With practice and qualifying completed at Philip Island a picture has developed as to what can be expected in both World Superbike races. This article analyses the lap times from the leading contenders. That statistics for each rider takes into account their body of work throughout the weekend with each representative flying lap taken into account. Obviously riders operate different programmes to one another throughout the course of the weekend but by and large a picture has developed over the course of the action.
Carlos Checa has topped the timesheets all the way through the weekend and a cursory look at his lap times shows why the Spaniard will start tomorrow’s race as favourite. In terms of outright pace Checa has completed more laps under 1m32s than any other rider. It is however his consistency that sets the Ducati rider apart. His average flying lap time throughout the weekend is 1m32.209s. When you analyse his body of work throughout the weekend it is clear that he has found a great balance for his motorcycle. This is indicated with the high concentration of laps within the 1m31.9s and 1m32.5s range. Carlos clearly enjoys the challenges of Philip Island but it is the consistency of his setup that has allowed him to monopolise the top of the timesheets throughout the weekend.
While Checa’s lap times show a relatively straight line from fastest time to slowest, Max Biaggi’s lap time curve is much more inconsistent. The reigning world champion dug deep to set his fastest time of the weekend to qualify second on the grid but he has shown throughout the weekend that he cannot lap consistently at Checa’s pace. He does however have an ace up his sleeve; the top speed of his bike.
The Aprilia is considerably faster than Checa’s Ducati down the long start-finish straight. As a result if Max has even a scent of a slipstream he should be able to capitalise on a ten mp/h top speed advantage. The challenge for Biaggi is that, all things being equal, he will need to ride at the limit of his machine to even have the chance to keep Checa in sight during the race. The Aprilia’s pace is quite clearly in the mid 1m32s range, placing a premium on Max’s race craft.
Sylvain Guintoli qualified third on the grid after an impressive Superpole effort from the Frenchman. It is interesting that Guintoli, riding a Ducati, has a similar level of consistency as Checa. While Guintoli cannot match the pace of Checa it is clear that the Italian bike is very ride able and induces great levels of confidence from its riders. Guintoli has a high concentration of laps within the 1m32s and 1m32.7 range. He lags slightly behind Biaggi in terms of outright speed but during tomorrow’s race he could give the world champion a scare. Guintoli is a highly skilled, tactical racer and it will be interesting to see if he can challenge Biaggi in the race.
Leon Haslam has had a strange weekend. The Englishman has kept his powder dry for much of the weekend and generally has only completed short stints during practice and qualifying. The outright pace of the bike is impressive but because he has limited his mileage to a large degree a lot is unknown about his potential in the race. The majority of his lap times fall within the 1m32’s sector so while he has good outright pace the spread of slow lap times indicates that while he will race at the sharp end in the early laps it is likely that he will gradually lose pace and start to fall back from the leaders as the race progresses.
Eugene Laverty qualified as the leading rookie with the fifth fastest time. The Irishman has had a strong start to his WSBK career but it seems that the best he will be able to achieve is to battle with Guintoli for the lowest rung of the podium. Laverty has concentrated on race pace throughout the weekend and has clearly found a good balance to his Yamaha R1. He has consistently lapped around the 1m33s barrier and if he can do that throughout tomorrow’s race he should be well placed. It is promising for his development that he has shown such consistency, mixed with the ability to nail a qualifying lap at the death of Superpole. All in all Laverty has had a promising start to his WSBK career.
While one Irishman can look forward to racing with one eye on the podium Jonathon Rea will have to contend with racing through the pack following his crash in the second Superpole session. Although he has denied it Rea has clearly been hampered by niggling injuries following his recent crashes and he faces an uphill challenge tomorrow. Rea has consistently been at the sharp end throughout the weekend so if he can make a strong start in tomorrow’s races he can still salvage top five finishes and move on to the Donnington Park round in a decent championship position.
With all this mind it is clear that Checa has a distinct advantage tomorrow, but his chances of winning depend solely on his ability to pull away from Biaggi. The Italian showed last year that he will not back down from a fight so tomorrow’s race is primed for some fireworks.