Suzuki standing tall


Biaggi (3) won both races, but Leon Haslam (91) leads the standings.

Considering that Ducati and Honda were
the pre-season favourites for the WSB title, with Yamaha just behind,
having Leon Haslam’s Suzuki comfortably on top of the standings after
two race weekends is a bit of a surprise. "If anybody had told
me before the start of the season that I would’ve won one race and
taken three [seconds] in the first four races, I would not have
believed them," said the young Brit.

Having said that, the Portimao round of
the WSB series in Portugal was an Aprilia affair, with Max Biaggi
taking both wins, albeit not by much — his margin of victory for
both races combined was only 0.3 seconds over Haslam. The Aprilia’s
amazing top-end speed was a bonus on Portimao’s long front straight,
but it was also getting off the critical last corner onto that
straight well. With the Aprilia having more than a 10 km/h top speed
advantage, it’s incredible that the others remained so close.

Behind Haslam, Ten Kate HannSpree
Honda’s Johnny Rea took a third then retired in the second race,
while Sterilgarda Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow (who took the pole position
in qualifying) was third in the second go-around. He was also a
strong third in the first race but fell, and with refreshing honesty
said, "I made a stupid mistake, my own fault. I was pushing too

Top Ducati was Carlos Checa on the
Althea customer bike. Both Xerox-sponsored factory riders had
horrible weekends, qualifying poorly — Michel Fabizio crashed in
Superpole while Haga, who doesn’t like the Portimao track, made a
bad guess on tire choice — and looking nothing special in the race.
Haga got two eighth-place results for his efforts and found the whole
thing rather embarrassing. "I apologise to the team, the fans
and the sponsors for my poor results but at least I was able to make
up a few positions and take some points," he said.

Checa wasn’t the only customer Ducati
rider to beat the factory boys, as his team-mate, Brit Shane Byrne,
also covered the Xerox team in both races, with a sixth and a
seventh. The Althea riders were upbeat after the race, Checa
wistfully hoping for just a little more horsepower (even down on
power as he was he was only a second behind Biaggi at the end of the
second race), while Byrne professed himself "satisfied rather
than pleased" with his top-10 finishes after a difficult weekend
that included an ugly high-side in practice shortly before Superpole

Aside from the riding, the fight among
the manufacturers is also providing great entertainment. Both races
had four different manufacturers in the top four, Aprilia, Suzuki,
and Ducati in both, while Honda and Yamaha swapped spots. In the
second race a V-four won (Aprilia), followed by a conventional
in-line four (Suzuki), a cross-plane crank four (Yamaha) and a V-twin
(Ducati), all of them covered by a second at the chequered flag.
Doesn’t get much closer than that.

BMW is still knocking on the door; both
Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus were well up in the top 10 early, but
faded as the races went on; Corser ended with a ninth and a 10th
while Xaus carded a 10th and 12th. Both riders
said they were having tire wear problems.

Kawasaki is also conspicuously missing
from the top ranks, at least partly because star rider Chris
Vermeulen wasn’t able to ride. The knee he injured at the Philip
Island race in Australia is still bad; he tried riding in Friday
practice but wasn’t able to manage. He hopes to be ready for the next
round at Valencia in two weeks.

Rider standings after two of 13 events
(four of 26 races)

1. Leon Haslam, U.K., Alstare Suzuki,
85 points; 2. Max Biaggi, Italy, Alitalia Aprilia, 69; 3. Carlos
Checa, Spain, Althea Ducati, 60; 4. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Xerox
Ducati, 46; 5. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, Xerox Ducati, 43;

6. Jonathon Rea, Ireland, Ten Kate
HannSpree Honda, 39; 7. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Alstare Suzuki, 33;
8. Leon Camier, U.K., Alitalia Aprilia, 32; 9. Troy Corser,
Australia, BMW Motorrad, 29; 10. Cal Crutchlow, Sterilgarda Yamaha,

Manufacturer standings:

1. Suzuki, 85 points; 2. Ducati, 71; 3.
Aprilia, 69; 4. Honda, 40; 5. Yamaha, 32; 6. BMW, 29; 7. Kawasaki, 7.

Next race: Valencia, Spain, April 11.

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