World Superbike 2008 – Round Three – Valencia – Preview
After a sizzling start to the year, Australia’s Troy Bayliss concedes he’s in for a reality check at round three of the Superbike World Championship in Spain this weekend.
After dominating his farewell home round at Phillip Island in early March, the Ducati-backed Bayliss is bracing for a much sterner test at Valencia, which now marks the traditional start of the championship’s European campaign.
“Valencia is one of those tracks where I expect everyone to go better and I think those teams that have perhaps been a little behind us with getting ready for the championship will now start to show results,” said Bayliss.
“We’ve already seen what Max (Biaggi) can do and he’ll be there all year as we expected – we just didn’t expect him to do what he did at Phillip Island when he crashed in both races!
“I also think Nori (Haga) and (Troy) Corser will be stronger at Valencia, and Carlos Checa will improve as the season goes on.
“I enjoy racing at Valencia. It’s quite a physical track and riders don’t get much rest. It’s a good track for spectators and makes for good racing.”
Bayliss is a four-time world Superbike winner at Valencia, and he also stormed to a memorable flag-to-flag win in the final MotoGP race of 2006 on the 4.005km circuit.
Bayliss looks back on his performances at Valencia with enormous pride, but it’s just one of the circuits around the globe which holds fond memories for him.
“Valencia has of course been kind to me, but I have many memories of many different circuits really for different reasons – like my first Australian Superbike win at Sandown, or my first world Superbike win in Germany (Hockenheim), or my first win at Oulton Park in British Superbike.“
Bayliss, who turned 39 on March 30, will hang up his leathers at the end of the year, but he’s looking to continue his motorsport career on four wheels.
After two rounds of this year’s SBK title, Bayliss is already a runaway leader on 88pts, ahead of the vastly improved Fonsi Nieto (Suzuki, 61pts) and another Spaniard, Ruben Xaus (Ducati, 59pts).
Bayliss’ three great rivals, Corser (Yamaha), Biaggi (Ducati) and Haga (Yamaha), are fourth, seventh and ninth respectively. Biaggi broke his wrist in race two at Phillip Island, but will compete this weekend after intensive treatment over the last few weeks.
Corser is the most successful world Superbike rider at Valencia with five wins, and he’s now looking to bounce back after a crash at Phillip Island saw him slip down the standings.
“The setup that we found in race two in Australia should work well in Spain,” said Corser. “I think we have really found something to help the tyre and the chassis. Valencia should be good, even though we didn’t go there to test like most other people this year.”
With Haga, Biaggi and the Ducati factory duo of Bayliss and Michel Fabrizio also absent from the Valencia test session, Australian Karl Muggeridge was the surprise pacesetter on his privateer Honda – one of seven riders to slip under Neil Hodgson’s five-year-old lap record of 1min35.007secs
Muggeridge is determined to stay on the front foot this weekend despite the return of the championship top guns, while Xaus and Haga were both lightning fast at Valencia last year – Xaus becoming the only non-factory rider to win a race all year.
Nieto would also love to continue his sizzling form in front of a home crowd, while dual British Superbike champion Ryuichi Kiyonari (Honda) made huge gains at the Valencia test.
Kiyonari’s teammate Checa has already impressed after an abbreviated pre-season, and was second in race two at Phillip Island, just over a second behind Bayliss.
Russell Holland (Honda) is the final Aussie on the Superbike grid at Valencia, and he will be emboldened by the recent form of teammate Muggeridge.
In world Supersport, Aussie riders will be shooting for three wins a row after Broc Parkes (Yamaha) and Andrew Pitt (Honda) won the opening two rounds.
However, 24-year-old Josh Brookes (Honda) from Bringelly (NSW) is the championship leader on 33pts after fourth and second place results, ahead of Spain’s Joan Lascorz (Honda, 29pts). Pitt and Parkes share equal third with Robbin Harms (Honda) on 25pts.
Brookes, a three-time Australian road racing champion, knows what it takes to remain in the championship lead.
“It’s only round two so it’s very hard to predict how the season will unfold,” said Brookes. “That said, I always want to be on the podium or at least in the top five. Given the nature of Supersport, this should keep me in reach of the championship lead in the final stages of the year.
“Last year I had two great races at Valencia in the Superbike class, and I think it had a bit to do with the track suiting my style because the bike didn’t seem any better there then at other rounds.”
Meanwhile, after a stirring ride at Phillip Island from a lowly grid position – and with a broken leg – Garry McCoy’s three-cylinder Triumph should be well suited to the slow-speed twists and turns of Valencia, while compatriot Mark Aitchison, also riding the British tackle, should also figure prominently.