Tuesday, August 26, 2008

WSBK: Silly Search for Bayliss Replacement

World Superbikes usually has a good silly season, but the search for the new Troy Bayliss just keeps getting sillier and sillier. The Aussie star leads the championship on his Xerox Ducati 1098F08, but has finally decided that he will retire at the end of the year.

The trouble with replacing Bayliss is that he's one of the best riders in the history of Superbike. Choosing between him and Ducati's other WSBK legend Carl Fogarty is largely a matter of whether you prefer laid-back Australians loved by all, or arrogant Englishmen who get up everyone's hooter. As riders, Bayliss and Foggy are World Superbike gods, with records that others can only dream of.

So it's not just a case of replacing a quick rider, it's a case of replacing a superhero. You can't replace a superhero with some guy who will probably win the odd race, you need to find somebody who will win championships. The team's number 2 rider is expected to be a young Italian who is quick but erratic. Michel Fabrizio currently fills that position and is almost certain to stay next year.

Let's look at the riders who have been linked with the number 1 Ducati ride for next year:

Shane "Shakey" Byrne
Currently winning the British Superbike series at a canter on a Ducati 1098, Shakey is experienced, with some MotoGP races under his belt on the atrocious Aprilia and Roberts-KTM machines. In the last couple of years in BSB on 4-cylinder Japanese bikes, he spent half his time crawling off the track with concussion (though the time that the front brake calliper fell off his Rizla Suzuki and he had to jump off the bike at 170mph wasn't his fault!) He just seems to click with Ducatis, having won the BSB title and a couple of races as a WSBK wildcard back in the day. He is head and shoulders above anyone else in BSB this year and looks like he was born to ride the 1098. On the downside, he doesn't know the WSBK tracks. In with a decent chance, and would be my choice to replace Bayliss.

Max Biaggi
This season, The Roman Emperor is riding a Ducati in WSBK for the 2nd-string Sterilgarda team, and he's not exactly setting the heather alight either. Ludicrously parted with Suzuki over wage issues despite almost winning the title last year. On the plus side, he's extremely quick when he feels like it and is a 4-time 250cc World Champion. On the downside, he keeps falling out with teams. And Ducati only ever win the WSBK title with British and Australian riders (Foggy, Bayliss, Hodgson, Toseland, Bayliss again) so an Italian won't be much use. Still, in with a good chance because it's an Italian team and he's Max Biaggi.

Chris Vermeulen
Having a hit and miss season with Suzuki in MotoGP, but seems to have staked his claim for another year at Suzuki (though there are rumours that he will have to take a pay cut). World Superbike, even the prestigious factory Ducati ride, would be a step down for Vermeulen, so he will almost certainly try to stay in MotoGP. As a former Ten Kate rider in WSBK and WSS, he knows most of the tracks. Would be an excellent choice if his MotoGP dreams all fall through, but it looks pretty unlikely.

Michel Fabrizio
There is a possibility that Fabrizio might be promoted to team leader alongside up and coming Italian Niccolo Canepa. So then there would be two erratic young Italians failing to win the WSBK title for Xerox Ducati. It is also said that Ducati want to get Canepa on the career-killing Alice Ducati MotoGP bike to groom him for the future. Fabrizio as number one Ducati in WSBK is unlikely, but with team politics being what they are, who knows?

Ben Spies
Getting pretty silly now. The Texan is the latest big name rider to be linked with Ducati, however his pay demands are truly ludicrous. He earns more than half the MotoGP paddock, and possibly more than anyone in WSBK. This is because he has won the truly worthless AMA Superbike title, where the wages are obscene and the racing is utterly non-existent. He doesn't want to take a pay cut just to race in some foreign race series, even though AMA Superbike is currently in the process of disappearing up its own crevice and re-emerging as 600cc SuperStock with bells on, which may kill off all the factory teams. Spies would be a fascinating choice for the ex-Bayliss ride, but there isn't a hope in hell of it happening unless he re-thinks his love of filthy lucre. Maybe he will show up in WSBK at some point, when AMA SBK is in tatters and all of the garage doors in MotoGP are firmly shut...

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