Blown-up Benelli Delays World Superbike Superpole At Valencia, Bostrom On Provisional Pole

Blown-up Benelli Delays World Superbike Superpole At Valencia, Bostrom On Provisional Pole

© 2002, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.


Copyright 2002, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.

By Glenn LeSanto

Benelli withdraws from Valencia Superbike race

The Benelli Sport team has been forced to withdraw the beautiful Tornado Superbike from racing in Valencia.

Due to repeated failures of a component, thought to be in the engine cylinderhead, the team has decided to withdraw, rather than risk the rider’s safety.

The problem is thought to be down to faulty heat treatment. Benelli engineers have stressed that the faulty part is not used in the road going version of the Tornado.

At this point in time, it is not known if the team will return for the next round in Phillip Island.

Bostrom on provisional pole

American Ben Bostrom will have the luxury of knowing what he has to do to stay on pole for tomorrow’s first races of the new World Superbike season.

The Ducati L&M rider sneaked in to push rival American Colin Edwards off the provisional pole as the session came to an end on Saturday morning. His time of 1:34.649 was just 0.211 up on Edwards’ best time in a close-fought session.

Ruben Xaus had topped the timesheet for much of the session, but slid off his Infostrada Ducati with four minutes to go as Edwards and Bostrom piled on the pressure. Xaus ended the session third fastest.

Reigning champion Troy Bayliss made the last place on the provisional front row as Haga was edged back into fifth on his Aprilia. Hitoyasu Izutsu was again the first man on a four-cylinder bike in the running; he’s a provisional sixth fastest going into Superpole. James Toseland put his HM Plant Ducati into seventh place, just ahead of his teammate Neil Toseland.

World Superbike
Final Qualifying
Saturday morning

1. Ben Bostrom, USA, Ducati, 1:34.649
2. Colin Edwards, USA, Castrol Honda, 1:34.860
3. Ruben Xaus, Spain, Ducati, 1:34.927
4. Troy Bayliss, Australia, Ducati, 1:34.936
5. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, Aprilia, 1:35.030
6. Hitoyasu Izutsu, Japan, Kawasaki, 1:35.385
7. James Toseland, GB, Ducati, 1:35.393
8. Neil Hodgson, GB, Ducati, 1:35.429
9. Pier-Francesco Chili, Italy, Ducati, 1:35.632
10. Lucio Pedercini, Italy, Ducati, 1:35.873

First Person/Opinion:
The State Of World Superbike

By Glenn LeSanto

Friday 8 March marked the start of a new World Superbike season with riders getting out on the track for the first free practice and qualifying sessions of the year.

The organizers are boasting how they have an extended contract with the FIM which takes Superbike racing well into the next decade, but who will be racing with them by then? The series is in very real danger of becoming a Ducati Cup and the 15th World Superbike year could be the last with any real inter-factory battling.

Suzuki almost left the series last year and only plenty of arm-twisting and alleged palm greasing kept them in. Gregorio Lavilla only managed 11th fastest time in Friday’s qualifying. Will the factory want to continue to support such results next year as the MotoGP sucks more and more resources out of their racing budget? The answer is probably not.

Hitoyasu Izutsu fared better on his factory Kawasaki; he was the first four-cylinder motorcycle in the ranking at sixth fastest. But his team manager Harald Eckl is set to defect to the factory GP1 effort next year, so what’s the future of Kawasaki in WSBK? None it would seem, if the rumors that a replacement is being sought but with a new job title; that of Kawasaki Supersport Team Manager. So we can be pretty certain that Kawasaki won’t be back.

Teams with four-cylinder bikes might be tempted to stay a little longer if the rules help them a little more. But with the fudged rule changes slated for 2004, about which I’ve yet to hear anything positive from any teams, it will be a case of too little too late. And I’ve yet to speak to a Superbike rider willing to ride on treaded tyres.

Benelli’s valiant effort looked good last year, with the little factory scoring championship points in their debut year. But this year a drastic downturn in the Italian scooter market, the bread and butter for all the Italian factories bar Ducati, has severely curtailed their advance. They are easy to ignore as they set times that wouldn’t even get them on the front row of Supersport, let alone Superbike, so much so that even official WSBK press releases have often failed to note them as a competing factory! But ignore them at your peril, not because they are about to pull an extra 20 horsepower out of the bag and set the track alight, but instead because without them the series would be a duller, and less pretty, event.

What of Aprilia? They played a trump card this year, let’s call it the Ace of Haga’s. This man can and probably will revitalise the factory’s interest in WSB single-handed. But for how long? He’s very expensive, thought to be costing the factory around US $2 million in wages alone. And with an expensive MotoGP effort underway, how long can Aprilia, also affected by the Italian-market malaise, afford such a luxury?

So who are we left with? Ducati of course! Although even their commitment may reduce to factory support for private teams in the near future as they concentrate on their own MotoGP effort.

The new boys not yet on the block, Fogarty Petronas, already have their troubles. The WSBK and FIM are thought to be taking a hard line over homologation, forcing the team to produce 150 expensive road bikes before they can go racing. These are of course the rules, but last year they were very loosely applied to the Benelli entry. But while Fogarty may be Mr. Superbike, he ain’t Italian. He should expect to see more of the rulebook than Mr. Merloni the Benelli team boss was ever shown during his negotiations to enter the almost entirely Italian managed series.

I almost forgot the Big Red Wing themselves, the mighty Honda. Surely they won’t desert a production based series that marketing logic would suggest is so valuable to bike sales? Oh yeah? Well, how many VTR 1000 SP2 (RC51) road bikes do you think they’ll sell on the back of Colin Edwards’ performance? Not many, actually. I’ve already heard that they intend to farm out their future SBK effort to a factory-supported team, just as they already have done with their World Supersport entry.

Are we looking forward to 15 more years of World Superbikes or a just a Ducati Cup? As the series begins its 15th year the future isn’t entirely clear.

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