The second round of the World Superbike season will take place this weekend with Donington Park playing host to the European round of the championship. Carlos Checa dominated proceedings in the opening round of the season the teams and riders have had a month to find solutions to their Aussie woes and ways to combat the Ducati rider.
Leading riders this weekend
While Checa was untouchable in Philip Island the action this weekend should be much closer. A host of riders are confident of challenging at the front of the field, led by reigning champion Max Biaggi. The Italian was hugely impressive at Philip Island, taking a brace of runner up finishes having not been expected to perform well at a circuit that Aprilia had struggled at in the past.
Donington on the other hand is a track that Biaggi loves and also one that the Aprilia performed well at during the last WSBK race at the venue in 2009. The Italian converted his front row starting position into a runner up finish and he should be very competitive once more this weekend as he looks to continue the strong start to his title defence.
The Philip Island circuit perfectly suited Checa’s Ducati and, on paper at least, the twin-cylinder machine should be very quick once again this weekend. Donington has historically been one of the happiest hunting grounds for the Italian manufacturer and while they struggled for speed in the 2009 race there is little to suggest that this will be the case once again this weekend.
In Australia it was clear that Checa had a bike that he felt incredibly confident with through the fast corners of Philip Island, and this is sure to be of particular benefit through the Craner Curves and the exciting opening half of the lap. The twin-cylinder machine though will not be as fast in the second half of the lap where power will be crucial for riders powering out of the chicane and the hairpins, this section will play perfectly in Biaggi’s hands.
Checa should once again he in position to do well this weekend and while he will be hard pressed to keep the likes of Biaggi at bay the Spaniard should challenge for the podium once again with safe top five finishes likely.
Following his fraught week in Australia, that included heavy crashes in both testing and the race, Jonathon Rea has said that he is almost back at full fitness. Rea had a very strong second race performance in Australia, taking fourth place, and he should be a podium challenger this weekend. The Castrol Honda rider has raced well at Donington in the past and will surely be confident of building up a head of steam this weekend before the championship heads to Assen, where he had a double win last year.
Leon Haslam surprised everyone with a superb podium in the first race of the season and the Englishman will be keen to replicate that form in his home race. The BMW has clearly improved considerably since the arrival of Haslam but they will still arrive at Donington with question marks hanging over their potential. It is crucial for the team to have another strong race and show that the Philip Island podium was not a fluke, but rather a sign of things to come from the year ahead.
The factory Yamaha team dominated proceedings in 2009 with Ben Spies taking a double race win from pole position. It will be a challenge for the team to reach such heights again this season but both Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty should be quite competitive this weekend.
On the injury front James Toseland will not race this weekend following the Aragon testing crash that left him with a fractured wrist. However Kawasaki rider Chris Vermeulin will make his first official on track appearance in practice this weekend as he continues to try and return to full fitness following his serious knee injury suffered early last year.
The Australian will ride in free practice following an extensive test last week. There are still doubts as to whether he will race on Sunday but it is encouraging that the former World Supersport champion, and MotoGP race winner, has made enough progress to compete competitively once more.
Tyre tactics will be key once more
When you analyse the performance of the leading riders in both races from the opening round it is clear that tyres were crucial to the outcome of races. With Pirelli the sole manufacturer in the series for three years riders rode flat out throughout the duration it was very interesting that in Philip Island the leading riders took a very different approach. Checa, Biaggi and Melandri all markedly adjusted their tactics in the second race to maximise the performance of their tyres.
In the opening race Checa and Biaggi raced flat out in the opening ten laps before their performance fell away sharply before half distance. In the second race they changed their tactics and instead of lapping as fast as possible they, and Melandri, took a markedly different approach. Each rider would ease off slightly after a fast lap allowing the tyre to maintain optimum performance before they once again had a fast lap. This approach allowed them to set a much faster overall race time in the second outing.
It was intriguing that it was three successful ex-Grand Prix riders who took this approach. While the riders WSBK brought up through production racing raced to the maximum capability of their machine at ALL times the leaders raced below its potential throughout in their successful efforts to race as fast as possible.
With more and more ex Grand Prix this cerebral racing might replace the brawn that has dominated the class in the past.
Weather for this weekend
The weather at this time of year is liable to do absolutely anything but the forecast for this weekend is quite promising with cloudy conditions on Friday expected to clear before a sunny weekend with temperatures expected to be in the region of 8-10c.