsi Nieto (Suzuki)
4 Ruben Xaus (Ducati)
5 Max Neukirchner (Suzuki)
6 Ryuichi Kiyonari (Honda)
7 Nori Haga (Yamaha)
8 Gregorio Lavilla (Honda)
9 Russell Holland (Honda)
10 Karl Muggeridge (Honda)

Championship Standing after two rounds:

1 Troy Bayliss 88
2 Fonsi Nieto 61
3 Ruben Xaus 59
4 Troy Corser 45
5 Carlos Checa 45
6 Max Neukirchner39
7 Max Biaggi 36
8 Michel Fabrizio 18
9 Noriuki Haga 22
10 Gregorio Lavilla 18




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