Bumper Crop of Talent for 2006 WSBK Season Opener
The 2006 SBK World Superbike Championship® kicks off this forthcoming weekend at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar, the first of 13-rounds in what is expected to be one of the most closely contested series ever held. A high-class entry of almost 30 permanent riders, representing six manufacturers’ best hopes for ultimate glory in the most prestigious SBK™ racing series on the planet, will gather in Qatar, each with the knowledge that they are competing in the most evenly balanced Motorsports World Championship on two wheels. Riders young and old will add unrivalled variety to the field, from hopefuls barely out of their teens to seasoned veterans with more than 40 years and up to 20 racing seasons under their belts. The ever-present line-up of regulars will be added to by wildcards at certain rounds, but with each and every rider choosing from an extensive pool of control Pirelli tyres, to even-out the playing field in the fairest way possible.
LOSAIL MAGNIFICENT - NO MYSTERY FOR TOP RIDERS
Some teams have elected to make Losail one of their pre-season test tracks this year but for most of the other competitors the impressive 5.4km circuit, located near Qatari capital city Doha, will be already be a known quantity. Most gained experience of its contrasting fast and slow sections during last year’s inaugural SBK™ visit, while some others have ridden there in different global motorcycle competitions. With the race held on a Saturday once more, Losail is unique in many ways. Its 10 right and six left handed corners offer a host of differing challenges, while the featureless desert setting gives little away in terms of braking markers or corner entry points. A power-sapping 1.068km main straight allows the machines to sing in the higher octaves of their repertoires, even in top gear, while many of the faster corners offer a rare challenge in these days of tighter, slower circuits, most of which are built on a compact scale compared to Losail’s expanses.
CORSER PLANS HIGH SPEED DEFENCE IN TITLE-WINNING TEAM
2005 World Champion Troy Corser (Team Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra) returns to Qatar alongside the same team-mate with whom he shared individual Losail race wins last year, Yukio Kagayama. Despite facing a solid wall of competition on all levels this year, Corser is confident after some dazzling pre-season testing performances. Also champion in 1996, Corser goes for title number three this time around. Kagayama, fifth overall in his ‘rookie’ SBK™ season in 2005, will be out to prove that his mid-season dip in form was a never-to-be-repeated aberration, as he sets about his task with his usual mix of experience and unrivalled exuberance. Four permanent Suzuki riders this year include a third rider in Alstare colours, 2002 SS SBK™ World Champion Fabien Foret, plus the Celani Team Suzuki Italia GSX-R1000 of 2002 season European Superstock® Champion, Vittorio Iannuzzo.
HONDA RIDERS LED BY TWO PROVEN CHAMPIONS
Honda field five officially supported entries in this year’s series, from SBK™ first timers to the most experienced man in the entire championship. In the Winston Ten Kate Honda team, 2004 World Champion James Toseland undertakes his first ever four-cylinder season in SBK Superike World Championship®, aiming to finish higher up than his 2005 fourth. An SBK debutant last year, 2004 season World SS™ Champion Karl Muggeridge is just one of a raft of fast Aussie riders in the championship again, and yet another rider of proven class. He was part of the team that saw outgoing rider Chris Vermeulen score multiple race wins on his way to championship runner-up status in 2005, and Muggeridge now returns to continue his steep learning curve, hunting for his first SBK race win.
HONDA RIDERS FORM STRONG CHALLENGE
A one man Klaffi Honda team will feature the astonishingly experienced former MotoGP rider Alex Barros, with the popular Brazilian already a welcome addition to the SBK family. The Sao Paolo Superstar, who has great experience of SBK™ spec machinery (thanks to successful appearances in the Suzuka 8-Hour race in Japan), is nonetheless a rookie this season, if one with enough ability to challenge from the very outset.
Despite being 36 years of age, Barros is by no means the elder statesman of SBK™ racing. That honour, along with many race wins over the years, goes to a certain Pierfrancesco Chili, who is currently 41 years young. Chili’s latest challenge is to run in an all-Italian Honda team, in conjunction with traditional SBK™ participants, DFX Treme. He shares garage space with a new talent to the Superbike ranks, Michel Fabrizio. The squad thus features the oldest rider in the series with one of the youngest, as Fabrizio is only 21. He gets a promotion from World SS™, where he enjoyed a modicum of success last year. Fabrizio’s raw talents have already delivered him the 2003 European Superstock® Championship, and his experience also includes four-stoke MotoGP rides, despite his tender years.
BAYLISS AND LANZI HEAD DUCATI CHARGE
Few riders have made such an impact in pre-season testing as 2001 World Champion Troy Bayliss (Ducati Xerox). Returning to his ‘alma mater’ after a MotoGP career punctuated by podium finishes, Bayliss has been on fire in testing, readapting to the latest Ducati twin in record time; all despite the lingering effects of a severe left forearm injury, suffered late last year. Forming the second prong in a fierce factory Ducati Xerox attack is double race winner Lorenzo Lanzi. His two 2005 SBK™ race wins came in his rookie season, and each success underlined that a new talent was in town, one with an intense desire to succeed and with little respect for reputations.
DUCATI TEAMS IN ABUNDANCE Eight full time Ducati riders will be in attendance at Qatar, the factory squad heading an impressive array of proven desmo-powered talent, plus the odd new inductee. Spanish star Ruben Xaus (Sterilgarda Berik Ducati) teams up with Marco Borciani this year, even if he may not be able to ride in the first couple of rounds, thanks to an injury suffered in training. A serial race winner in the 2003 season, Xaus is expected to make a strong impact once fully fit. A serious challenge to the 250GP crown in previous years, Roberto Rolfo is another fast SBK™ rookie in the 2006 series, as he takes the field for the Ducati SC Caracchi squad. A one-man effort, the new partnership is nonetheless laden with exciting possibilities. His single rider effort is in great contrast to the three-rider festival of speed fielded by the Pedercini Ducati squad. The eponymous team-leader Lucio Pedercini heads up his countryman Ivan Clementi and the already proven talents of young German rider, Max Neukirchner. The latter is a first time Ducati pilot, yet has already impressed in winter testing - despite not having the newest tyres or a full factory machine at his immediate disposal.
YAMAHA RIDERS OFFER TOP CLASS CHALLENGE
Noriyuki Haga (Yamaha Motor Italia) and Andrew Pitt (Yamaha Motor Italia) form a formidable obstacle to any would-be world champion. In Haga, Yamaha has a proven multiple race winner, and now he has opted to come back on the same machines as 2005, he is expected to at least replicate his third place finish of last year. Pitt’s battling qualities and front-running in ’05 got him re-signed for his second SBK™ season, and a podium finish is his first priority for 2006. Norick Abe (Yamaha Motor France IPONE) is a rider who needs little introduction, despite struggling somewhat in his first SBK™ season last year. His team-mate of 2005, Sebastien Gimbert is back once more and the team also features more new talent, Japanese rider Shinichi Nakatomi, who will run a different suspension set-up from his immediate peers.
KAWASAKI’s THREE POINTED STARS PROVE SHARP IN PRE-SEASON
The PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse squad return to a green livery in Qatar, and more importantly, enjoys the benefits of a new design of ZX-10R machine, complete with greater manufacturer support than in 2005. The team has increased to a three-rider set-up, each of them a proven entity in many forms of motorcycle sport. Chris Walker scored a podium on the 2005 PSG-1 Kawasaki, and has already voted the 2006 version as a distinct improvement after good tests in Sepang and Phillip Island. Regis Laconi, 2004 season runner up, multiple SBK™ race winner last year, and one of the few riders in history to have SBK™ and MotoGP race wins to his credit, is a new face in the squad. Spanish star Fonsi Nieto carries on in the team he joined for just two races in 2005, and has already matched times with the more experienced Walker, as the man from Madrid continues the transition from a 250cc past to an SBK™ shaped future. Franco Battaini (Kawasaki Bertocchi) is another proven MotoGP and 250GP rider to opt for the charms of SBK™ in 2006, and much is expected of the privateer rider in his first SBK™ year.
FOGGY SQUAD THREE BUT NOT EASY
The orgy of technology that is the Petronas FP-1 triple will once more be campaigned by the Foggy Petronas team in the SBK™ series. 2005 signing Steve Martin returns after successful kidney surgery, having set impressive test times at Phillip Island in January. Young Briton Craig Jones may find the outgunned FP-1 not an ideal platform from which to launch his rookie SBK™ season, thanks solely to its 100cc capacity handicap compared to all other types of eligible SBK™ machines. His youthful enthusiasm will nonetheless see him gunning for the maximum possible rewards.
SUPERSPORT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP®
Champion in 2005, Sebastien Charpentier (Winston Ten Kate Honda) may not have things all his own way this year, as a frontal assault of talent and all-new machines attempt to depose last year’s clear winner.
Charpentier’s new team-mate is the Superstock 1000 FIM CUP™ runner up from 2005, Kenan Sofuoglu, but his greatest challenge may come from the two-rider Yamaha Motor Germany squad, now equipped with the all-new R6. Both Broc Parkes and Kevin Curtain won races in 2005, despite their machines’ relative venerability, and with a full 15 new R6s on the grid, plus 13 well-proven Hondas, this year’s contest is expected to be a true class act on all levels. An all new Suzuki GSX-R600, plus some fast Ducatis and Kawasakis, makes WSS™ a five cornered manufacturers’ fight again, in what is a massively resurgent class.
SATURDAY RACE FOR ALL IN QATAR
Both Superbike and Supersport classes will race on Saturday at Losail, not the more traditional Sunday of all other venues. This means track action begins on Thursday 23, with Superpole® for the Superbike class on Friday and points scoring races on Saturday 25th. Shortly thereafter, the paddock decamps to Phillip Island for round two, on Sunday 5 March.