It has been no surprise that Max Biaggi’s return to competition has made worldwide headlines ahead of this weekend’s PATA Riviera di Rimini Round. After Troy Bayliss, Tom Sykes and Sylvain Guintoli, ‘The Roman Emperor’ becomes the fourth World Superbike Champion to grace the eni FIM Superbike World Championship grid this year. His first of two outings will be at Misano World Circuit “Marco Simoncelli” in Italy.
Misano first appeared on the WorldSBK calendar in 1991: a season remembered for the utter domination of Doug Polen. 24 years later, the series features a similar set of circumstances for Kawasaki Racing Team’s Jonathan Rea as the Portuguese holiday resort of Portimao is traded in for the popular Italian destination of Misano Adriatico – surroundings long since associated with top-level motorcycle racing.
Championship-wise, Rea’s lead cannot be considered as anything other than colossal. Indeed, a margin of 124 points over second-placed team-mate Tom Sykes is the largest gap ever witnessed between first and second position in the Riders’ Championship after the opening 14 races of a season. In order to clinch what would be the first title for a rider from Northern Ireland, Rea no longer needs to win any more races – second and third places would be enough between now and the Qatar finale. On the other hand, should he seal doubles the like of which he has done four times from the first seven rounds, he will win the crown by as early as Malaysia on 2nd August – three rounds and over two months before season’s end.
However, it is Biaggi’s return that is arguably most awaited. Can the title winner of 2010 and 2012 improve on the ninth place finish of Troy Bayliss in Thailand? As mentioned by 43-year-old Biaggi himself, this will be the reference. Spicing up the plot only further, World Superbike has the privilege of being the first World Championship to race on Misano’s new track surface, which has been installed by Dromo and will encourage more grip in wet conditions in particular; the previous asphalt was particularly slippery in the wet, as the rainwater mixed with sea salt from the nearby Adriatic Sea. One would expect a fully dry June weekend anyhow, but there is no doubt that the new surface will encourage riders to push only more, even if the net result is that lap times will inevitably fall this year.
Amid the 2015 regulars, there are changes. Althea Racing has parted company with Nico Terol as Niccolò Canepa moves back to Genesio Bevilacqua’s team, with which he was second overall for EVO honours last year. Canepa’s seat at Grillini SBK Team has been taken for the round by 35 year old former World Supersport regular Gianluca Vizziello.
Not only will there be three factory Aprilias on-track, but a trio of Aruba.it Racing-Ducati Superbike Team machines as well; Chaz Davies and Davide Giugliano will be joined by test rider Luca Scassa, as the Italian rides for a factory outfit for the first time. A fourth BMW is added as former Superstock 1000 racer, 21-year-old German wildcard Markus Reiterberger, will compete with the VanZon Remeha BMW squad. He previously rode as a wildcard at the Nurburgring in 2013, scoring points in both races.
Opening World Superbike practice begins on Friday at 11:15 local time (GMT +2).
Until Portimao, Jules Cluzel had not won a World Supersport race since the Phillip Island season-opener. Now he’s back on the top step and refusing to back off the throttle, with Kenan Sofuoglu’s championship lead having been reduced to 40 points.
Cluzel won the first race from pole before being denied in Thailand due to an engine failure. A similar problem ruled him out of Aragon, while Sofuoglu picked up his first of four straight wins. But with five races still to go and the Frenchman having beaten the Turk in a head-to-head fight last time out, the battle is back on as Misano awaits.
Facts are facts. Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) leads Cluzel (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) by 40 points. He has won four races to Cluzel’s two and looks good for a fourth World Supersport crown following his previous successes of 2007, 2010 and 2012. For Cluzel, this is his third season in the category after 2012 and 2014; he finished runner-up on both of those occasions and is more than desperate to shake off the ‘bridesmaid’ tag he appears to have unintentionally attracted.
Misano will mark Sofuoglu’s 100th race start in the World Supersport class. It all started in Valencia in 2003 on a Yamaha, while the maiden win came with Honda machinery at Assen three years later. 12 years after his debut, the Turkish rider now leads the way for race wins, podium finishes, front row starts, fastest race laps and points scored. Furthermore, one more pole position would put him equal for the top spot with Sebastien Charpentier. But can he hit the race start century as a winner? His pre-race preparation has not gone according to plan, as Sofuoglu was briefly hospitalised following a highside in testing at Misano last Tuesday.
25 riders are set to start Sunday’s race. These include Italian wildcard Flavio Ferroni with Renzi Corse Srl SSD, whereas others are officially listed as ‘One Event’ riders. Alexey Ivanov again competes with DMC Racing, whereas Schmidt Racing joins the action with a pair of Honda CBR600RR bikes for Hungarian compatriots David Juhasz and Janos Chrobak. A total of eight Italian riders are included in the field.
Friday’s opening World Supersport practice session for the PATA Riviera di Rimini Round commences at 10:15am local time (GMT +2).
Whatever happens at Misano this weekend, with three races still to go in the 2015 FIM Superstock 1000 Cup, the title cannot be won. However, there is plenty of racing still to come as the title fight intensifies between Lorenzo Savadori and Roberto Tamburini. Two very different characters, but two Italians all-set to race at home.
Perhaps the season-opening race at MotorLand Aragon in April was a sign of things to come, as Savadori and Tamburini fought for victory until the last corner. The former had had last year’s title won until a critical unforced error on the final lap at Magny-Cours, whereas the latter continues to shine in his debut season after making the switch from World Supersport. Three races remain, which translates to a maximum of 75 points, with 25 currently between the leaders. Last year, Savadori won the Misano Superstock 1000 race from Leandro Mercado and Fabio Massei, while Tamburini put in a brilliant World Supersport performance for fifth place.
A staggering 38 riders will be navigating their ways towards the Park Chicane this Sunday afternoon, as the Superstock 1000 riders climax the day of racing by following in the footsteps of their World Superbike and World Supersport counterparts. Racing BMWs for the respective DMR Racing Team and Vueffe Corse squads, Italian wildcard riders Luca Oppedisano and Marco Sbaiz will be looking to make an impression, while South African Ronald Slamet is back on the grid with BWG Racing Kawasaki following his debut outing in Aragon. Completing the mammoth field will be Romania’s Robert Muresan for H-Moto Team.
Friday’s first Superstock 1000 practice session for the PATA Riviera di Rimini Round starts at 8:45am local time (GMT +2).
At Portimao, Toprak Razgatlioglu had an outside chance of clinching the FIM Europe Superstock 600 Championship. He may have delivered a stunning performance to win the race yet again, but the ultimate goal remained up for grabs. Now heading to the PATA Riviera di Rimini Round, becoming Champion is a real likelihood.
Put simply, Toprak is looking very good for the title win at Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli. Mathematically, the Kawasaki Puccetti Racing rider can be beaten only by either PATA-Honda Junior Team’s Federico Caricasulo or San Carlo Team Italia’s Michael Ruben Rinaldi – both of whom are contesting a home race this weekend. However, to say the Italians are ‘up against it’ would be an understatement.
Toprak heads to Misano unbeatable to date, having won each of the four races thus far this season plus his season-ending French outing of 2014, making it five out five for a 100% winning record. Should he finish in the top five this weekend, he becomes 2015 Superstock 600 Champion regardless of what his rivals can muster. If not, he still picks up the title if he finishes inside the top ten (providing Caricasulo does not win) or even inside the top 11 (should Rinaldi not clinch victory). Furthermore, with a lead of 64 points, Razgatlioglu could even fail to score at Misano and still win the title should neither of the two aforementioned Italians finish on the podium…
Bolstering the grid to an impressive 40 in Italy are two wildcard entries, as Italians Elia Mengoni (GP Project) and Gennaro Sabatino (Renzi Corse Srl SSD) join the fray. Friday’s first practice session will start at 9:30am local time (GMT +2).
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