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WSBK : Max Biaggi and Leon Haslam star in Portugal. What does 2010 look like so far?


by Marc Cantin ,

The new SBK season is already shaping up to be very different than 2009, with the Aprilia RSV4R of ex-GP and temperamental Max Biaggi showing plenty of early speed, and relative newcomer Leon Haslam, aboard his first competitive ride, leading the championship with first and second place results in every race so far.

So where are all the fast runners from 2009?
Champion Ben Spies is gone to MotoGP, still with Yamaha, who have put 2009 Supersport World Champion Cal Crutchlow on Ben’s old ride. With one pole position and one third place race finish, it looks like the Superbike rookie may turn out to be a winner by the end of this learning season.

Perennial crowd favourite Noriyuke Haga, who fought every inch of the way with Spies last year and just lost the championship, has slowed down somewhat this year with only one podium to show over the first four races. Teammate Michel Fabrizio, the apple in Ducati’s eye, has two podiums to his name so far in 2010. Both Haga and Fabrizio are excellent, but Ducati’s quickest rider this season may turn out to be MotoGP veteran Carlos Checa, still quick and now senior man in the series.

Aprilia surprised everyone last year with the great performance of the new-in-2009 RSV4, which Max Biaggi took to several wins and podiums last year, and two victories so far in 2010. The small Italian team optimizes a tight race budget, with a good development program and excellent motivation and management of the fragile Biaggi.

Suzuki is working hard to get back to their form of years past, when Troy Corser won a championship for them in 2005. Leon Haslam has won or finished second in all four races so far this year, and look like the rider capable of giving them what they need, this year or next.

Honda is going through a rather dry period, after winning the rider championship in 2007 with James Toseland. Jonathan Rae has one podium finish so far this season, and I do not see them visiting the podium often over the remaining races as the rest of the field develop their machines and go quicker and quicker over the rest of the year.

This brings us to BMW, who has invested resources and image into building a winning machine, the S1000RR. The new bike is clearly a winner on the street, and has just won one round of the World Superstock 1000 Championship in Portimao this year. But they want to win in World Superbike, and that is just not happening, despite having Troy Corser, an excellent developer and racer as team leader. One can sense the frustration in Munich, as smaller Aprilia gets the lion’s share of the glory while BMW shows only promise. To their defense, Corser was 0.5sec per lap slower than Biaggi over race distance in Portimao – close - but mired in tenth place nonetheless.

The next round will take place in Valencia, Spain on April 11th.
For the record, here are the results from Portimao.

1. Max Biaggi Aprilia Alitalia Racing RSV-4 22 laps
2. Leon Haslam Alstare Suzuki GSX-R1000 +0.200s
3. Jonathan Rea Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR +6.901s
4. Carlos Checa Althea Ducati 1198 +7.457s
5. Leon Camier Aprilia Alitalia Racing RSV-4 +7.564s
6. Shane Byrne Althea Ducati 1198 +11.420s

1. Max Biaggi Aprilia Alitalia Racing RSV-4 22 laps
2. Leon Haslam Alstare Suzuki GSX-R1000 +0.191s
3. Cal Crutchlow Yamaha Sterilgarda YZF R1 +0.658s
4. Carlos Checa Althea Ducati 1198 +1.015s
5. Leon Camier Aprilia Alitalia Racing RSV-4 +3.123s
6. James Toseland Yamaha Sterilgarda YZF R1 +9.131s

World Superbike Standings – After 2 of 13 rounds
1. Léon Haslam Suzuki 85 points
2. Max Biaggi Aprilia 69
3. Carlos Checa Ducati 60
4. Michel Fabrizio Ducati 46
5. Noriyuki Haga 43