WSBK PREVIEW: ROUND SIX-MISANO

Circuit: Misano
Country: Italy
Track length: 4060m
Opened: 1972
Fastest lap ever: 1:33.525 (Troy Bayliss, 2002) Lap record: 1:34.913 (Troy Bayliss, 2002) Last year’s winner: Regis Laconi (Ducati)

The Superbike World Championship makes its second visit of the year to Italy this weekend, when the Misano Adriatico circuit plays host to round six of what is proving to be an exciting championship.

The question on everyone’s lips is who can stop Ducati’s Troy Bayliss from extending his run of seven consecutive race wins. The man most likely to break that domination looks like being Yamaha Motor Italia’s Noriyuki Haga.

Haga has been supremely consistent this season, failing to finish just one race and never coming lower than fifth in the other nine races. He has been Bayliss’ main challenger since the start of the European season in April, outscoring all but the Australian over the last three rounds to go to Misano third in the championship.


The Japanese rider returns to Italy on the back of three consecutive podium finishes and a successful test in Brno. His Yamaha Motor Italia squad have worked hard to make the 2006 YZF-R1 easier to ride than last year’s model and with every lap bringing a greater knowledge of the complex electronics systems used to manage the power, the team goes to Misano in good spirits.

“Last year we had a big traction problem in Misano,” says Haga, who qualified a lowly 21st on the grid but still scored a pair of sixths at the seaside circuit last year. “My target for Misano is the same as at all races: to fight for the win. This year the bike is much better on this type of track and we had a good test at Misano in April, when I set the third fastest time and was able to do a good race simulation. I think that the conditions will be much hotter for the race and that this will change the grip levels but we now have a good base setting for the bike and it means that we do not have to make such big changes between each circuit.”

As an official Pirelli tyre test team, Haga and his team-mate Andrew Pitt spent their three days in the Czech Republic last week evaluating the latest products from the tyre company as well as trying out a host of new settings and development parts on their YZF-R1s. Running in hot temperatures as expected in Misano, Pitt set the second fastest time on race tyres with a 2:01.2, Haga was third fastest with a best of 2:01.5. Bayliss was the fastest rider on show with a 2:00.8. Showing the considerable improvements made to the bikes and tyres over the past year, all of the top riders were well under Haga’s 2:03.747 lap record from last year’s race.

Pitt currently lies sixth in the series and has been a regular challenger at the front of the field this season. The Australian is in good form, having taken a pair of top five finishes in Silverstone. As always he goes into this weekend’s race with a target of a podium finish. Like Haga, he was able to complete a full test programme in Brno and is looking forward to Misano. He says: “Misano is a circuit that I enjoy going to. It’s normally very hot there, which along with the fact that you’re on the left side of the tyre so long, means that it’s a hard track on the tyres. It’s mostly left hand corners around here and you’re on the side of the tyre for a big part of the lap. There are only one or two right handers and a couple of chicanes. The most critical part at Misano is the triple left hand corner leading into the back straight. You need to get that right to get a good run onto the back straight, because in the race that’s really the only chance you get to overtake. Our test went well there but we expect it to be hotter this weekend, so the grip levels are likely to be different for the race.”

Having spent two days testing in Lausitz last weekend, Yamaha Motor France will go to Misano hoping to recapture the form that saw Norick Abe take two fourth places in Valencia, a track with some similarities to this weekend’s venue. The Japanese star currently lies ninth in the championship and, with last year’s races and some valuable testing time around the venue, he will be expected to better the solitary point he scored in last year’s races, even though Misano is one of his least favourite tracks. By contrast team-mate Sebastien Gimbert rates Misano as one of his favourites. He missed the race through injury last year but rode strongly to set the 11th fastest time in April’s test. The team’s third rider, Shinichi Nakatomi, could miss the race due to the arm injury he sustained in Silverstone. A decision will be made later this week as to whether the Japanese star will ride or not.

As always, the event will also feature a round of the Supersport World Championship, where Yamaha Motor Germany’s Kevin Curtain will look to take advantage of the absent championship leader Sebastien Charpentier. The Honda rider crashed at the Brno test and will miss the Misano race. Curtain currently lies second in the championship on his new-for-2006 YZF-R6, 40 points behind Charpentier. Curtain set the fastest supersport time at the Brno test, his 2:06.0 being over a second under the lap record.

“The Brno test went real well,” explained Curtain. “The bike is improving every time we get out on it. Pirelli brought along a lot of tyres to test and we’ve found some that work well with the R6. Misano should suit us. We’ve got to try and pull some points back on Charpentier and keep applying the pressure to him. There’s still a long way to go in the championship and I’ve always maintained that nothing would be decided in the opening races. I had some bad luck in Monza but we will keep focussed and try not to make any mistakes.”

Curtain’s team-mate Broc Parkes is a Misano specialist, having won an Italian championship race there last year and setting the fastest ever world supersport lap of the circuit in April’s official test. Parkes was just one tenth of a second slower than his team-mate in Brno and will be looking for a good result in Misano to elevate him from his current fourth position in the championship and possibly put himself in a position to challenge for the title in the latter half of the season.

 

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