World Superbike rocks! If you don’t believe it, find and watch the two races from Vallelunga, just outside of Rome, held on Sunday.
Noriyuki Haga got two wins for the Yamaha Italia team, his team-mate Troy Corser got two thirds, and each time they were split by a Ducati. In the first race it was Max Biaggi on the Sterilgarda Go Eleven 1098, in the second it was Michel Fabrizio, team-mate of championship leader Troy Baylisss in the Xerox Ducati squad.
Where was Bayliss? Spitting grass and gravel after crashing four corners from the end of race two while still trying to catch Haga for the lead. If he’d stayed up he was world champion; now he has to score 21 points in the next two events. I’d love to have been in the pits to hear Ducati team manager Davide Tardozzi when Bayliss got back …
Bayliss, at least, spoke publicly: "Well of course we were hoping to take the title here today, and so of course I’m disappointed. It was a great race and I lost, that’s about all I can say. I gave it everything I had in the second race and was fighting to pass Haga … I’d already decided … that I was going to try and take Nori and either win or crash because I knew that me finishing second and Corser third wouldn’t be enough to take the title and I really wanted to finish the job here today."
It doesn’t get any more intense on-track; in race one Haga was 0.129 seconds ahead of Biaggi, who in turn had 0.4 seconds on Corser (Bayliss was sixth, another 7.5 seconds back, with tire issues). In the second race at the flag Haga had a 1.5-second lead over Fabrizio, but that’s deceptive, as the Japanese star and Bayliss had swapped the lead and paint half-a-dozen times in the last half of the race, while Fabrizio made a mad dash to just pip Corser on the last lap. Superb stuff, absolutely superb.
It was Haga’s second double victory of the year. "We are really big fighting," he said after the second race, looking exhausted (he’s fighting a bad cold … maybe it was a good thing for the racing that he wasn’t healthy). "I’m sorry for the crash of Troy (Bayliss) because I enjoy a great battle with him."
The wild finish was a match from the terrifying start, as Max Biaggi and Hannspree Honda’s Kenon Sofuoglu had a spectacular high-speed crash off the line. Biaggi and Corser hit each other at about the top of second gear (call it 160 km/h or so), and it looked as though Corser hit Biaggi’s brake lever hard, throwing him into a dramatic series of wobbles across the track. The field split to avoid him but Sofuoglu had nowhere to go and smashed directly into the front of Biaggi’s bike as it veered across the track; the young Turkish rider was catapulted into the air and his bike did a series of flips.
Miraculously Biaggi got up and walked away, and while Sofuoglu, last year’s World Supersport champ, was picked up by an ambulance early reports say he suffered no serious injuries. Just as amazing, the mess was far enough off the track that the race wasn’t red-flagged.
World championship standings with two events (four races) left to go have Bayliss at 369, with a 79 point lead over Corser at 290. Corser is the only rider with even a mathematical chance to beat his fellow Aussie, but Bayliss, who plans to retire at the end of the season, rarely crashes and only needs 21 points, so basically the world championship is his.
Next up in the title chase are "Nitro Nori" and Max Neukirchner on the team Alstare Suzuki, tied at 280. Haga has been confirmed as the official replacement at Xerox Ducati for Bayliss in 2009, while Biaggi, who desperately wanted the ride, has signed with the fledgling Aprilia team.
Corser is still unsigned for 2009 and rumours have him moving to the new BMW team with Ruben Xaus. If true, that would certainly leave two prime seats available at Yamaha Motor Italia.
It’s worth noting that in the Supersport race (for 600 cc machines) U.S. Formula Extreme and Supersport racer Josh Hayes entered his first-ever World-class event and finished 10th, raising more than a few eyebrows. With the current state of things in the U.S., more riders are eyeing possible rides in Europe.
Next WSB race is at Magny Cours, France, October 5.