The echoes of two spectacular races at Imola’s Enzo & Dino Ferrari circuit last Sunday in front of 67,000 spectators are still ringing in the ears of spectators worldwide, but the countdown is now beginning towards what will surely be a two-way dash towards the 2009 title. It gets underway this weekend at the Magny-Cours circuit in central France, around 300 kms from Paris, which hosts World Superbike for the eighth time. The tricky 4.411 km Magny-Cours track alternates a number of fast sections with slow hairpin-like turns. The most successful rider is the current championship leader, Noriyuki Haga (Ducati Xerox), who has won four races here, three times in the last four. Behind, on two wins apiece, lie Troy Bayliss, James Toseland and Doug Polen, with one win each for Neil Hodgson, Ruben Xaus, Chris Vermeulen and Lorenzo Lanzi. In the Manufacturers’ ranking, Ducati has taken the lion’s share of wins with nine, followed by Yamaha with three and Honda two.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Imola Round brought about a virtual reboot of the championship standings, with Haga again taking over from Ben Spies at the top, but now by just three points. The situation is virtually as if the title will be fought out over two rounds, four races, adding even more thrills to a season that has proved to be one of the most exciting in Superbike history. On paper Nitro-Nori is the favourite, given his success rate here, but his Texan rival will undoubtedly not be the same below-par force witnessed at Imola, so sparks are expected between the two, and the psychological aspect could also play a key role. The same could be said for Michel Fabrizio, who won his second race of the season at Imola and who still has a mathematical chance of taking the title, as he is 61 points down on his team-mate with 100 up for grabs. His chances appear slim and it is easy to imagine that Ducati will activate some sort of team strategy, as the Italian is one of the few riders around able to fight for the win with Spies and Haga.
SUPER BIAGGI AND APRILIA: Max Biaggi is another name on that list, thanks to the Italian Aprilia RSV4 machine, which has made some truly outstanding progress this year. At Imola Biaggi fought hammer and tongs with the Ducatis after struggling in the tests in July, demonstrating that the Noale-based manufacturer has been working well over the past months. In France, where last year he finished fourth and sixth, Biaggi will be aiming to notch up his second win of the season, all the while keeping one eye on the championship standings, which see him just six points adrift from Jonathan Rea. The talented Ten Kate Honda rider was disappointing at Imola, where he made a series of errors, a real pity because Rea had proved to have a race pace that could easily have seen him on the podium. Now he has a chance for the rematch at Magny-Cours, and all signs point to the Northern Ireland man again being up one of the front-runners.
BMW, KAWASAKI AND SUZUKI: The Imola round brought an end to BMW’s positive progress, and after a good qualifying they were unable to repeat that form in the races. Troy Corser scored an 11th place, while Ruben Xaus managed to bring home some points on his return following injury. At Magny-Cours, where he always goes well, the Australian will once again aim to take the BMW back up to a top 6 position, a result that unfortunately at the moment does not appear to be within reach for Kawasaki. Broc Parkes got into the top 10 in race 1 but the bike still needs a lot more work to get closer to the top machines in the championship. In even more difficulty for the moment are team Suzuki Alstare, which are ending a championship that they started with totally different ambitions. In the final two rounds the Belgian team will once again rely on Karl Muggeridge and Yukio Kagayama.
Points (after 12 of 14 rounds): 1. Haga 391; 2. Spies 388; 3. Fabrizio 330; 4. Rea 263; 5. Biaggi 257; 6. Haslam 219; 7. Checa 183; 8. Sykes 176; 9. Smrz 155; 10. Byrne 149. Manufacturers: 1. Ducati 489; 2. Yamaha 431; 3. Honda 368; 4. Aprilia 267; 5. Suzuki 148; 6. BMW 113; 7. Kawasaki 63
SUPERSPORT: An untimely crash for Cal Crutchlow at Imola threw the Supersport championship wide-open after it seemed as if the Yamaha man was cruising to victory. Instead the British rider now only has a lead of two points over Eugene Laverty (Parkalgar Honda), who finished runner-up. Crutchlow has proved to have an extra gear this year but he has also made some mistakes and now the pressure is on his shoulders. Imola winner Kenan Sofuoglu (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda), who renewed his contract with the Dutch team for next year, may play a key role in the title battle, seeing as the championship has not thrown up any other potential winners. Following his DNF at Imola, Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki Motocard.com) aims to take back third place from Sofuoglu, who is 15 points ahead. Possible outsiders include Fabien Foret (Yamaha World Supersport) in his home race, which could certainly see him take his second win of the season.
Points (after 12 of 14 rounds): 1. Crutchlow 210; 2. Laverty 208; 3. Sofuoglu 153; 4. Lascorz 138; 5. Foret 115; 6. West 104; 7. Pitt 104; 8. McCoy 82; 9. Aitchison 71; 10. Roccoli 62. Manufacturers: 1. Honda 256; 2. Yamaha 251; 3. Kawasaki 158; 4. Triumph 98; 5. Suzuki 30
SUPERSTOCK 1000: The title is virtually a dead cert for Xavier Simeon (Ducati Xerox), who needs just five points to be crowned champion at Magny-Cours with one round remaining. Claudio Corti (Suzuki Alstare) still has a slim chance however and will try to win until the bitter end. As well as the above-mentioned riders, the Magny-Cours round will surely see as one of the protagonists Maxime Berger (Ten Kate Honda), who will be looking for a win in front of his home crowd to attenuate the disappointment of losing out so soon in the title battle. Behind these three can be found four more outsiders Javi Fores (Kawasaki Pedercini), Davide Giugliano (Suzuki Celani), another French rider Sylvain Barrier (Garnier Yamaha) and Daniele Beretta (Ducati Xerox).
Points (after 8 of 10 rounds): 1. Simeon 180; 2. Corti 135; 3. Fores 107; 4. Berger 102; 5. Beretta 79; 6. Barrier 67; 7. Jesek 64; 8. Baz 41; 9. Giugliano 38; 10. Magnoni 35. Manufacturers: 1. Ducati 180; 2. Suzuki 137; 3. Honda 136; 4. Kawasaki 107; 5. Yamaha 100; 6. MV Agusta 26; 7. Aprilia 12
SUPERSTOCK 600: Four riders in the title fight guarantees an electrifying end of season for the Superstock 600 category. The favourite, at least for what he has demonstrated throughout the season, has to be Danilo Petrucci (Yamaha Trasimeno), the points leader. The young Italian however has not won for the last five races and will be starting the Magny-Cours race determined to interrupt this negative run. His chief rival Vincent Lonbois (MTM Yamaha) failed to shine at Imola but will surely rise to the occasion in France, and so will Gino Rea (Ten Kate Honda) and Marco Bussolotti (Yamaha Trasimeno), both of whom are behind in the championship battle. Imola winner Eddi La Marra (Honda Lorini) will also be looking to repeat his success in France.
Points (after 8 of 10 rounds): 1. Petrucci 135; 2. Lonbois 124; 3. Rea 118; 4. Bussolotti 112; 5. Guarnoni 94; 6. La Marra 93; 7. Kerschbaumer 62; 8. Guittet 58; 9. Litjens 38; 10. Chmielewki 36