Wednesday, February 20, 2008

WSBK: 2008 Season Preview

Tis the season to preview the World Superbikes. I may as well jump on the bandwagon. Everyone else is at it.

New Rules
Ducati successfully argued that they should be allowed to field 1200cc V-twin bikes against the 1000cc 4-cylinder Japanese machines. In return, Ducati agreed to restrict their bikes to the same level of tuning as everybody else, having previously had an advantage. Then got an exemption so they can use different pistons. The 1200cc twins will be heavier, starting the season at 168kg versus 162kg for the 4-cylinder bikes. This weight limit may be revised based on performance, adding up to 3 extra kilos of ballast, or subtracting 6kg as required to even things up. They will also have to run a 50mm air inlet restrictor, which can also be varied to equalize performance. The restrictors may be a bit of a red herring as they restrict maximum bhp and have minimal effect on the monstrous low-end torque of a 1200cc twin.

The Ducati 1098R is going to be an awesome machine. Cynics like me reckon that it may well dominate proceedings, with the ballast and restrictor adjustments happening conveniently too late to change the points table. We'll have to wait until we're a few races in, and have sampled both fast and twisty tracks, then we'll find out.

Honda's new CBR1000RR Fireblade hasn't set the forums alight with its looks, but it will build on the brilliance of the old model. It may take a little while for the teams to find good setups. Ten Kate will be at an advantage in this respect, with Carlos Checa's development skills and Ryuichi Kiyonari's close relationship with HRC.

Yamaha debuted their latest R1 last year, and once it had found some top-end power and stopped chewing its tyres it turned into a great machine. It should be a front-runner this year.

Suzuki have a quick bike, but it may lack development as the Alstare team have lost their Corona sponsorship. However, the Japanese manufacturer will be trying hard to help Yukio Kagayama after his surprise win in last year's Suzuka 8 hour.

If the Kawasaki was as quick as it is green, it would be a great machine. But it isn't.

Likely Championship Contenders
You'd have to be brain-dead not to think Troy Bayliss is favourite for the title. The Aussie had it tough last year, when the bike suddenly booted him in the crotch and threw him down the street at Donington. He lost a pinkie, and spent a lot of time sitting in a soft armchair with a pack of frozen peas down the front of his pants. He's a battler, though. He'll be there or thereabouts at the end of the year, and should win a fair few races on the Xerox Ducati.

Noriyuki Haga was brilliant towards the end of last year, and really lost the title because he spent the first few races developing the brand new Yamaha. He'll hit the ground running this year though, with Xerox Ducati and HannSpree Ten Kate Honda both trying to set up brand new machines. Nitro Nori's best chance of the title was a few years back when he got banned in farcical circumstances for failing a drug test by taking a decongestant. This year will be his next best, and possibly last chance.

Max Biaggi will be adapting to yet another type of bike, this time the 1200cc V-twin Sterilgarda Ducati. However, Max has won races in 250GP, 500GP, 990cc MotoGP and 1000cc WSBK. He will very probably add 1200cc WSBK to that list. Though he now knows the tracks and is familiar with the Pirelli control tyre, Max is an outside shot for the title, as he will have to beat Troy "Mr Ducati" Bayliss on the same bike. Expect to hear Max complaining that his bike isn't as good as the factory Ducatis, but still beating them a few times along the way.

Possible Race Winners
Ruben "Chaos" Xaus will be team-mate to Biaggi on the Sterilgarda Ducati. As always, Xaus will probably win a race or two, and destroy the odd 1098R. It just wouldn't be the same without Xaus, the most entertaining rider in the series.

Carlos Checa is experienced enough to go well, but he won't know most of the tracks and won't know the Pirelli control tyres. Max Biaggi showed that you can overcome this last year, but you have to be a fast learner and put in a ton of laps. The Spaniard should bag a race or two on the Ten Kate Honda.

Ryuichi Kiyonari is on red hot form after winning the BSB title twice. However, he will be learning most of the circuits too, as well as the tyres. Ten Kate are a great team though, and his bike should be a rocket ship.

Troy Corser is in the twilight years of racing. He's still lightning fast in superpole, but couldn't manage a race win last year. He is probably largely responsible for the Yamaha R1's rapid development, and that's why he is still around. Could nick a race here or there.

Michel Fabrizio has built a career on being rubbish everywhere but Brno. However, that's Max's track, so the young Italian will do well to snatch that one from the wily old Roman Emperor on an identical Ducati. Expect him to be generally blown away by Bayliss, but surprise us all with one or two brilliant races, maybe even a win.

With the new 1200cc versus 1000cc rules, this should be a great year. Is the 1098R too good for the Japanese bikes? Will Bayliss grab the title in probably his last year of racing? We'll get a good idea of how things are going when the season starts this weekend.

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