Monday, May 14, 2007

WSBK Monza: Samurai Slides To Victory

"Nitro" Nori Haga blasted to a double victory in the Monza round of the World Superbike Championship yesterday. On a track known for its tight slipstreaming battles, the Yamaha rider won by over 8 seconds in race one, and almost 3 seconds in race two.
Race one started with Lorenzo Lanzi seemingly trying to race the 1950's version of the Monza racetrack, when there wasn't a chicane at the end of the start-finish straight. He somehow missed everybody as he screamed through the braking zone without doing very much braking.
James Toseland had been the main threat, leading the pack until a poor tyre choice became obvious. The Ten Kate Honda rider had chosen too soft a compound, wrongly thinking that he could make it last the race. The long straights cooked the central part of the tyre, forcing the Englishman to weave from side to side on the straights in order to use the sides of the tyre rather than the disintegrating band around the middle. Losing 3 seconds a lap, he somehow managed to grab 4th place.
His Ten Kate team-mate Roby Rolfo had been on surprisingly good form for the first time this year. However, Rolfo's tyre also deteriorated, then finally fell apart altogether. The Italian trundled round for 17th place, not even rewarded with a single point after running in podium positions for much of the race. Maybe if he had copied Toseland's swerving antics he might have preserved the tyre to the chequered flag.
Max Biaggi had his trademark great start followed by slow opening laps, but was on decent form. He was trying very hard, and eventually overcooked it in the braking zone for turn one. The Roman Emperor managed to sit the bike up and run into the gravel, then restart, having lost precious seconds.
Troy Bayliss, hard charging as always, took advantage of Max's misfortune to snatch 2nd place. It wouldn't have been as impressive if Toseland, Rolfo and Biaggi hadn't had problems, but choosing the right tyres and staying on the track are all part of racing, so the Aussie's podium was well deserved.
The second Troy, Mr Corser, battled well in the early laps but could not maintain the pace and dropped back, finishing 5th.
Haga ended up taking an utterly dominant victory. Everybody from the Yamaha Italia factory, around 400 people, had come to watch. They were rewarded for the great efforts they have made this year: in round one at Qatar the Yamaha was down on top speed and chewing its tyres, but at Monza it was as fast as anything else and the tyres lasted the whole race, even with the little Japanese nutcase Haga at the controls.
Race two saw the Kawasaki of Regis Laconi lead through the first chicane, but soon drop back into the chasing pack. James Toseland breezed past the Frenchman to the front.
Roby Rolfo had another excellent race by his standards, but he couldn't hold off Nori Haga, who was battling through the field. Soon the Yamaha was behind Toseland's Honda. The Englishman managed to hold Haga off for a while, but his bike wasn't quite set up for the harder tyre that he had chosen for the second race. Nitro Nori stretched out a comfortable lead that he held to the chequered flag, while Toseland dropped back into the clutches of the following pack, where Biaggi, Rolfo, Bayliss and Corser were beating each other up for the podium positions. Bayliss had been at the back of the group, but was moving forward through them, briefly getting in front of Biaggi before slipping back. On the last lap, Max went for Toseland, but had a huge slide on the exit of the last chicane. The Roman narrowly avoided flying over the handlebars, but ended up in 5th at the back of the group.
Bayliss forced his way past Toseland on the way into the Parabolica, but ran too deep. Toseland, who had earlier gone around the high-speed right-hander side by side with Haga, almost touching, had no qualms about nipping back past the Australian to grab 2nd place. Bayliss had to settle for 3rd, with Rolfo in a season's best 4th position.
Haga has now leapfrogged Biaggi into 2nd place in the World Championship standings with 194 points, just 3 ahead of the Italian. James Toseland still leads with 229 points.
Toseland is still favourite to win the title. Relatively speaking, this was a bad day at the office for Toseland, and he still ended up with 4th and 2nd places and a clear lead in the points standings.
Max Biaggi lost only a few points to Toseland this weekend, but slipped to 3rd in the rankings. It is asking a lot for the Roman Emperor to take the WSBK title in his first year, learning many of the tracks and having no setup data to fall back on.
Haga is, not for the first time, the dark horse in the race for the title. He has lost out in the past due to inconsistency, but with 3 victories this year, he is looking as good as ever. The Yamaha is rapidly evolving into a top bike. This could be Haga's big chance to become champion, but he will probably need Toseland to have a few more bad days along the way.

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