|— World SBK 2012 – Round 11 – Moscow Raceway|
In the midst of its 25th anniversary celebrations the eni FIM Superbike World Championship makes another major step forward in history as international bike racing arrives in Russia for the very first time. The eleventh round of this exciting season also constitutes a milestone for motorcycle racing in general: Russia is in fact a major industrial power with 143 million inhabitants, a rapidly growing economy and an enormous number of motorsport fans, who will have an opportunity to see World Superbike in person for the first time.
The event takes place this coming weekend, 24-26 August, at the spectacular new Moscow Raceway circuit, measuring 3931 metres in its WSBK layout. The circuit, which cost around 130 million Euro to build, lies close to Volokolamsk, around 100 kms to the west of the immense Russian capital.
Moscow Raceway was inaugurated on July 15 with a World Series car event, and to give the Superbike riders the possibility of getting to know the track, a supplementary test-session has been organized for Wednesday 22 August. The event itself will be presented to the Russian and international media on Thursday 23 August at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow, close to the Kremlin.
The Russian Round will be the start of the decisive run-in for this year’s title and the situation in the championship could not be any closer. At the last round in Silverstone chasing rider Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) whittled down the gap to Max Biaggi (Aprilia Racing Team), who has led the standings since the opening round in Australia, to just 10.5 points. Two rounds ago Biaggi had a 55-point lead over his fellow Italian, but in Superbike every race is unpredictable and surprises are the order of the day. With 200 points still up for grabs in the final four rounds (Russia, Germany, Portugal and France), Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team), Carlos Checa (Althea Racing Team Ducati) and Jonathan Rea (Honda World Superbike Team) are also still in with a chance, with Rea just 70.5 points from the leader.
41-year-old Biaggi has been preparing for the race with just a short holiday break and his usual careful training routine, while after Silverstone Melandri celebrated his 30th birthday with friends at home.
In the UK neither Biaggi nor Melandri were able to score particularly brilliant results, picking up respectively 2.5 and 13 points out of a total of 37.5, due to the half score awarded in the rain-affected second encounter. But Sykes (10 points), Checa (16) and Rea (16.5) could only partially capitalize on the leading duo’s setbacks and for them Moscow represents one of the final opportunities to remain in touch with the leaders.
The Manufacturers’ race is also at a good point with BMW (316 points) now ahead of Aprilia (302.5): this is the first time that the German manufacturer has been in the lead of this particular classification. Ducati are not far behind either on 300 points and even Kawasaki (253.5) have a good chance of closing the gap.
The title race is made even more exciting by the fact that as well as the leading contenders, there are also many other riders in with a chance of upsetting the applecart by going for individual race wins. Silverstone was a case in point, with the 19-year-old Frenchman Loris Baz, the Kawasaki Racing Team’s revelation, producing terrific form to score his first win and a third place. Baz has already taken three podiums in the last four races and is sure to be a contender in the future.
All eyes will also be on Eugene Laverty (Aprilia Racing Team), Leon Haslam (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) and Davide Giugliano, the 22-year-old youngster from Rome and Checa team-mate in Althea Racing. One man to watch with particular attention will be Sylvain Guintoli (Pata Racing Team Ducati), the Frenchman who has already won in the wet in the Netherlands and the UK, moving into eighth place overall and becoming top ‘satellite’ rider. The FIXI Crescent Suzuki team also showed signs of a revival at Silverstone, with Leon Camier in particular emerging as a frontrunner.
Points (after 10 di 14 rounds): 1. Biaggi 274; 2. Melandri 263.5; 3. Sykes 222.5; 4. Checa 220.5; 5. Rea 203.5; 6. Haslam 170; 7. Laverty 160.5; 8. Guintoli 122.5; 9. Fabrizio 108.5; 10. Giugliano 106; etc. Manufacturers: 1. BMW 316; 2. Aprilia 302.5; 3. Ducati 300; 4. Kawasaki 253.5; 5. Honda 209.5; 6. Suzuki 75.5.
In Russia the Supersport battle also reaches a high watermark: with 100 points still to play for, nine riders from three different manufacturers (Honda, Kawasaki and Triumph) have a slim chance of taking the title, but barring surprises the winner will undoubtedly be one of the four riders who have dominated the championship since the start and who are now separated by 30 points: Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Lorenzini), Sam Lowes (Bogdanka PTR Honda), Jules Cluzel (PTR Honda) and Fabien Foret (Kawasaki Intermoto Step).
Sofuoglu, the 27-year-old who has already been crowned Supersport champion twice, has headed the standings since the first race but in the last three events his results have been fifth, second and fifth, due to the repercussions of a niggling knee injury. Lowes gained some ground in his home round and the 22-year-old is now just 14 points off the top slot, but he in turn is being reeled in by his team-mate Jules Cluzel, now just 28 points behind following his second win of the season at Silverstone.
Meanwhile Sofuoglu, a Muslim from Turkey, has already become the most successful rider ever in the Supersport category with 19 wins to his name, adding to 45 podium finishes (in 65 races) and 13 poles and he will surely be a hard man to beat in the remaining rounds.
In Supersport all the Russian fans will have something to cheer on with 25-year-old Vladimir Leonov (Yakhnich Motorsport Yamaha), one of the emerging stars of the category. Leonov has already been on the podium with a third place at Assen and despite an injury at Donington that kept him out of action for one race, he is currently lying 12th overall.
Points (after 9 of 13 rounds): 1. Sofuoglu 148; 2. Lowes 134; 3. Cluzel 120; 4. Foret 118; 5. Parkes 98; 6. Morais 71; 7. Quarmby 67; 8. Baldolini 62; etc. Manufacturers: 1. Honda 197; 2. Kawasaki 187; 3. Triumph 91; 4. Yamaha 73; 5. Suzuki 6.
Coppa dei Due Paesi (Two Nations Cup)
The two Superstock categories for young riders will not be present at Moscow but the third and final round of the Coppa dei Due Paesi will be present in the competition between Italians and Russians which will see 27 riders line up on the starting-grid. The Cup is held for strictly Superstock 600 machinery and it currently sees Italy lead 2-0 following wins for Leonardo Biliotti (Yamaha Team Trasimeno) at Misano and Denis Sacchetti (Kawasaki SD Rider Team) at Brno. On their home track however the Russians will be looking for a good result, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Vladimir Leonov, winner of the 2011 edition. The race will also see two Russian women competing: Ekaterina Rutskova (Yamaha PRTMoto) and wild-card Maria Medvedeva (Yamaha Matrix Racing).
Points (after 2 of 3 rounds): 1. Sacchetti 45; 2. Vlasov 27; 3. Mamola 26; 4. Biliotti 25; 5. Vostarek 22; 6. Spigariol 20; 7. Sangiorgi 16; 8. Buccheri 14; etc.