February 28, 2005 The 2005 World Superbike Championship is shaping as the most exciting in years, with at least a dozen riders with a realistic chance of taking the title and four marques competing for each race win after the first round was held at the Losail circuit in Qatar on the weekend - a distinct change from the Ducati processions of the last few years. The surprise winner of the first of twelve rounds of the World Superbike Championship was Yukio Kagayama, indicating that the new Suzuki GSX-R1000 is likely to be as competitive on the racetrack in superbike form as it is on the road, and the Suzuki quinella has installed former World Superbike Champion Troy Corser as favourite for the title after one round. Bookmakers have installed the 1996 world champion as a firm favourite for the title ahead of Regis Laconi (Ducati 999), 2004 Champion James Toseland (Ducati 999), Chris Vermeulen (Honda CBR 1000RR) and hard-charging crowd favourite Nori Haga (Yamaha R1). Pictured above are Laconi, Kagayama and Corser on the podium at Losail, Qatar,
Corser finished the round with a first and third on his Alstare Corona Suzuki, collecting 41 points and giving him second place on the day behind Kagayama's second and first place (45 pts). For Corser, who has been in motorcycling's wilderness for the last few years as the lead rider on the Foggy Petronas Team, he clearly enjoyed having a motorcycle that was powerful and competitive from the outset and had luck gone his way, he could easily have left Qatar with a double victory.
Bookmakers are quoting Corser at 2.6 for the title after the first round, which could be termed surprising given that he finished ninth and twelfth in the title in the last two years and scored no points at all in 2002.
But in his tenth year on the World Superbike circuit (he began in 1995 but sat out the entire 2002 season waiting for the Foggy petronas Team to finish building the bike), he has been around for long enough to know every track on the circuit (he won the first race at Qatar, a track completely new to everyone), and he's now back on a very fast bike and clearly as hungry as ever to show he can deliver.
Corser was comfortably leading the first race when the rain came after ten laps. By the time it was restarted, the track had dried and this time Corser was third, behind team mate Kagayama and the Ducati of Regis Laconi. Corser was so close to Laconi that he knew he would win on aggregated time.
It was Corser's first SBK race win since 2001 and as he spoke to the press after the first race it was clear he was relieved to have returned to the winner's circle and clearly demonstrated to everyone he was still a force, not least to himself. In a year that has seen the birth of his son Kalani and marriage to long-term partner Sam, Corser looks set to be a major part of the 2005 season outcomes.
It was also Suzuki's first win since 2001, though the 1000cc four is clearly a very different beastie to the 750 that took the 2001 win.
While the wet weather testing just prior to the Qatar race and the wet practice and first race made it difficult to sort a set-up that worked for most teams, the overwhelming message is that Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda all have competitive machines this year, and Ducati will need to really stretch itself if it is to keep its remarkable Superbike record going.
Since missing the title by one point to Honda-mounted Colin Edwards in 2002 (when Honda pulled out of the Superbike Competition), Ducati has won all but four of the 48 races in the last two seasons and quite frankly, the championship had all but lost its credibility - how can you have a world motorcycle championship based on street machines without the participation of any of the "Big Four" Japanese factories.
Even though the rules still heavily penalise the four cylinder 1000cc machines in comparison to the Ducati V-twins (with air inlet restrictions), the fours have now clearly reached competitiveness and we can expect to see some great racing again this year.
Yukio Kagayama took second spot in race one with Regis Laconi third.
Kagayama has been a Suzuki factory rider since 1993 and has been a regular journeyman around the world, spending the last two years on the British Superbike circuits, picking up wins here and there but failing to get close to a title. Though the BSB is known for its cut-and-thrust, it's unlikely that Kagayama will be a match for Corser or the others on the world stage in his first full-season attempt at the title.
Just the same, he was ranked a 16/1 outsider to win the first round of the season before he set himself up permanently at the top of the leaderboard in practice and its likely that bookmakers will be less generous in future with his odds.
Laconi's two podiums indicate the Ducati is far from a spent force, though it's also clear that as the big 1000cc four cylinder machines are developed across the season, the Ducati is likely to become less competitive rather than moreso. Laconi was unlucky, and rightfully complained at being third overall when he'd finished second in both races.
Current Champion Toseland crashed heavily the week prior to the race so his results were never going to be great. He started his 2005 Ducati 999 from thirteenth on the grid but had a particularly good final few laps to finish in sixth position. "I got two good starts and we hung in there. I was two-tenths off getting fifth in the aggregate but considering everything that's happened this week, it's a solid start. The confidence is coming again, I needed some dry time and I can only get that in the races". YAMAHA
The Yamaha R1-based machines of Andrew Pitt and Nori Haga filled out fourth and fifth places in the first race, indicating that the Yamaha will be a force this season once it has some race development miles behind it. Haga is being quoted as equal second favourite by the bookmakers for the title and in the second round of the title at Phillip island, expect both Haga and Pitt to be at the fore. Haga is always competitive, and can be expected to be much faster with more miles under his belt on the R1. Pitt is a classic series rider, always ensuring the maximum points haul and always ensuruing he gets points. HONDA
Honda's top finisher in the both races was Chris Vermeulen. The Dutch Honda TenKate team has Australian duo Chris Vermeulen and Karl Muggeridge, and both were suffering from the flu and significantly curtailed pre-season testing on their Honda 1000 machines.
Interestingly, Vermeulen got it all together in the latter stages of the second race, and finished fourth, lapping much faster than anyone else on the circuit and had the race gone another lap or two, he would have picked up third place from Corser.
Vermeulen won four races on the Ten Kate Honda last year - the only non-Ducati rider to win a race in the last two years. He did so in his first season of Superbikes, on a machine that was under development and he represents excellent value at 5/1 from the bookies for the title at this stage. Now sitting fourth in the championship fight, Vermeulen will figure in the overall championship result.
Similarly, Muggeridge has no fear, no regard for reputations and by the time the Ten Kate CBR 1000RR reaches Phillip Island it will be a far more sorted machine with the customary turn of speed the boys at Ten Kate seem to always be able to extract from their bikes. Indeed, the Honda CBR 1000RR is for our money, the most likely bike to win the title this year - apart from the Ten Kate duo, Honda also numbers amongst its riders Pier Francesco Chili, Ben Bostrom and
A much improved performance from the young Aussie, winner of four races for Honda last season, saw him fourth in race two, and rookie Max Neukirchner who was a remarkable fifth in qualifying prior to superpole, in his first superbike race.
Chili will benefit from what will possibly be the fastest bike in the field by mid-season, and Bostrom certainly has the talent to win the title, having been the American Superbike Champion in 1998 and having many wins under his belt for Ducati. An inexplicable loss of speed saw him dropped from the Ducati team and if he can regain his form of 2000/1, he would be a force to be reckoned with.
The only one of the big four to fail to show a turn of speed in the first round was Kawasaki. With a fabulous, powerful and light ZX10 roadster to begin with, the best result on the weekend was Giovanni Bussei's eleventh in the first race. Kawasaki's failure to put a top flight rider on the machine might cost it valuable publicity during the year - the bike is fast enough.
SUPERBIKE Race 1: Pos /Rider /Nat. /Team /Gap
1 / Troy Corser (AUS) Alstare Suzuki Corona GSXR1000
2 / Yukio Kagayama (JPN) Alstare Suzuki Corona GSXR1000 / 3.1
3 / Regis Laconi (FRA) Xerox Ducati 999F05/ 3.5
4 / Andrew Pitt (AUS) Yamaha Italia YZF R1/ 14.7
5 / Noriyuki Haga (JPN) Yamaha Italia YZF R1/ 20.3
6 / James Toseland (GBR) Xerox Ducati 999F05 / 20.6
7 / Ivan Silva (ESP) La Glisse Yamaha YZF R1/ 22.0
8 / Chris Vermeulen (AUS) Winston Ten Kate Honda CBR 1000RR / 22.2
9 / Karl Muggeridge (AUS) Winston Ten Kate Honda CBR 1000RR / 26.9
10 / Norick Abe (JPN) Yamaha Motor France-Ipone YZF R1/ 27.2
11 / Giovanni Bussei (ITA) Kawasaki Bertocchi ZX10 / 38.9
12 / Marco Borciani (ITA) DFXtreme Sterilgarda YZF R1/ 42.2
13 / Fonzi Nieto (ESP) Ducati SC Caracchi 999RS/ 43.4
14 / Chris Walker (GBR) PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse ZX10/ 44.8
15 / Steve Martin (AUS) Foggy Petronas Racing FP1/ 49.6
Fastest Lap 12 Yukio Kagayama 2'02.1 158.6 kmh SUPERBIKE Race 2: Pos /Rider /Nat. /Team /Gap
1 / Yukio Kagayama (JPN) Alstare Suzuki Corona GSXR1000 /
2 / Regis Laconi (FRA) Xerox Ducati 999F05/ 2.4
3 / Troy Corser (AUS) Alstare Suzuki Corona GSXR1000 / 5.9
4 / Chris Vermeulen (AUS) Winston Ten Kate Honda CBR 1000RR / 7.2
5 / Pier Francesco Chili (ITA) Klaffi Honda CBR 1000RR / 8.6
6 / James Toseland (GBR) Xerox Ducati 999F05 / 8.6
7 / Norick Abe (JPN) Yamaha France-Ipone YZF R1/ 9.7
8 / Max Neukirchner (GER) Klaffi Honda CBR 1000RR / 11.5
9 / Andrew Pitt (AUS) Yamaha Italia YZF R1/ 11.8
10 / Sebastien Gimbert (FRA) Yamaha France-Ipone YZF R1/ 11.8
11 / Noriyuki Haga (JPN) Yamaha Italia YZF R1 / 21.4
12 / Lorenzo Lanzi (ITA) Ducati SC Caracchi 999RS / 25.8
13 / Fonzi Nieto (ESP) Ducati SC Caracchi 999RS / 34.1
14 / Giovanni Bussei (ITA) Kawasaki Bertocchi ZX10 / 34.1
15 / Mauro Sancini (ITA) PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse ZX10/ 47.4
Fastest Lap 4 Sebastien Gimbert 2'01.8 158.9 kmh
Riders Championship Standings: 1 KAGAYAMA 45, 2 CORSER 41, 3 LACONI 36, 4 VERMEULEN 21, 5 PITT 20, 6 TOSELAND 20, 7 HAGA 16, 8 ABE 15, 9 CHILI 11, 10 SILVA 9, 11 NEUKIRCHNER 8, 12 MUGGERIDGE 7, 13 BUSSEI 7, 14 GIMBERT 6, 15 NIETO 6.
Manufacturers Standings: 1 SUZUKI 50, 2 DUCATI 36, 3 YAMAHA 22, 4 HONDA 21, 5 KAWASAKI 7.
HONDA RIDERS MONOPOLISE SUPERSPORT PODIUM IN QATAR
As it did last year, the Ten Kate Honda CBR600RR looks set to provide the winner of most races and the World SuperSport title in 2005. The two new riders to the team dominated just about everything on the weekend, with Katsuaki Fujiwara bogging down on the line and entering the first corner almost last.
While Fujiwara set about carving his way through the field, his team mate Sebastien Charpentier streeted the field and it was only the scorching pace of Fujiwara on an identical CBR600RR that was able to run down the Frenchman and catch him on the 16th lap.
From that point Fujiwara ran away to record a five second victory and Honda riders filled both remaining podium places, with Michel Fabrizio (Team Italia Megabike Honda CBR600RR) third, proving the prowess of the latest version of the all-conquering CBR series. Such is the dominance of the Honda that bookmakers already have the machine a 1.2 favourite to win the manufacturers title (that is, 5/1 ON, or bet $1 now and get $1.20 back if it wins). Yamaha's YZF-R6 is second favourite at 5.00 (that's 4/1 against) with Kawasaki's ZX-6R and Suzuki GSX-R 600 given little chance (both at 15.00) and Ducati's 749-R at 25.00
After a peerless qualifying performance from Charpentier gave him pole position in his first race for the Winston Ten Kate team, his early lead hinted at invincibility, but a worn front tyre dropped his pace and allowed Fujiwara to catch him. Sebastien nonetheless set the new fastest lap at this new WSS venue, with a time of 2:04.686.
Fujiwara's win saw him overcome odds which looked insurmountable after the first lap and have installed him as a red hot favourite to take the Supersports title - perhaps the hottest favourite in history at this stage of the usually closely contested season.
SUPERSPORT: Pos /Rider /Nat. /Team /Gap
1 / K. Fujiwara (Jpn) Winston Ten Kate Honda / 37'54.414 /
2 / S. Charpentier (Fra) Winston Ten Kate Honda / 5.462
3 / M. Fabrizio (Ita) Italia Megabike / 13.970
4 / K. Curtain (Aus) Yamaha Motor Germany / 28.713
5 / F. Foret (Fra) Team Megabike / 31.316
6 / B. Parkes (Aus) Yamaha Motor Germany / 32.459
7 / S. Chambon (Fra) Gil Motorsport / 36.842
8 / J. Fores (Esp) Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra / 42.491
9 / G.Nannelli (Ita) Ducati Sc Caracchi / 54.930
10 / T. Lauslehto / Fin / Klaffi Honda / 59.092
11 / A. Berta (Ita) Ducati Selmat / 1'31.728
12 / T. Miksovsky / Cze / Intermoto Czech / 1'36.071
13 / P. Szkopek / Cze / Intermoto Czech / 1'47.590
14 / M.Baiocco (Ita) Lightspeed Kawasaki / 1 Lap
Fastest Lap Sebastien Charpentier 2'04.686 155.3 kmh
Riders Championship Standings: 1 FUJIWARA 25, 2 CHARPENTIER 20, 3 FABRIZIO 16, 4 CURTAIN 13, 5 FORET 11, 6 PARKES 10, 7 CHAMBON 9, 8 FORES 8, 9 NANNELLI 7, 10 LAUSLEHTO 6, 11 BERTA 5, 12 MIKSOVSKY 4, 13 SZKOPEK 3, 14 BAIOCCO 2.