“Honestly, if you want to know the full story of the 2002 Superbike World Championship, we’re going to have to back up just a little bit. In 2001, we did Sugo in Japan, which was horrible. Michelin sucked there. [Troy] Bayliss and I finished twelfth and thirteenth. What Honda did was bring out the new bike: The RC51 SP-2. We tested in Sugo on the Monday and literally by the second or third lap I was a second faster than race pace on the same exact tyres. I was sitting there thinking, why didn’t we have this shit yesterday? Honda did a whole bunch of work. They weakened the bike up chassis-wise and that actually gave the bike a lot more traction because the bike was able to move a bit instead of being so stiff. So that’s where I got my first touch on the new chassis for 2002. We went testing and everything looked good and I was thinking we had a little bit more power, for sure. What I wasn’t banking on was that Ducati gained a shit-ton more power. Literally, over the winter, they grabbed a bunch of power.
“So we went to the first race of the 2002 Superbike World Championship which was at Valencia in Spain and I finished fourth and that was the only race I was off the podium that year. We struggled. We struggled on power. I couldn’t pass Troy there. I couldn’t draft by him as my bike didn’t have enough power. The bike worked great chassis-wise, but I couldn’t pass him”
Following Valencia came double-header rounds at both Philip Island and Kyalami, all four races won by Troy Bayliss. A fortnight after Kyalami came Sugo in Japan, and with it, Edwards’ first triumph of 2002.
“There you go. I won the first race at Sugo and then Makoto Tamada won the second race. He was the only other rider to win a race that year. I was stuck. Even at Monza – Monza used to be Honda alley – Bayliss won both races. With that twin, they just had more power.”
Mid-July brought the ninth round of what would ultimately be a 13-round globetrotting world tour. This time set at breezy Laguna Seca along the Central Coast of California, Bayliss won the first race of the outing, only to have Edwards come charging back to win race two convincingly.
“It wasn’t until the second race at Laguna Seca that I beat him again,” pointed out the Texan. “At that point, it was win or crash for me. And you know what? Troy and I were never super-aggressive with one another. We would give each other at least half-an-inch to one another (Laughter). We weren’t bumping and banging too much. We just had that level of respect for each other, but it was tight racing.
“That second race at Laguna was win or crash and we had some close calls and we passed back-and-forth and I ended up winning that one. And Laguna, for the second race, once I made my mind up to make such aggressive passes and do a little blocking and doing what I had to do to win it, then it kind of got rolling.
“I already knew that our next race was going to be at Brands Hatch in England and horsepower wasn’t as big a deal there. Our bike worked great and we found a front tyre that really worked good with our bike. Also, by this time, we had our suspension so dialed-in that we would literally get to a track and it was a click or two. We weren’t doing hard anything to the bike – it just worked so well. Shit, I was 57-points behind! You start thinking into that hole and that hole just keeps getting deeper and deeper. The problem was that I knew we had a bad ass bike; the bike was amazing; I just couldn’t get it out in front of Troy. That was the only problem. The bike was amazing.
“After Brands Hatch, I knew new parts were coming. I knew new shit was coming so we went to Oschersleben in Germany. We went out for the first practice at Oschersleben and we’ve got our new exhaust and we’ve got our Suzuka 8 Hours upgrades and all that shit, so we go out and I can tell right away that the bike felt a little more peppy.
“I get behind Troy and come out of the last corner and I draft him and pass his ass down the front straight and then I out braked him into the first corner and I just remember thinking, ‘Oh man! Your ass is grass!’ I was saying to myself, ‘Oh, my God. I can actually pass you now! This is amazing!’
“As the story goes, going into the first race, I was super-confident and I knew that I was going to win. I ended up getting the hole-shot in the race and then after the first lap, on laps two, three, four and five, I think I broke the lap record every lap.
“Like I said, when someone asks me what are the three best laps that I’ve ever done in my life, my answer is definitely Oschersleben in 2002. It was lap record, lap record, lap record because I knew I had to create a bit of gap because I knew Troy was going to mess with me because he was a frickin’ awesome racer. I couldn’t let him close to me. We ended up winning there and that was now five wins in-a-row.
The penultimate rounds of the series at Assen in Holland saw yet another Edwards’ double-win triumph.
“We went to Assen and I love Assen and I’ve always had good results there. Going into Assen, I knew that the only thing that I could do was push Troy into a mistake. I was thinking, all I can do is to try and beat him so bad and demoralise him to where he just can’t stand it. I wanted to frickin’ whip his ass and beat him by as far as I could beat him and see if he could handle it. If he couldn’t handle it, we’d just see what happened. In the opening race at Assen I went out and stomped some ass and won pretty easily. Race two, same thing. I got out front and just started putting my laps together as hard as I could.”
When he came in after race two at Assen, Edwards was greeted with the news that his Australian adversary had bailed off, thus turning the two man race for the world title into something of a toss-up.
“After the last race at Assen, I came in and my guys said, “Yeah, Troy crashed and you’ve got a one-point lead. I was like, ‘Holy shit!’ We went from nowhere to being right there to win it all. When you’re a winner, it’s hard to take an ass beating. You were not going to allow yourself to get beat. Troy had the same attitude that I did and that’s why he made the mistake at Assen. You put two lions together when they’re both in their prime, this is what you get. There is no give. Everybody wants to win everything.”
Sunday, September 29, 2002 at the Enzo & Dino Ferrari Circuit in Imola, Italy. Race day. 97,000 fans up in the stands – the largest crowd ever for a bike race in Italy – and Edwards was ready.
“On race day morning, and I told my wife this, we were sitting in the motorhome, ‘Man, win or lose, Troy is an amazing rider. This has been an awesome year. It’s just fun to be a part of such a spectacle where everybody is anticipating might what happen.’ I honestly think Troy had the same attitude. He was looking it like, ‘Dude, there are a shit-ton of people here and it’s cool to be a part of this. This is a good motorcycling moment.’
“Imola is what it is and it was frickin’ awesome. I knew what I had to do. I didn’t want to win a championship by not winning a race. It’s always good to win the race. And Troy was trying to slow the race down to try and get Ruben Xaus in the race. I mean if Ruben would have passed me, Troy would have won the championship. We got it to where there were three-laps to go and I was pretty content, really. I was like, ‘Well, I have six-points on you, so even if you win, I still win by a point.’
“With three-laps to go in that second race, I was just kind of playing the game, but once Ruben got within one and a half to two-seconds to me, I thought, well, screw it, this can be easy. Let’s win the race and it’s over. That’s it. It all worked out.”
Was it really the greatest comeback ever in motorcycle racing?
“Yeah, I mean as far as racing outright, given it to each other week-in and week-out, it was, well, maybe one of the best comebacks ever. It was just fun. Even though I won, we celebrated and whatever, we were involved in the party. We were all just happy the shit was over. We survived another year.”
“That is still, to this day, the last World Championship race that I won. I never won a Grand Prix race. I did, what? Eleven years in Grand Prix? It’s weird when you put it in that perspective, but of course, yeah, it’s a great memory. It’s all good, man. I can’t complain. It’s all turned out good. It’s all been worth it.”
2002 – the year that was
Eleven race wins
Five pole positions
Twelve front row starts
New most number of podium finishes in a season record at 25
New most successive race wins in a season record with 9
New most successive podium finishes in WorldSBK with a string of 25
Recorded the 20th double win for Honda – Assen, Holland
Recorded the 100th win by an American in WSBK with R2 victory at Oschersleben
Troy Bayliss on 2002
“When it comes to the 2002 World Superbike season, it’s kind of a funny story. Both 2001 and 2002 were very similar. Basically, in 2001, Colin fell apart during the end of the season and I won the championship. In 2002, towards the end, I basically fell apart. Both of us guys have our own reasons for what happened both years, but that was pretty much the scenario.
“We started the year in 2002 after winning the championship in 2001, I finally had a real lot of confidence in myself and in the team and then we had a new bike as well: the 998. By the end of the year in 2001, we found a few things in the bike that made me feel really good on it. The new bike for 2002 was basically the same, but the engine was a bit different and quicker. That was basically it. I hopped on the bike for 2002 and hit the ground running. We were flying everywhere we went.”
So much so that Bayliss won the first six races from the first three WSBK rounds at Valencia, Philip Island and Kyalami.
“It’s funny when things like that happen, you hop off the bike after you have a win and you want to hop straight back on the bike and do it again. Then there are times where you are seventh or eighth in the race and you’ve been wrestling with it the whole time and you feel nearly dead. All the way through 2002, I did feel good on the bike.”
Edwards and the Honda RC51 SP-2 would finally scale the top step of the podium in 2002 in race one at the Sugo circuit in Japan.
“Colin sort of turned it around a bit there,” offered Bayliss. “When you think back about it, that whole year, it was basically Colin and I, but guys like Makoto Tamada — Tamada won the second race at Sugo – and Neil Hodgson and Ben Bostrom also would get thrown into the mix. For me everything was going pretty good until we went to Laguna Seca. I crashed there and broke a rib and that was the race where Colin kind of spun things around for the better.”
Following Japan, Bayliss, for all intents and purposes, would continue to expand his world domination by winning seven of the next eight races; Monza, Silverstone, Lausitzring and Misano. Finally, in race two at Laguna Seca Edwards finally broke through again to win, and from there the Texan reeled off double-race sweeps at both Brands Hatch and Oschersleben. Then came the penultimate rounds at the storied Assen circuit. And it was there where Bayliss crashed out in race two, bringing the Australian and American within one point of each other!
“Where it really went to pieces was at Assen,” offered Bayliss. “Ducati had done something to the bike with the frame and I kept on getting this chatter and I ended crashing twice in the same corner. I was absolutely fuming. I remember coming back into the garage and throwing my helmet through the door. Colin really closed up on the points there.”
Sunday, September 29, 2002. Imola, San Marino. Race day.
“We went into the last round with only one point between us,” said Bayliss of the final showdown of the year. “It was nail-biting and we knew that we were up against it because ever since the Suzuka 8 Hour in August, the Honda was flying and Colin was riding really well. Imola was also Honda’s test track and they had ridden there a lot and that was it. It came down to a sensational weekend where we sort of gained momentum through the whole weekend. The bike was back to normal to where I liked it. It was intense on Saturday and especially on Sunday morning. Colin and I saw each other and basically gave each other a nod. We both knew it was going to be on us, for sure.”
And while both racers desperately wanted to win at Imola and leave Europe as a World Champion, both Bayliss and Edwards fought each other the entire year both valiantly and brilliantly.
“Colin and I didn’t hang out together so much, but before and after races we would see each other and talk. We had some of the best races together over the years. We never took each other out. We touched plenty of times. We’ve never had bad things to say about each other because there was nothing bad to say about Colin.”
Race one at Imola wound up being an aggregate race as Neil Hodgson’s bike had to be pushed off the grid. The race was then red flagged on lap 12 due to oil being spilled on the circuit. Bayliss won the race, yet Edwards was determined the winner. All Edwards would have to do in the final 21-lap race of the season is finish directly behind his title rival.
“I was under so much stress at Imola because basically I had the championship in the bag and it had gone to pieces and the championship had come down to the last round.
The way things turned out, in the first race, the first race got stopped and then it went on aggregate points and that didn’t really work out in my favour because I ended up winning the first race, but not by enough to make up the time difference.
“Then it came down to a grand final for the last race and we just went at it hammer and tong and that was that. Braking and sliding into corners, you could hear the crowd cheering and it had so much atmosphere. It was an incredible round to be at. It all came down to that one race at Imola and we both had a great ride. Colin won, but I can honestly say that I couldn’t have done anything more there. At the end of the race I was actually happy because I thought I rode really well and it could have gone either way. Of course I’m sure Ducati was really upset, but the crowd didn’t know that. They loved it. They came to see a battle and they got it.
“I don’t remember all that much these days,” mused Bayliss. “I forget so much stuff! But stuff like 2002 and Imola, I remember. I remember all that tension that day and I’m sure Colin felt it as well. In the end, the day takes its path and we did the best we could. What a day, though. There were maybe 90,000 to 95,000 people there. There were big crowds back then. I remember that the only place that would have been busier than Imola was Brands Hatch in England. Honestly, back then it was good days and good fun in World Superbike and I was relatively young and had a strong desire to win. It was just good times.”
As an interesting historical footnote, 2002 champion Edwards would never win another World Championship race in either MotoGP or World Superbike. Conversely, in the November of 2006, WSBK Champion Bayliss was drafted on the Ducati MotoGP squad to fill-in for an injured Sete Gibernau and the season Grand Prix at Valencia in Spain. That sun splashed afternoon, Bayliss raced into the lead and raced away to win the one and only MotoGP of his career.
“Yes, both Colin and myself, we spent so much time in Superbikes that we really were Superbike guys,” declared Bayliss. “But when I actually did have that race win at Valencia, obviously I was happy for myself, but I was also so happy for the Superbike paddock. Honesty, I believe under the right circumstances, I’m sure that Colin, in the same scenario and withal the right things going for him and with all the right people around him, I think he could have won a MotoGP race as well.”
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