Tuesday, April 10, 2007

BSB: Season Kicks Off At Brands Hatch

Gregorio Lavilla started off the British Superbike season with a perfect score yesterday, taking a double victory on his Airwaves Ducati. However, all eyes were on 20 year old rookie Leon Camier, who took his Honda to a 2nd and a 3rd in his BSB debut races.
Race One
Johnny Rea will be kicking himself for messing up his start from pole position, but he has shown that the factory Honda team were 100% right to sign up a 20 year old who spent last year lapping very quickly and hopping off the bike in equal proportions. Rea finished in 3rd place, while his team mate Kiyonari, the reigning champion, could only trundle in 8th.
The big surprise was the performance of Leon Camier in only his 3rd race on a Superbike. (Granted, one of the first 2 was the Suzuka 8-hours, so he's had a bit of practise.) The 20 year old led the race, even staying calm when he was hit by Lavilla's Ducati. His 2nd place in race one has really marked him out as a rising star. Outperforming the factory Honda team was a hugely impressive feat, and he shares the credit with his Bike Animal Honda team.
Gregorio Lavilla made us wonder why he's not in WSBK with a near- immaculate performance. His only fault was colliding with Camier, seemingly outfoxed by the rookie's distinctive double-apex line around Druids, thinking that the Honda had run wide when it was actually cutting back for the second apex. Lavilla took his Ducati to the win with a dominant performance.
The rest of the big names had mixed fortunes. Chris Walker was hugely impressive on his Suzuki, but dropped back with tyre issues towards the end of the race. Leon Haslam's Ducati had similar problems, sliding around all over the place in the later laps. Shakey Byrne had the opposite problem, his hard compound tyre not starting to grip until the late stages, when he shot up to 4th.
Race Two
Another awful start from Johnny Rea. This time, Lavilla took the lead and started putting in very fast laps while everybody else was held up by Chris Walker. Leon Camier eventually managed to sneak past The Stalker's crazy sideways in the braking zone antics. Johnny Rea was charging through the field, and this time Kiyonari was having a better race early on.
The safety car was suddenly brought out for an injured rider. A vicious highside had dumped Malcolm Ashley onto the tarmac on the exit to Druids. The call for the safety car was a little premature, as Ashley was helped off by marshals, but better safe than sorry when somebody's on the exit of a fairly blind corner.
Lavilla was furious at the disappearance of his lead. Now he would have to build it back up on very worn tyres. Behind him, Johnny Rea was on a charge, and might just have caught the Spaniard on the last lap. Leon Camier was holding an impressive 3rd place.
Then the red flag was thrown. A bike's engine had detonated at the start of the start/finish straight, dumping oil everywhere. Lavilla took the double win, Rea was disappointed that he didn't get the chance to fight for the victory, and Camier was delighted at scoring another podium.
Leon Camier was the star of the weekend, finishing 2nd and 3rd despite having just a fraction of the experience of the guys around him. It is unusual to see a bike racer so enormously tall, around 6'4", and a smooth rider at that, so no Xaus-style flailing around.
Lavilla had a flawless weekend, much better than his last visit to Brands, when a lack of brakes led to a terrifying high speed hop-off.
Johnny Rea has been touted as a potential champion, despite never having won a BSB race before. His incredible speed in qualifying, and his maturity in the races, mean that he is certainly in with a shout, if he nails those starts.
The new tyre rules made their presence felt. BSB now has an even more restrictive set of tyre regulations than MotoGP, just 6 rear race tyres and 3 qualifiers can be used before the race. Riders can no longer just chuck different tyres at the bike until it starts going round corners. Leon Haslam and Chris Walker both seemed to fall foul of this, and possibly Kiyonari. (Who knows? He never says anything!)
The tyre rules force people to set the bike up around the tyres, rather than choosing tyres to suit the set-up. Aside from the cost savings, this means that riders must understand their bike set-up and communicate effectively with their engineers. I feel that this will be a major benefit to youngsters like Rea and Camier, who are surely on their way to the cut-throat world of World Championships.
Finally, a word on the television coverage. ITV has hilariously chosen two of the tallest sports presenters on our screens to cover bike racing! With most bike racers being firmly in the sub- 5'8" munchkin category, it takes an evil genius to make them talk to James Cracknell, a 6'4" mountain of Olympics-winning rower, and the amazonian Janie Omorogbe, a 6 foot tall veteran of the TV show Gladiators. Great stuff.

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