Monday, May 11, 2009

WSBK: Carnage and Chaos at Monza

The World Superbike races at Monza resulted in a lucky win for Michel "Lanzi" Fabrizio, and a fully deserved win for Ben Spies. However, the day was marred with a chaotic start to the first race.

The trouble with Monza is the first chicane. Some people describe it as dodgy, or a bit too tight, or just plain crap. There has been more than one attempt at remodelling the corner, which used to be simply a kink in a 200mph straight and was therefore a tad dangerous. Some kind of chicane is necessary, but the present one is atrocious. This isn't MotoGP, there are close to 3 dozen bikes on a World Superbike grid, and some of the guys at the back aren't blessed with large amounts of talent or brainpower. The field arrives at the first corner jostling for position, and it just takes one idiot at the back to make a small mistake for carnage to ensue.

That's what happened. There were actually two crashes going on, but the most serious happened when the once-talented Makoto Tamada somehow tangled with Brendan Roberts. The Aussie ended up off the track, and his bike torpedoed the hapless Max Neukirchner, whose only crime was to be leading the race around the chicane. The flying Ducati hit him broadside on, breaking his femur. It's a disaster to have such a quick and popular racer out of action for many weeks, just because of moronic circuit design. A second crash involved bikes bursting into flames. This led to a long delay while the Italian marshalls scrubbed away at the oil and petrol stains on this slow, dodgy corner.

The race was restarted, and everyone managed to get around the first chicane without any major assaults. It turned into the classic Monza slipstreaming battle. The top three were the Sterilgarda Yamaha of Ben Spies and the two Xerox Ducatis of Noriyuki Haga and Michel "It's his passport, stupid" Fabrizio. Amazingly, the underperforming Roman was beating up his championship-leading Japanese team-mate, trying for an unlikely home victory. However, it was the Yamaha Italia bike of Ben Spies that led into the Parabolica for the last time. Then conked out half way round after running out of fuel. Some claimed it was because the Yamaha Italia team forgot to refill the bikes after the aborted start, which seems pretty unlikely. More likely, on a bike with such a lot of trick electronics, is that there was a miscalculation and the fuel load was simply cut too fine. Spies trundled over the line in 15th, immediately parking the Yamaha against the barrier.

This let Fabrizio take his maiden WSBK victory on home soil. The melodramatic Italian was overjoyed, and will probably have signed a 2-year extension to his Ducati contract already, having joined the Lorenzo Lanzi club of riders who got a top factory Ducati ride because of their passports and actually managed to win a race too. Nori Haga was second home, almost touching his team-mate on the run to the line. Max Biaggi (Aprilia) was briefly third, but was pinged for short-cutting a chicane and had 20 seconds added to his race time. This promoted Ryuichi Kiyonari (Ten Kate Honda) to the podium. He wasn't that happy, as he had made an awful start and been forced to fight all the way back up to where he should have been anyway.

Race Two was thankfully less insane, with none of the big names carted off with major injuries. However, there was one of the major names carted off with bumps and bruises. Noriyuki Haga dropped way down on the first lap, finally lobbing the Ducati at the tyre wall in a spectacular display of tumbling. His excuse was that a bird hit him on the right arm, and he didn't have a great deal of control over the bike. Being Japanese, he rode as fast as he could anyway, and fell off. Back to the old Haga? Not so long as birds stop hitting him on the arm. (A crash-happy bike racer with a bird on his arm? There must be a Carlos Checa joke in there somewhere.)

Spies managed to win the race this time, his bike lasting all the way to the chequered flag instead of dying a death 100 yards short. Fabrizio took 2nd, with Kiyo 3rd.

Max Biaggi set the speed record for the day, the whippet-like Roman Emperor wringing 202.4mph out of his Aprilia RSV4. Not bad for a tarted-up road bike, even though cynics call the Aprilia roadbike a race bike with lights and a speedo.

Overall it was a great day's racing that made you feel sorry for the poor saps watching F1 on another channel. Bad news for Max Neukirchner, but he'll bounce back. The DNF for Haga, and the, uh, JBF (Just Barely Finished) for Spies kept the title race interesting, and Fabrizio's lucky win added a 3rd name to this year's roll of honour. World Superbike keeps on rocking, next stop South Africa.

No comments: