The Hannspree FIM Superbike World Championship heads for the USA this weekend for the seventh round, which takes place close to Salt Lake City in the state of Utah. The venue is the Miller Motorsports Park, about half an hour away from the state capital, on the Interstate highway road that leads to the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. The circuit, inaugurated just a few years ago in 2006, welcomes the Superbike teams and riders for the second time, and on this occasion they will be accompanied by their World Supersport colleagues, who get the chance to race on what is considered to be the best circuit in North America.
The track is unusual in that it can be used by cars, bikes and karts and has various configurations. This weekend’s races will be held on the 4.907 km version, with a total of 15 curves. The circuit itself is rather flat but has several key areas where rider ability comes into play. Last year’s races were totally dominated by Carlos Checa (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda), who set pole position, new fastest lap and a double win.
DUCATI TAKE CONTROL
The races at Kyalami two weeks ago highlighted in no uncertain way the fact that Ducati Xerox men and machines are currently the ones to beat. Thanks to a double win in South Africa, Noriyuki Haga stretched his lead at the top of the points table, and his closest rival can now be found on the other side of the pit garage, in Michel Fabrizio, who moved into second place. The Japanese rider goes to Miller above all to wipe out the bad memories of his race last year, when he broke his right collarbone in practice. This accident didn’t prevent him from racing however and it was only sheer determination that took him to sixth in the second race after crashing out of the first. After two DNFs for Troy Bayliss, the best Ducati rider was in fact Fabrizio, who stepped onto the podium twice. The young Italian from Rome will be aiming to put one over his Japanese team-mate this weekend in the hope of keeping his title chances very much alive.
The two Ducati men however will not have things their own way at Miller, especially because the Utah circuit looks to be particularly favourable to the four-cylinder machines. It is also the home track for Ben Spies (Yamaha World Superbike), who will not only be aiming to make amends for his DNF at Kyalami, but also to beat off the foreign invasion on home ground. Last year the Texan dominated the AMA championship race from his friend Jamie Hacking, who will be taking the place of the still convalescent Makoto Tamada in the Kawasaki team, and who is also an expert at this track. Spies can rightly be considered as the man to beat, and hopefully his weekend will be free of the technical problems that have hampered his title ambitions. And still on the subject of American riders, John Hopkins (Stiggy Racing Honda) is not yet ready for battle and his place will once again be taken by Jake Zemke.
HONDA AND SUZUKI GATECRASH
In the wake of their domination in 2008, Honda will be looking for a similar result this time around. The form of Leon Haslam (Stiggy Racing) confirms the British rider as one of the revelations of the season, and then the podium in South Africa of young British talent Jonathan Rea (Hannspree Ten Kate), the first in his career, have taken the Japanese manufacturer back amongst the front-runners. For the moment Carlos Checa is missing from the top slots, but the Spanish rider aims to capitalize on his good form in South Africa to kick-start his championship on a track where he triumphed last year. Currently without their star rider and leader Max Neukirchner, runner-up in race 2 in 2008, Suzuki Alstare put their faith in Fonsi Nieto once again following his return to SBK in South Africa. The Spanish rider knows Miller and now he has got to grips with the 2009 machine, he will be looking for a top 10 placement, just like his team-mate Yukio Kagayama.
APRILIA AND BMW
The US track will be totally new for Aprilia and BMW, but both Max Biaggi and Troy Corser, back in action at Miller, as well as Ruben Xaus know the track well so this could help the Italian and German machines get quickly up to speed. In South Africa the four-cylinder Italian bike had a few problems but picked up an overall positive result, with Shinya Nakano finally competitive. The intention is to get closer to the top teams and riders, and Biaggi could spring a surprise or two. As for BMW, they want to turn over a new leaf after a double zero result in South Africa, and surely the return of Corser to the team will help redress morale in this so far difficult rookie season for the German squad.
After failing to obtain a permanent ride for this season, Miller will also see a return to action for Lorenzo Lanzi. The Italian will replace Regis Laconi, who was seriously injured at Kyalami. Lanzi will race the DFX Ducati left free for the time being by the French rider, the right machine to launch his ambitions in a championship in which he is a three-times race winner.
Supersport appears on the Miller event schedule for the first time, and therefore everyone will start on equal footing, except for Kenan Sofuoglu who took part in last year’s Superbike race. The two riders most in form are points leader Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha World Supersport) and Eugene Laverty (Parkalgar Honda), winners respectively of two and three races. They are the favourites for Miller but all eyes will also be on the two champions in the championship-winning Ten Kate Honda team, Andrew Pitt and Kenan Sofuoglu, who won’t be abdicating their titles easily. Possible outsiders include Anthony West (Stiggy Racing Honda), Fabien Foret (Yamaha World Supersport), Spain’s Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki Provec) and Triumph riders Garry McCoy and Gianluca Nannelli. Meanwhile the Supersport race will see, for the first time ever, two women entered for a round of the world championship; American Melissa Paris (Yamaha) and Canada’s Marie-José Boucher.
MILLER MOTORSPORTS PARK – 7th ROUND – 29, 30 and 31 MAY 2009