vintage stuff

SBK Misano, Italy, 21st June 2009

Words: Simon Bradley, Pics: Richard Handley

Jakub Smrz just keeps getitng stronger...Misano, on the beautiful Adriatic coast of Italy, is a wonderful circuit. It's fast and flowing, technical and demanding but riders report that it's easy to get a comfortable rhythm around it and everything just runs together nicely. It's also sunny and warm, dry most of the time and a generally thoroughly nice place to be.

Except when it rains. At which point it all gets a little less pleasant. Because it tends not to rain a bit in Misano. No light drizzle or gentle showers. No, when it rains in Misano it really rains. And it floods. Bear this in mid - it's important.

Practice was hot, dry and dominated by Ducatis, with Fabrizio, Haga, Shakey Byrne and Jakub Smrz all up there at the front. And first qualifying was more of the same, with the Ducatis having a clear edge over Spies' Yamaha. A sharp, heavy cloudburst wrecked anyone's chances of going faster in second qualifying but by the time Superpole came around the track was drying out. Jakub Smrz pulled something special out of the bag to take his first pole ahead of Johnny Rea, who came out of nowhere on the Ten Kate Honda to miss out on pole by just two tenths of a second. Spies managed to take third, the first time this season that he hasn't been on pole, after gettting the Yamaha working better and learning the track, while Fabrizio rounded off the front row. Shakey Byrne headed row two from Haga, Checa and Kiyonari. So a good solid showing, in qualifying anyway, for the Ten Kate and Ducti teams.

Shakey Byrne put the Sterilgarda Ducati back where it belongs...Race day opened with more rain. So much, in fact, that the opening Superstock race was delayed until later on in the day. Though the skies had cleared by the time the Superbikes came out of their heated garages, the track was still extremely wet. Which meant that, for the first time, we would see a Superbike race run under the new flag to flag rules. Previously, you may remember, if conditions changed dramatically during a race then it would get red flagged, everyone would change tyres and reform on the grid in the position they were running when the race was stopped and then there would be a sprint to the end. That's changed, and now we run flag to flag in SBK, the same as in MotoGP. What that means is that a rider is free to come into the pits whenever they wish and change bikes. The caveat is that they must leave the pits with a different tyre combination. So they can't have a mechanical problem, come in and swap bikes. Which is fair enough.

So everyone lined up on the grid on wets. Everyone, that is, apart from Johnny Rea, who had to start from the pitlane following some bike issues. Pretty poor reward for all that work in qualifying. Anyhow, when the lights went out it was Shane Byrne who made the break, putting the Sterilgarda Ducati into the lead and immediately pulling away from the following pack. Jakub Smrz made a great start, slotting into second while Ben Spies could do no better than third on the first lap, pushed back to fourth shortly afterwards by Fabrizio. Fortunes were clearly very mixed, some riders like Byrne shining in the treacherous conditions while others, like Haga, had a torrid time. Spare a thought for Troy Corser, who suffered an electronics glitch on the BMW in the warmup lap that saw him catapulted out of the seat in an almost comically low speed highside which was totally outside his control. Scary.

Race two, and this is about as far apart as the leading trio got...Now with a drying track those wet tyres weren't going to last forever. Riders would need to come in and change, either for full slicks or intermediates. The challenge was to decide exactly when. Rea and Kiyonari both somehow incurred ride through penalties early on, and took them without changing tyres. Shinya Nakano was the first to change, and it was soon apparent that he'd come in too soon as his lap times failed to improve. Haga was next, going back out on an intermediate, a choice that proved to be his undoing later. Ten Kate Honda's race continued to be troublesome as both Rea and Checa struggled to get the bikes running and out of the pits, Checa in particular taking an age to get going again. And all the while, Shakey Byrne was out there, extending his lead. It says a lot for his riding skill that, even when the tyres were totally shot, he was still turning in consistent lap times. But his first lap on slicks was just one second slower and hos second was a full ten seconds faster. We were treated to the magnificent sight of Ruben Xaus running the BMW in the lead for a couple of laps while all this was going on, and going well. But it was Ben Spies who timed the tyre change to perfection, taking the lead on lap eighteen while Shakey was still bedding in his slicks. And though the Ducati rider turned in consistently fast laps, going quicker than the American, the lead was too much and Byrne could do ne better than second. Michel Fabrizio, who rode brilliantly consistently, finally overcame the race long challenges of a detemined Jakub Smrz to take the last podium step. Haga beat Kagayama in the dying stages to finish fifth and gain some points while Johnny Rea must have wondered what might have been had he not had the problems, finishing seventh ahead of Sykes and Nakano. Matt Lagrive, standing in for the injured Tommy Hill, finished tenth, while Xaus, who stayed on wet tyres as it was too late to be worth changing, ended up fourteenth.

Johnny Rea, smashing bloke and a deserving winner.Race two was properly dry and had a full grid. No pitlane starts. Haga took the holeshot this time, with Rea and Fabrizio close on his tail. Smrz and Byrne followed while Spies dropped back rapidly with a bike problem. For once the action took place at the front of the field as Haga yielded to a very determined Johnny Rea on lap four. Fabrizio pushed past his team leader the next lap, and the Ducatis enjoyed a several lap long ding dong battle which gave Rea a little breathing space and ensured that Smrz, Checa and Byrne following (not always in that order) were able to at least stay in touch. Lap seventeen saw Fabrizio sneak through again at the chicane at the end of the start finish straight - the same place as he had passed Haga earlier on. By this stage, Rea had rubber marks all over hos leathers and bike from where one or othe rof the Ducatis had touched him. This was very, very close racing, and all three protagonists were clearly having a ball. On the last lap, Rea managed to blast the Honda back past Fabrizio and, despite some extremely spirited attempts to get back, the Ulsterman held on to take the win by sixty three thousandths of a second, with Haga just four tenths further back. Smrz was a safe fourth while Shakey got beaten into sixth by just five hundedths of a second, Checa coming out ahead. Tom Sykes was the lead Yamaha home, a tenth of a second clear of Leon Haslam, while SPies was half a second further back with a slipper clutch problem. Max Biaggi rounded out the top ten.

Donington next, with the championship looking pretty static now. Spies under pressure from Fabrizio for second, but Haga reasonably safe at the front with more points at this stage than a nyone has ever had before.

Race One

1 Ben Spies (Yamaha)This man loves his bike almost as much as I love mine...
2 Shane Byrne (Ducati)
3 Michel Fabrizio (Ducati)
4 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)
5 Nori Haga (Ducati)
6 Yukiop Kagayama (Suzuki)
7 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
8 Tom Sykes (Yamaha)
9 Shinya Nakano (Aprilia)
10 Matthieu Lagrive (Honda)

Race Two

1 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
2 Michel Fabrizio (Ducati)
3 Nori Haga (Ducati)
4 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)
5 Carlos Checa (Honda)
6 Shane Byrne (Ducati)
7 Tom Sykes (Yamaha)
8 Leon Haslam (Honda)
9 Ben Spies (Yamaha)
10 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)

Championship Standing after eight rounds:

1 Nori Haga 292
2 Ben Spies 244
3 Michel Fabrizio 237
4 Jonathan Rea 167
5 Max Biaggi 135
6 Leon Haslam 134
7 Tom Sykes 130
8 Carlos Checa 109
9 Jakub Smrz 108
10 Ryuichi Kiyonari 98


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