Round 3, Valencia - Spain
22 - 24 APRIL 2005
RETURN TO EUROPE HEIGHTENS EXPECTATIONS FOR HONDA RIDERS
With the flyaway start to the 2005 WSS season now completed, after rounds at Losail in Qatar and Phillip Island in Australia, Europe calls for the five officially supported Honda riders competing in the series. With each race win taken by CBR600RR riders, and five out of six podiums also secured, the prospects for Valencia success seem to shimmer in what all hope to be bright Spanish sunshine. All teams have tested at Valencia, even after the start of the season, convening at the Circuito Ricardo Tormo in mid March, with Honda riders very much to the fore on the time sheets.
Riding for the same squad that has won the last three World Supersport Riders' Championships, Winston Ten Kate Honda teamsters Katsuaki Fujiwara and Sebastien Charpentier have taken a win apiece, with Charpentier's second place in Qatar making him the championship leader at this point, holding 45 points from a possible 50.
Team Italia Megabike rider Fabien Foret (2002 World Champion for Honda and Ten Kate) has been teamed up with 20-year-old Michel Fabrizio, with each rider having taken a personal high point of third place; Fabrizio in Qatar and Foret in Australia. A DNF for Fabrizio in Australia puts him seventh overall to Foret's fourth, with each rider aiming for podium returns beyond the bronze position this weekend.
Joining an illustrious band of Finnish racing exports, Tatu Lauslehto (Team Klaffi Honda CBR600RR) is a quietly spoken, if fiercely competitive, 21-year-old, inducted into the fold of the relatively new but repeatedly competitive Austrian based Klaffi team.
Charpentier, who scored a magnificent 3.595 second margin of victory at one of the world's great motorcycle racing venues earlier in the month, hungers for more visits to the to step of the podium.
"I was so pleased to get that win in Australia after the frustrations I suffered at the first round in Qatar," said Charpentier, "The team has been great to work with and the CBR is just amazing. We have been concentrating mostly on the front of the bike so far this season and this will be very important here in Valencia. We had a good test here in March when I was able to make many fast laps in a race simulation. As long as I can qualify well again, I hope we can repeat this in Sunday's race and try for another win."
Fujiwara's outstanding beginning to the season, running through from a poor start at Qatar to seize victory from the grasp of team-mate Charpentier, stuttered with a fourth in Australia. The Japanese rider, in his first season of WSS competition with a Honda, is looking to Valencia as at least another strong points scoring prospect. His desire to win is based on a proven ability at Valencia, having taken both the race win and pole, riding for Suzuki in 2003.
"Conditions on race day in Phillip Island were very difficult and I found it very hard to control the bike," said 'Kats', so I was not happy with fifth place. But each time I have gone out this season, in test or practice or qualifying sessions, I am getting to know the CBR better. It is a very good bike and I am lucky to have joined a very professional team. I want another win here at Valencia and because the test here was very positive, I am hopeful. But the other Hondas are also very strong so we must continue to work hard."
Foret, winner of the Valencia race for Honda in 2002, and twice the pole sitter to boot, has one simple goal in mind, paying homage to his new machine as he confirmed his desire for a top two finish.
"I want to do better in Valencia than Phillip Island," said a definite and determined Foret. "At the end of Australian race I finished third and so you can make your own conclusions. The bike increases in power output and the feeling from the cycle parts improves step by step. I believe that in Valencia we can run the race with the other official Honda CBRs, especially the Winston Ten Kate ones. It has taken only two races to take the measure of my Honda, after two season on other bikes, so now I'm ready to win - and I hope to do this in Spain."
In his first full season of World Supersport competition, Fabrizio will attack the Valencia weekend with his customary gusto, but with one note of caution from a recent harsh lesson at Phillip Island.
"In Australia I lost a real chance to take good points for the championship," acknowledged Fabrizio. "I could have finished fifth but I crashed in my attempt to take a podium. I know this, and I'm not happy, but I also know that I will arrive in Valencia with the expectation to stay with the leaders until the finish of the race. The bike is very fast, same as the best of the other bikes and I will be racing to take another podium."
Three new tracks in a row for 2004 European Champion Lauslehto is a disadvantage mitigated by a recent test at the forthcoming Spanish venue.
"The race next weekend will be my first one at Valencia," affirmed Tatu. "I know the track only from the official test in spring this year. But the Klaffi Honda feels good and I hope I can make a good race."
World Superbike Round 3 of 12
CBR1000RR RIDERS HUNGRY FOR PODIUM SUCCESS AT VALENCIA
Thus far in the 12-round World Superbike Championship relative youth has been the key for Honda's five-rider push, with 2003 World Supersport Champion Chris Vermeulen (Winston Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR) and Max Neukirchner (Klaffi Honda CBR1000RR) leading the charge on the points table.
Currently Vermeulen, with a year of experience under his belt on the CBR1000RR, sits fourth in the championship chase, thanks in part to a race one third place in the recent Australian round. Mirroring his achievements 'down-under' SBK rookie Neukirchner was a sensation, running with the leaders and only relinquishing third place in race one after an often tactile last few laps with Vermeulen.
Karl Muggeridge will compete on the second Winston Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RRs, in his rookie SBK season, while the most experienced SBK rider still active in the series, Pierfrancesco Chili teams with Neukirchner, despite a recent collarbone operation after his Aussie SBK qualifying crash. Chili fully intends to be racing in Spain, and travels to Valencia ready for combat, if his left collarbone can withstand the exertions of so many changes of direction at the tight and twisty 4.005km circuit.
Ben Bostrom (Renegade Honda Koji CBR1000RR) returns to Valencia with a strengthened squad and an uprated machine, having toiled hard in the March tests.
For Vermeulen, the forthcoming race will be a chance to prove himself and improve his set-up once more, after an outstanding rookie CBR1000RR-mounted SBK season in 2004.
"It was good to get on the podium at Phillip Island but we still have some set-up issues that we need to deal with, especially with the front forks," said Vermeulen. "They're basically brand new for this year, prototypes really, so we're still learning how to get the most out of them. But we've got some new things to try which will hopefully take us in the right direction. Valencia should be good as we had a really positive test there in March, which was our first real opportunity to get some decent time on the bike. Last year Valencia was our first Superbike race with the CBR1000RR, we qualified on the front row and got 12th and fifth in the two races. So I'm definitely hoping for better than that."
Muggeridge, who got married a week after the Australian Superbike race, has had a sometimes-dramatic introduction to World Superbike, after a dominant season in World Supersport.
"It's time to get back to business - back to what I thought was going pretty well in Australia until race day," said Muggeridge. "After a pretty good test at Valencia last month, I can't wait to have another go. We've got some new chassis and clutch parts to try and I'm really looking forward to seeing how well they all work."
Neukirchner showed his true, and yet still-developing, talent at Qatar, running with the leaders for long periods. His Phillip Island experience has been limited, but it will still prove highly beneficial to him.
"The Valencia race track is the complete opposite of Phillip Island," said quick-learner Max. "Valencia is tight and twisty, with only a couple of fast sections. It is very important is to have enough grip on the rear tyre this weekend, as it gets used a lot on so many corner exits. Valencia is not one of my favourite tracks but I won't be happy with anything less than a top ten position."
For Chili, Valencia will be another test of spirit and fitness, but one the 40-year-old Italian is more than ready to match.
"After my return from Phillip Island I had an operation," he explained. "Only three weeks after Phillip Island the fracture is not completely healed. But I'm hoping to be fit for the race and my therapists have done their best. In 2004 I finished second in race one and fourth in the second leg. A repetition of this success would be great."
For Bostrom, Valencia has been the site of previous glories, and the memory of these, plus an elevated total race package, gives him increased confidence.
"I like the track in Valencia, it's a good place for the team and myself to get on our feet," said Bostrom. "We haven't been at that stage yet so it's time to step up. I believe we'll do it because the bike coming along really well. Should have a motor and lots of parts have now arrived. We started out very late so our team is gel together. We will have new people at this event and we know that Renegade can do a great job after the results they got last year. The rider now has to gel with the Pirelli tyres as well."
With the championship now grounded in Europe for the rest of the season, the classic amphitheatre of Monza hosts round four, May 6-8.
Source: Honda Motor Company, Ltd - Motor Sports Division