ROME – The eni FIM Superbike World Championship returns to the United Kingdom for its second of two appearances this weekend, this time right in the middle of Olympic fever at the legendary Silverstone Circuit.
The 25th edition of the production-based championship is turning out to be one of the most competitive of all time. After nine of 14 rounds, five riders from five different manufacturers are separated by just 84.5 points (with 250 still up for grabs) and all of them have their minds set on the title.
Once again World Superbike is living up to its reputation of being edge-of-seat, down-to-the-wire, unpredictable stuff and more of the same is expected this weekend in England.
The previous round at Brno bunched up the leading group even further as Marco Melandri of BMW Motorrad Motorsport cut the gap to leader Max Biaggi of Aprilia Racing Team to just 21 points.
The Italian five-time world champion also lost points to Tom Sykes, Kawasaki Racing Team’s charger (now just 59 points down) and to Carlos Checa of Althea Racing Ducati, the reigning champion who is 67 points behind Biaggi.
The group of pretenders for the title is completed by Jonathan Rea of Honda World Superbike Team, 84.5 points off the top slot.
Silverstone will be the venue for a World Superbike round for the ninth time. The track, flat and flowing, appears to be tailor-made for Ducati, which has won here 11 times in 15 races.
In last year’s edition Checa powered to a dominant double win: half-way through this season he appeared to be out of the title battle, but by repeating the same result this weekend the Spaniard has every chance of becoming a key player in the title run-in.
Checa’s hopes of a resurgence are helped by the fact that none of the three riders ahead of him in the standings have a particularly good record at Silverstone.
Max Biaggi has never taken a podium at this track and his best result is a fourth place. The Aprilia RSV4 machine has suffered on bumpy tracks like Silverstone in the past and it was also for this reason that a few days ago Aprilia Racing carried out a test at Mugello in preparation for this important round.
With his double triumph at Brno Marco Melandri has now notched up five wins this year with BMW, more than any other rider.
He made his Superbike debut in 2011 with Yamaha, twice finishing third, while since its debut in 2009 the German four-cylinder bike has never finished in the top 3 but things have now changed radically: in 2012 the S 1000 RR has been on the podium in every round except Assen.
Neither can Tom Sykes boast particularly brilliant results at the British circuit, and it was just one year ago that he had to abandon the race weekend following a big crash in qualifying.
The Kawasaki ZX-10R’s best result here is a seventh place, with Joan Lascorz, but in recent races the Japanese machine has made sensational progress.
Jonathan Rea, the 25-year-old leader of the Honda World Superbike Team, has not won a race since Donington in May this year but he comes to Silverstone in the wake of a fantastic win in the Suzuka 8 Hours as part of the FCC TSR team, one of Honda’s top squads in this endurance racing classic.
Round 10 will also be a fundamental race for FIXI Crescent Suzuki which is yet to obtain results living up to the team’s and the riders’ expectations. American John Hopkins has been sidelined by a series of injuries and crashes, but he returns to the track where one year ago he set pole position as a wild-card and then finished the two races in fifth and seventh.
Silverstone is also a ‘friendly’ circuit for Leon Camier who scored a podium place here in 2010 with the Aprilia Racing Team.
The Manufacturers’ title battle is now wide open, after BMW moved into the lead for the first time ever at Brno by two points over Aprilia but Ducati (15.5 points behind) are still in with a big chance. Kawasaki, Honda and Suzuki on the other hand are some way behind.
The forecast for the weekend looks like cool weather and showers, conditions that could bring out the best in Davide Giugliano (Althea Racing Ducati), the 22-year-old rookie who has already stepped onto the podium twice this year.
Niccolò Canepa will also be back on his regular Red Devils Ducati machine after missing out on Brno, while in the Pata Racing Ducati team, Lorenzo Zanetti is joined by new signing Sylvain Guintoli, winner at Assen when he was in Ducati Liberty Team Effenbert.
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