The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, deep in the heart of the splendid Monza parkland, is gearing up for this coming weekend’s fifth round of the Hannspree FIM Superbike World Championship. This classic high-speed appointment has been part of Superbike since 1990 and this year arrives at its 18th edition. With a lap of 5.793 km Monza is the longest circuit on the calendar and its long straights, wide curves and fast chicanes all help to exalt the power of the bikes, which remain at full throttle for over 50% of the lap.
Monza has been the scene for many epic slip-streaming battles in the past, and the winners include all the top names in Superbike racing. The most successful rider of all time at Monza is Troy Bayliss, with six wins to his name, followed by a trio on 4 made up of Pierfrancesco Chili, Carl Fogarty and Fabrizio Pirovano. Amongst current SBK riders, the most successful is Noriyuki Haga on 3, followed by Regis Laconi on 2 and Max Neukirchner on 1. In the manufacturers ranking, Ducati leads the way with 17 wins, followed by Yamaha (7), Honda (6), Suzuki (3) and Kawasaki (1).
DUCATI-YAMAHA BATTLE CONTINUES
In the last two seasons, Noriyuki Haga has won three of the four races held at Monza, but he did so on a Yamaha, which this year is now in the hands of Ben Spies. The two riders have so far dominated the championship, sharing the wins between them (4 apiece) with the points difference coming from Spies’ three zeros. The Monza round offers the Texan a chance to partly reduce the 60-point gap to Haga, but the Japanese rider will also be galvanized by the fact that Ducati have not won at Monza since 2006 and he will be aiming to interrupt that negative sequence.
NEUKIRCHNER ONE YEAR ON
Last year the battle between Haga and Neukirchner set the Monza public alight; the German took his first-ever SBK win by 0.058 seconds in race 1 and Haga then took revenge in race 2 by 0.009 seconds! This year Neukirchner and Suzuki have had a mixed start to the season but the Monza circuit could be the best opportunity so far to show off the power of the Japanese four-cylinder machine and to record Suzuki’s first win of the year.
And neither has Honda Europe’s flagship team, Hannspree Ten Kate Honda with its power trio of riders, Carlos Checa, Jonathan Rea and Ryuichi Kiyonari, had a particularly positive start to the season. But like Suzuki, the Monza track has often been a prestigious showcase for the squad, as demonstrated by Kiyonari’s form and third place finish in race 2 last year. Sheer engine power has always been a trademark of the Dutch team, which will be attempting to redress the balance. Luckily for Honda, Stiggy Racing’s Leon Haslam is producing some great results and the British rider could again emerge as a contender for the podium, if not outright victory. Haslam will be flanked in the Swedish team by American Jake Zemke, who will step in for the injured John Hopkins for the Monza round.
ITALIANS AT HOME
On their home track Italian riders and manufacturers will also be searching for their slice of glory and expectation is especially high to see how well the Aprilia RSV4 will go on such a fast circuit. In the races so far the four-cylinder machine from Noale has demonstrated top speed on a par with its rivals and it could come to the fore on a track where slipstreaming plays such a vital role. On the rider front both Max Biaggi and Michel Fabrizio will be trying to score a first win for an Italian at Monza since Pierfrancesco Chili in 2000. Biaggi is still dealing with the Aprilia RSV4’s teething problems, but the potential is there, while Fabrizio is still looking to make that jump in quality that will take him from being a podium finisher to a race winner.
BMW FAST TRACK
The opening rounds showed that BMW Motorrad are finding it difficult to make their S 1000 RR machine competitive on technical circuits, but Monza will be an ideal opportunity to get the new bike closer to the front-runners. Troy Corser, a previous winner here in 2005, and Ruben Xaus know the track like the back of their hands and their experience will be vital in the team’s attempts to obtain some good results, especially in view of the second half of the season.
A healthy balance continues to reign in World Supersport, with exciting racing and a good dose of old-fashioned ‘aggression’ helping to evoke the golden days of the category when the ‘wild bunch’ fought for the win at every race. Monza is looking to provide more of the same, because the power of the various Supersport machines and the track layout make it difficult for anyone to pull out a commanding lead. In a championship in which the top 3 – Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha World Supersport), Eugene Laverty (Parkalgar Honda) and Kenan Sofuoglu (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) – are separated by nine points, the Monza round could shuffle the cards considerably seeing as there are numerous other contenders for victory. Starting with reigning champion Andrew Pitt (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda), Anthony West (Stiggy Racing Honda), Fabien Foret (Yamaha World Supersport) and Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki Provec), one of the most interesting youngsters around in Supersport. These could be joined by Michele Pirro (Yamaha Lorenzini), the most competitive Italian at the moment. Pirro won the domestic championship CIV race at Monza on Sunday and has fully recovered from his crash at Assen.
The third round of the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup will probably be another private affair between Maxime Berger (Ten Kate Honda), Xavier Simeon (Ducati Xerox Junior Team) and Claudio Corti (Suzuki Alstare), the three main contenders, with Frenchmen Sylvain Barrier (Garnier Yamaha) and Loris Baz (MRS Yamaha), as well as Italian Davide Giugliano (MV Agusta) aiming to get a look in. In the European Superstock 600 encounter, Danilo Petrucci and his Yamaha Italia team-mate Marco Bussolotti are the favourites for the win, both looking to make up for their errors at Assen. Their chief rivals will be the points leader Gino Rea (Ten Kate Honda), Joey Litjens (VD Heyden Yamaha), Vincent Lonbois (MTM Yamaha) and Jeremy Guarnoni (MRS Yamaha).