drama, pathos, slipstreaming. . . must be monza

SBK Monza, Italy, 10th May 2009

Words: Simon Bradley, Pics: Richard Handley

Fabrizio (nearest us) and Haga doing the old one-two... (Actually Fabrizio had mucked the corner up and haga was going down the inside...)Monza, as we and many others have said many times before, is a circuit steeped in history and drama. Its ghosts are a constant presence as you walk through the trees surrounding the original circuit and the atmosphere is incredible. Italian fans are nothing if not passionate, and their enthusiasm is infectious. It's one of the worst organised events on the calendar and the event staff (as opposed to the SBK regular team who are as professional as always) make life as difficult as possible for the press and anyone else who isn't on their favourite people list, but I'd be amazed if it ever fell off the schedule. One thing, though, is the first chicane. Prima Variante was installed to slow riders down before entering Curva Grande and that's a pretty valid idea - Curva Grande is very fast and not a little scary. But it's also the scene, and cause, of regular crashes as the pack bunch up and smack into each other. We've seen it before and, no doubt, we'll see it again.

Practice was dominated by Michel Fabrizio, the Xerox Ducati rider treating the circuit as his own and simply opening up a class of his own. Of course, the other usual suspects were still in contention, with Spies, Haga, Sykes and Neukirchner all making their presence felt near the top of the timesheets, but it was Fabrizio who sat in the lead and stayed there through practice and the following qualifying sessions as well. Could it be that the young Roman rider was finally finding the form that had been hinted at so many times in the past?

Max Neukirchner - lovely guy and bloody fast, too. Hope he's back with us soon...Of course, Superpole is a different thing entirely. And as has been the case so often this season, it was Ben Spies who took pole after Max Neukirchner topped the first session and Fabrizio the second. The final grid had Spies on pole from Fabrizio, Riyuichi Kiyonari and Max Neukirchner. Haga headed the second row from Rea, Biaggi and Kagayama, while Checa, Sykes, Corser and Laconi made up row three.

On race day the threat of rain, which had materialised on Saturday night in a warm wet fug, had happily faded to no more than a few whispy clouds and the dry weather setups which had been carefully refined by all the teams weren't wasted. But of course that's no guarantee that everything would go to plan.

It didn't.

Even after watching the replays several times over, I'm still not entirely sure how what happened, happened. But approaching the Prima Variante for the first time, somehow there was contact between the front wheel of Tamada's Kawasaki and Brendan Robert's Ducati. The Japanese rider was thrown straight off while Roberts managed to stay upright for a moment, leaving the track on the grass and then coming off in spectacular style. And then it got really messy. Roberts' Ducati obeyed Newton's first law of motion and, unencumbered by the influence of a rider trying to control it, continued in a straight line. The problem, of course, is that the track turns. That's the effect chicanes have, you see. This had a couple of knock-on effects. In the middle of the pack, some serious and rather unmanaged braking was going on as the pilotess Ducati careened past. In the resulting melee, Tommy Hill hit, um, someone or something and his bike cartwheeled into the air, making up several spaces but unfortunately landing on top of Troy Corser's BMW, flattening Corser and reducing the BMW to a flaming wreck which carried on through the rest of the field spreading mayhem as it went. But in front it got worse still.

The restarted race saw 18 laps of this - just the order of the first 3 changed. Regularly...Max Neukirchner had made a great start and was capitalising on it, which would normally be a Good Thing. But Sir Isaac Newton clearly had no respect for racers when he devised his laws of motion. Because unseen by the German, Robert's Ducati was on an intercept course, and as Max peeled into the right hander of the chicane he was torpedoed dead centre, without ever seeing what had hit him. No surprises that the race was red flagged pretty well immediately, with burning wreckage on the track and battered and bruised riders everywhere. What was surprising was that the fina reckoning wasn't much worse. Other than Neukirchner, who was soon confirmed to have a broken femur, there seemed to be no more serious injuries. Roberts, who arguably kicked the whole thing off, ended up with little more than bruises and soft tissue injuries, while Tamada broke his wrist. Not good but not as bad as it might have been.

It took around an hour for everyone to get themselves sorted out properly and a somewhat depleted field lined up for the restart. But when the lights went out this time everyone got away cleanly, with Fabrizio, Haga anKagayamad Spies making the initial break from Kagayama, Biaggi and Laconi. Troy Corser's weekend went from bad to worse as he crashed heavily on the first lap while Xaus made life difficult for himself by cutting the first chicane completely. As is so often the case at Monza, the race soon split into several sub races. At the front. Haga, Fabrizio and Spies were at it hammer and tongs, swapping places and scrapping like club racers for virtualy the whle eighteen laps, none of them able to make the break from the others. A few metres back, Biaggi and Kagayama were joined by Sykes, Rea, Broc Parkes and Kiyonari for another race within a race, while further back still the rest of the field jockeyed for places. Leon Haslam got a dreadful start after qulifying badly but cimbed up to a highly credible ninth before disappearing from the timesheets. Tommy Hil fought hard but dropped back while Shakey Byrne was plagued with mechanical gremlins which stopped him from truly shining.

A couple of laps later - same corner, same action, different order...But up at the front it was absolute flat out no quarter racing. With three laps to go it looked as though the race was Fabrizio's as he extended a bike length's lead, but an amazing pass by Spies pushed the Italian wide and left the door open for Haga to slip through as well. Fabrizio fought back and rather forcefully passed Haga on the approach to Ascari but Spies was long gone. With three or four bike lengths of breathing room, there just wasn't time for anyone to catch him in the remaining two laps. The Ducatis were fighting each other and, although they were closing Spies down slowly they were never going to catch him. Then, as Fabrizio got the fantastic drive out of Ascari that we are used to and really got his head down on the back straight for the dah into The Parabolica, it was all over. Haga, pushing as hard as he was, couldn't stay with his hungry team-mate and the pair of them flashed past a slowing Spies for the Italian to take his first win and for Ducati to get a one-two. Hold on. A slowing Spies? Yes, in a cruel twist of fate Spies ran out of fuel as he turned into The Parabolica for the last time. he was able to coast over the line but dropped from first to fifteenth. That one point may be crusial at some stage, of course, but twenty five would have served him better. So Fabrizio beat Haga with Biaggi in third on the track. Unfortunately, the Aprilia rider had cut a chicane and was deemed to have gained time by it, so he was penalised by twenty seconds, pushing hm outside the top ten and elevating Kyonari, who had ridden an heoic race, to third.

Race two couldn't have been more different. This time it was Spies who got the holeshot, chased by Fabrizio while Haga vanished back into the pack after a truly awful start. Kagayama, though, was going brilliantly in third. Unfortunately he cut a chicane as well and incurred a ride trough penalty as a result, effectively wrecking his podium challenge. Jonathan Rea had no such problem in fourth, his biggest threat comng from his team-mate Kiyonari who had got a much better start and was on the case from the off. Three laps in we saw Haga exit stage left at the entrance to the Parabolica, an extremely fast place to get off. The bike was utterly destroyed, digging into the gravel and being flung into the air, landing on top of the barriers by some rather startled marshalls. We now know that Haga had hit a bird, but whether that accounted for his poor start or his crash or, indeed, both is a mystery

Jonathan Rea leads Tom Sykes with Kiyo bringing up the rear in a BSB reunion...Spies really put the hammer down, turning in a string of blindingly fast laps that saw him extend a lead of over five seconds. But Kiyonari sliced through the pack and was soon scrapping with, and passing, Fabrizio. The young Italian fought back and managed to regain second place but again the Texan was long gone. And this time there was no mistake in the Yamaha pit - Spies crossed the line with fuel to spare, still with a comfortable cushion over Fabrizio, even after backing off around three quarter distance to ensure that the debacle of race one wasn't repeated. Fabrizio and Kiyonari scrapped for most of the race, finishing just fifteen hundredths of a second apart, while Rea remained untroubled by the pursuing Max Biaggi.

So the second race wasn't a true classic like the first, but it has at least closed the title chase up a little, Haga taking twenty points away while Spies garnered twenty six. Kiyonari did himself no harm at all, while Fabrizio may at last have silenced his many critics. He also became the first Itaian to win at Monza since Frankie Chili back in, I think, 2003.

Kyalami in South Africa comes back on the schedule next weekend, and it may well be a belter. We'll have to see. Whatever, though, this looks like a good time to get your Fantasy Superbikes team in...

Ben Spies doing what he does best at Prima VarianteRace One

1 Michel Fabrizio (Ducati)
2 Nori Haga (Ducati)
3 Ryuichi Kiyonari (Honda)
4 Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki)
5 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
6 Tom Sykes (Yamaha)
7 Ruben Xaus (BMW)
8 Regis Laconi (Ducati)
9 Carlos Checa (Honda)
10 Broc Parkes (Kawaaki)

Race Two

1 Ben Spies (Yamaha)
2 Michel Fabrizio (Ducati)
3 Ryuichi Kiyonari (Honda)
4 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
5 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
6 Tom Sykes (Yamaha)
7 Leon Haslam (Honda)
8 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)
9 Ruben Xaus (BMW)
10 Carlos Checa (Honda)

Championship Standing after five rounds:

1 Nori Haga 200
2 Ben Spies 146
3 Michel Fabrizio 125
4 Leon Haslam 103
5 Tom Sykes 91
6 Max Biaggi 81
7 Regis Laconi 77
8 Jonathan Rea 77
9 Max Neukirchner 75
10 Ryuichi Kiyonari 65


PS Don't forget to register for Fantasy Superbikes and get playing for a chance to win great prizes!


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