Monday, October 08, 2007

WSBK: Toseland Takes Title!

James Toseland is World Superbike Champion, after doing just enough at the final round in Magny Cours. Noriyuki Haga did all he could to take the title by romping to a double victory on his Santander Yamaha, but finished the season just 2 points behind Toseland.

The racing was typical of Magny Cours, with most riders embarking on a course of sheer lunacy in a bid to impress team bosses hiring for next year. The last race of the season is also known as the best time to end up in hospital, as you have several months to recover.

Toseland had been on pole position, but race one was a nightmare as he was taken off at turn one. Lorenzo Lanzi, keen for a good showing after being rubbish at Xerox Ducati all year, made a good start and went round Toseland, throwing his bike into turn one and clipping the Englishman's front wheel. Lanzi spectacularly highsided out of the race and into the medical centre, while Toseland had to sit the bike up and cling on for grim life as he careered through the gravel trap at high speed. He returned to the track dead last, but managed to latch onto Max Biaggi, who had been forced well wide at turn one too. The Roman Emperor's title hopes were effectively over, but he battled back to 6th, with Toseland finishing behind him in 7th.

Haga had ridden a flawless race for the victory. Behind him, Troys Bayliss and Corser took the other podium spots ahead of an impressive Max Neukirchner.

The title battle now rested on race two, and it was between Haga and Toseland. All the Japanese rider could do was win the race and hope his rival finished 9th or worse.

This time, Toseland managed to get round turn one without visiting the crunchy brown stuff, but it was again Haga who took off into the lead, and he was too quick for the following pack. He maintained his lead for the whole race without being too troubled by anyone else.

The racing behind him was all knees and elbows, with some outrageous moves. Troy Corser isn't known as being the hardest racer out there, and he was battered and bruised by various and sundry lunatics. Max Biaggi and Kawasaki rider Fonsi Nieto each had a big chomp out of the Australian Santander Yamaha rider, and it was all Corser could do to keep hold of his machine under these brutal assaults. Nieto seemed especially keen to make up for a deeply mediocre season, and somehow managed to finish on the podium, begging the question as to why the hell he hasn't ridden this quickly all year. Biaggi was pleased with another podium, finishing 3rd in the championship in his debut season. Should the Roman Emperor find somebody to meet his enormous wage demands for next year, he would surely be a challenger for the title now that he knows the bike and the circuits.

Troy Bayliss could only finish 5th, one place ahead of Toseland. The Aussie had cheekily claimed in an interview that Toseland had probably learned a thing or two from him, helping the Englishman become a champion. With everybody expecting next year's Ducati 1098R to be a 1200cc rocketship, he will be looking to carry on this year's excellent form to another title.

Haga missed out on the title by just 2 points. It has to be said that the Yamaha at the start of the year wasn't a great bike. It showed enormous potential, but was down on power and had the same love for eating tyres as Cookie Monster has for cookies. However, Yamaha Italia have developed it into an outstanding race machine, thanks in part to Haga, and probably in large part to Troy Corser, who is well known as an excellent development rider. If the Yamaha had managed to care for its tyres in the early part of the season, Haga could have another 20 points, never mind 2. Even so, Yamaha won the constructors' championship, which goes to show how good the bike became and how good the two riders were.

Toseland is World Champion. Last time he won the championship with Ducati, he sneaked it from his team-mate Regis Laconi in the last race. This time, Toseland has been front-runner all year, and his total of 8 wins to Haga's 7 show that ultimately, this championship was richly deserved. It is easy to claim that Toseland went off the boil, but it was his title to lose, while Haga had everything to gain, so the Englishman was never going to win it or bin it. Toseland will now go to MotoGP with Tech 3 Yamaha as reigning WSBK champion as team-mate to Colin Edwards, himself a double WSBK champion with Honda.

It is an incredible achievement for Hannspree Ten Kate Honda. They have been World Supersport champions for several years, and now they have added the World Superbike championship to their trophy cabinet back in Holland. They lose Toseland, but they will have an all-new 3-rider dream team for 2008 with current WSS champion Kenan Sofuoglu, probable BSB champion Ryuichi Kiyonari and MotoGP veteran Carlos Checa to help develop the 2008 Fireblade.

A great year for World Superbikes. Fantastic racing throughout the season and a championship that went right down to the wire were in stark contrast to MotoGP, which is all at sea. WSBK is going from strength to strength. The arrival of the controversial new 1200cc Ducati next year will be exciting, and the long term looks secure with the arrival of BMW in 2009. A new sponsorship deal has been inked to replace Corona Extra. Championship-winning sponsors Hannspree will now be title sponsors of the World Superbike Championship, safeguarding the series until 2010. Long live WSBK!

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