Monday, June 20, 2011

2011 WSBK Aragon Thursday Roundup

It is a mark of how Max Biaggi’s luck seems to be running that during the final session of Superpole, Biaggi managed to first help Marco Melandri take pole for tomorrow’s race, then prevent Tom Sykes from bumping Carlos Checa off the front row of the grid by getting in the way just as�the Kawasaki rider was in the final stages of his last fast lap. Biaggi’s starting point is good – 2nd, right next to Melandri, and 2 places up on Checa – but if fortune had been smiling on Biaggi, he would have pole and had Checa on the 2nd row, firmly behind him.

Little things like this can make a difference, but despite having the run of the green against him, Biaggi is actually in pretty good shape for the race tomorrow, the Aprilia rider the only man to get down into the 1’58 bracket on race tires, and half a second quicker than championship leader Checa. Checa, Biaggi and polesitter Melandri are clearly the class of the field at Aragon, and on the basis of practice, the three men most likely to be on the podium tomorrow.

There is one potential fly in the ointment, however: temperatures on Saturday were a good bit cooler than they were on Friday, with track temperatures differing by over 10�C between today and yesterday. The tires had a good deal less grip in the scorching temperatures on Friday, and with a return of hot temperatures predicted for Sunday, the data from today may be of less use than the teams have hoped. The rider who fears the heat most? You guessed it, Max Biaggi, the Alitalia Aprilia using up the tires far too quickly in the very hot conditions. As I said, a litany of little things just keep on running against Biaggi.

There is one factor working in Biaggi’s favor on Sunday, however, and that is the extra-long, high-speed back straight. Biaggi has regularly been clocked through there at well over 320 km/h, or over 200 mph. Carlos Checa, on the other hand, is 12 km/h down on top speed compared to Biaggi, a gap that no amount of slipstreaming is going to close. Fortunately for the championship leader, the rest of the track is more technical, and suits the nature of the Ducati much better. If Checa can keep Biaggi in sight in the early laps, he should be able to put up a fair old fight come the end of the race.

The most impressive rides of the day came from Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes and BMW Italia’s Ayrton Badovini. Sykes has been in the top 5 in every session so far this weekend, and is in with his best chance this year of scoring a podium. The testing that Kawasaki have done at Aragon has paid off, and Sykes’ confidence has been growing as the season has progressed. Beating Checa, Biaggi and Melandri will be tough, but if one of them slips up, Sykes should be poised to pounce.

Like Sykes, Badovini is having an outstanding weekend, his confidence boosted by a strong result at Misano. Unhampered by the pressure of running in the factory team – and possibly, with a little more freedom to change the bike to his needs – Badovini has managed to beat the factory bikes every session but one, Leon Haslam finishing ahead of him in FP2. Badovini has been around for a while now, making his debut in the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup back in 2003. His Superstock 1000 championship last year – also on a BMW S1000RR – has been something of a transformation for the Italian.

In the World Supersport class, the results have resembled Formula One rather than a motorcycle race, the timesheets seeing riders grouped by team and manufacturer surprisingly often. The Kawasakis have dominated, Broc Parkes and David Salom taking a 1-2 in every session so far. Parkalgar Honda’s Sam Lowes has a firm grip on 3rd, while Chaz Davies has led ParkinGO Yamaha teammate Luca Scassa by a small margin nearly every session.

The gaps, though, are surprsingly large. Salom in 2nd is a third of a second off the pace of Parkes, with Lowes a quarter of a second slower than Salom. Another third of a second separates Davies�from�Lowes, and Davies, in 4th place, is the last man to get inside a second of Parkes’ pole time. Scassa is a fraction behind Davies, but from there, the gaps are large again. Just four riders inside a second suggests the race could be a bit of a runaway tomorrow, yet another in a rather strange season in World Supersport. Once the home of close racing, this year, the races have been surprisingly processional, the racing over within a few laps.�

Though Broc Parkes holds the best cards for victory, David Salom will be pushing the Australian very hard indeed. With a sniff of his first podium, and in front of his home crowd (though Salom, like Jorge Lorenzo, who provides him some support, hails from the island of Mallorca, off the East coast of Spain), Salom will be pushing that little bit harder to get a result. With Parkes leading the championship, and Salom determined to get his first podium, both riders could end up being a little more conservative than they might be otherwise, giving the others at least a theoretical chance of getting close. There is much to play for tomorrow. | Kropotkin Thinks

Joel Smets Jeff Smith Marty Smith Steve Stackable Jeff Stanton

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