A typical dramatic WSB weekend of racing at Italy’s “cathedral of speed” — the fabled Monza track — ended with a double victory for local factory Aprilia and its Rome-born rider Max Biaggi.
That closed Biaggi up to within three points of series leader Leon Haslam, who took a fourth and a second on his Alstare Suzuki.
While the first race featured the slam-bang action common to WSB, with the top four riders finishing in a gap of 0.9 seconds, the second was a bit of a runaway for Biaggi. He attributed that to some set-up changes between the races, although most onlookers attributed it to a chain-reaction crash on the first lap that eliminated four top competitors — James Toseland (Sterilgarda Yamaha), Jonathon Rea (Ten Kate Hannspree Honda), Reuben Xaus (BMW Motorrad), and Michel Fabrizio (Xerox Ducati) — and gave Biaggi some breathing space from the rest of the field.
The superb first race saw Biaggi eke out the narrowest of victories over Toseland and his Yamaha team-mate Crutchlow, whose impressive ride was even more so because he is still suffering from an injured shoulder and ankle and was having trouble shifting gears.
In the second race Crutchlow was the only rider to seriously threaten Biaggi, but he had the miserable misfortune of having an oil line punctured by a stone kicked up by Biaggi’s Aprilia and crashed in his own oil.
Behind Crutchlow there was the usual bar-room brawl, with a couple of bright notes. Xaus got a sixth, by far his best result of the year, Leon Camier on the second Aprilia continues to impress everyone, and Brit Tom Sykes took a shocking top 10 on his Kawasaki ZX-10.
Once again, the factory Ducati team was lost, Fabrizio managing seventh while nominal team leader Noriyuki Haga could only manage 11th. Team manager Davide Tardozzi’s leaving for BMW seems to have had more of an effect on the team than anyone imagined. Of course, Monza with its huge straights and unbelievable top speeds — Biaggi was clocked at more than 330 km/h in practice, and the Aprilias and Yamahas were routinely touching 329 in the races — puts the multis at a big advantage over the Ducatis.
In the second race, the big news was Troy Corser getting BMW’s first WSB podium. While Germany didn’t declare a national holiday, the level of excitement and delight from the team was certainly at that level. The normally reserved Corser was grinning from ear to ear: "I’m so happy, the team has put a lot of hard work into the project not just this year but last year and sometimes it’s been difficult and frustrating … We had the speed, our bike was as fast as anything out there, and it just took me a few laps to get used to the [changed] brakes in the second race. It has been a long time coming, and it won’t be the last time."
Farther back, Camier again impressed with a strong fourth, and eyes were popping as Tom Sykes pushed his Kawasaki into fifth after an excellent back and forth battle with Haga, who seemed to recover his mojo somewhat.
The pre-season favourite said, "In both races I was having a lot of difficulty turning the bike and didn’t have enough grip at the rear. In Race 1 I was having to put it right down on its side to get it to turn as I wanted and this of course meant that I couldn’t keep pace with those ahead of me. We changed a few things before Race 2 and improved the situation a little. Grip was good in the first five laps or so but from mid-race it was really hard, as the bike was drifting wide and was hard to control. In the end I’m quite satisfied with sixth position, as it was tough here this weekend."
The next event is May 16 at Kyalami in South Africa, the first time the series has been there since 2003.
Current standings after five of 13 events (10 of 26 races)
1. Leon Haslam, U.K. Alstare Suzuki, 181 points; 2. Max Biaggi, Italy, Alitalia Aprilia, 178; 3. TIE Jonathon Rea, Ireland, Ten Kate Hannspree Honda and Carlos Checa, Spain, Althea Ducati, 110; 5. James Toseland, U.K., Sterilgarda Yamaha, 106;
6. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, Xerox Ducati, 100; 7. Troy Corser, Australia, BMW Motorrad, 92; 8. Leon Camier, U.K., Alitalia Aprilia, 72; 9. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Alstare Suzuki, 70; 10. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Sterilgarda Yamaha, 65.