Monday, November 03, 2008

WSBK: Bayliss Bows Out With Portimao Double

Troy Bayliss ended his glittering career at the top, with a crushing double victory in the final World Superbike meeting of the year at the new Portimao track in Portugal, having started from pole position.

The Portimao racetrack is so new that grass has not yet grown on some of its earth banks. However, it has all the character of a decades-old British or American track. There are twists, turns and elevation changes everywhere, making this track seem like a tarmac rollercoaster. Troy Bayliss described Portimao as being "like Oulton Park with runoff", with other riders comparing it to Brands Hatch. With the modern tendency towards building "Formula One tracks", i.e. boring, flat, featureless circuits built in the vain hope of making F1 cars overtake, it is astonishing to see that the Portuguese have gone against the trend to build a truly magnificent bike track. Virtually all of the racers heaped praise on the new circuit, and it brought us some brilliant racing. How appropriate that such an all-action track should have a corner named after Craig Jones.

Race One
Bayliss made a perfect start on the Xerox Ducati, leading into the first corner and disappearing into the wide blue yonder. The track was greasy after the previous day's torrential rainfall, and although some riders started to beat Troy's lap times towards the end of the race, the Australian was long gone. There is little to say about his race except that it was a display of utter dominance from the newly crowned champion. While Bayliss lapped alone in front, the real action took place in the chasing pack.

Wildcard rider Cal Crutchlow made an excellent start on his HM Plant Honda, but tried to challenge Bayliss for the lead and was pushed a little wide in the first turn. This allowed Hannspree Ten Kate Honda's Jonathan Rea, Sterilgarda Ducati's Ruben Xaus and Santander Yamaha's Troy Corser to surge past the Englishman. Michel Fabrizio had made a respectable start on the second Xerox Ducati bike, and was challenging Sterilgarda Ducati's Max Biaggi when the pair tangled and went down just a few corners into the race. The tiny Roman Emperor was furious with his young compatriot, and there was a hilarious moment when Max charged over to Fabrizio, grabbing him by the crash helmet and shaking it angrily.

It would be impossible to give a detailed account of the race for second place as the pack was shuffled on virtually every lap, but here are the highlights. The leading pack of Xaus, Corser, Rea and Crutchlow beat each other up like their lives depended on it. Xaus was especially vigorous in overtaking the young British riders, leading to some real hair-raising moments. Crutchlow moved to the head of the pack and seemed to be pulling away, but only for a few corners before he was hauled back into the scrum. All of this was slowing the riders down, and the next group of HM Plant Honda wildcard Leon Haslam, Hannspree Honda veteran Carlos Checa and Santander Yamaha nutter Noriyuki Haga caught up to make an insane seven bike freight train.

Rea and Crutchlow were both riding very aggressively, and both made small mistakes that lost them several places. Crutchlow would eventually drop out with a destroyed rear tyre. Checa and Haga were the men on the move. Leon Haslam was holding second place when Haga arrived. The Japanese star showed his young rival no quarter, elbowing him off the racing line onto the greasy area of the tarmac, where he would lose a few places before finding some grip. Haga was then enveloped in a fight with Checa and Corser, but the Japanese Samurai of Slide was forced to retire with a gearbox problem. Checa was now the fastest man in the race, but even with a badly worn rear tyre, Bayliss held an insurmountable lead to the chequered flag, and the Spaniard had to settle for second place, with Corser third...

Read the rest of my Portimao WSBK report at Motorbikesport.

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