Down to the wire
The last round of the 2002 world superbike championship is set to be a classic. The second half of the season has seen an impressive effort by Colin Edwards (Castrol Honda-Michelin) to get back on top of the championship. A few months ago, at Laguna Seca, Troy Bayliss (Ducati Infostrada-Michelin) was a huge 56 points ahead of archrival Edwards. But since then, the Honda rider has chipped steadily away at this points difference. Then came Assen, and an upset in the second leg which handed Edwards the series lead by a single point!
"I don't think anyone can believe what's happened in this year's championship," admits Edwards, Superbike World Champion with Honda in 2000. "I suppose it was looking like Troy would walk the championship after he won six in a row at the start of the season. It was never easy for me and the team in some of those early races. I'd get a lead in a race and just wait for Troy to come by then have no reply. But since the second race at Laguna Seca in July we've moved up a gear and now we're in the position Ithank we deserve." Even when he was finding it hard to keep up with Bayliss, Edwards was already extremely consistent. His two Assen wins mean that he has now claimed 23 consecutive podiums. The previous record was held by Carl Fogarty (Ducati-Michelin) with 12 straight podiums in 1995 and 1999.
"The statistics confirm how determined we've been this year to cling on to hopes of winning the title," argues Edwards. "I now want to keep the momentum going with two wins at Imola."Edwards is looking strong for Imola, especially with Bayliss a little downhearted after his Assen mistake. "Now I've got to go out and do it all again at Imola," winces the 2001 world champion. "I'm pretty mad with myself for the crash, but what can you do? I have to admit I'd rather be in front of Colin at this point though."But Bayliss remains as determined as ever. "The day after Assen, Kim and I were checking in at Amsterdam airport," recalls Bayliss. "Then some dude comes past and says, "Hey Troy, bad luck for yesterday, better luck for next year." I just stood there and thought to myself: "This one's not finished yet..."
An equal footing
As usual, all Michelin riders can expect exactly the same level of support from the French tyre giant at Imola. Bayliss and Edwards will both be able to choose from the same tyres. "After that, it's up to each rider to decide what tyres to use depending on his own style and the bike he's using," explains Jean Herisse, Michelin's Superbike racing manager.
Since the start of the superbike world championship in 1988, Michelin has won 250 out of 365 races and 9 out of 13 championships.
This season alone, out of 24 races Michelin has won 23 and taken all three podium positions 8 times. A total of 72 podium positions have so far been claimed this year and 51 of those went to Michelin, even though the French tyre giant only works with four riders.
Edwards breaks lap record during Imola tests
Colin Edwards was given a crucial opportunity to test at Imola just before this weekend's round. With a time of 1m48.10, the Texan was faster than the lap record of 1m48.462 Ruben Xaus (Ducati Infostrad-Michelin) set last year.
"It's great that we could get the test time at Imola," says Edwards. "Since we raced there last year there's a lot changed on the machine - the chassis, motor, oil, Michelin tyres and Showa suspension-- In fact, it's a completely different motorcycle to what we raced at Imola 12 months ago."We've had a good test, I've done a lot of miles and now I'm ready to race, The guys from Michelin and Showa have gone home happy and I think we're just about set for the final round here. It's OK going fast but the main reason for the test was to find a good race set-up and we've pretty much done that so you have to say today's been a success."
Edwards was able to test because regulations allow each team to choose two test tracks and Team Castrol Honda's choices were Misano and Imola.
"Misano is a good, demanding test track for us and we went for Imola just in case the championship was tight going into the final round," explains Neil Tuxworth, Castrol Honda team manager.
Ducati tests at Mugello
Troy Bayliss completed 68 laps of the Mugello circuit in Italy and set a best time of 1m53,08 using racing tyres.
"We came here to test in view of the Imola race," Bayliss explained after the session. "In the last few rounds I've really had to struggle to get good results but, with the modifications we tested, the bike feels the same as it did at the start of the season. I've never lapped so fast around Mugello, and even though Imola is a different track altogether, I'm feeling good about the final round of the championship".
The Ducati factory team also took advantage of the session to test the new Ducati 999 which will be used next year in world superbikes. Ruben Xaus did 70 laps on the bike.
Imola and tyres
"You need a nimble machine for Imola's three chicanes," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin motorcycle racing manager. "So the tyres we bring to this circuit are designed to keep the steering light. The chicanes mean that the right-hand side of the tyre doesn't get loaded up much under braking so grip characteristics need to be good. Combining high levels of sidegrip with light steering is hard, especially on a bumpy surface like this one."
Troy Bayliss : "I like the circuit but it's quite bumpy now. Imola would be a really great track if they resurfaced it. But it's good to come here because it has a lot of history. Last year of course we all know what happened to me, I slipped off and I broke my collarbone. Actually I was trying really hard. Not many people know but I was having a problem with the bike, something wrong with the engine, and I nearly pulled into the pits, which is something I don't do. I thought I should pull in, and then I said no, that's what I am here to do. I still could possibly win, so I was trying very hard but it caught me up and I crashed. But it's a good circuit."
Colin Edwards : "Imola is a bit rough, a couple of places can be a little bit dangerous, but it's a good track. You have chicanes, fast fifth gear corners-- pretty much everything. It's a good track, good people, good place to have a race."
Ruben Xaus : "It's a nice circuit. Laconi was very fast here last year. He had a lot of experience from 500 GP racing. It was my first time here. I was very happy with the bike and the tyres. Imola is fast and the bike moves around a lot because the surface is old. Finding the right pace is hard because if you try too hard, you end up going slower. There's not that much grip either so its hard to go fast here."
The Autodromo Enzo and Dino Ferrari started life in 1950 as a public road circuit. Imola's first large-scale motorcycle race was held in 1953. Imola became a permanent racing circuit in 1979 and welcomed the Formula One championship for an exhibition race (held a week after the Italian GP at Monza). The first F1 championship race happened the following year and was called the "Gran Premio Dino Ferrari". Twelve motorcycle GPs have been held at Imola: 7 Nations GPs (1969, 72, 74, 75, 77, 79, 88), two San Marino GPs (81, 83) and three City of Imola GPs (96, 97, 98). Freddie Spencer (Honda-Michelin) took his first 500cc World Championship at Imola in 1983, beating Kenny Roberts by just one point.
Imola is one of few European anti-clockwise tracks (Misano is another). It used to be extremely fast but average speeds were greatly reduced after Ayrton Senna's tragic 1994 crash. Imola now has five chicanes.
Imola is 35 km southeast of Bologna (home of the Ducati factory), 90 km from Florence, 16 km from Faenza and 35 km from Forili.
Michelin and Italian motosports.
Few countries have a motosports tradition as rich as Italy. Michelin has partnered the best Italian teams and the greatest Italian champions since the first F1 car GP world title Michelin took with Ferrari in 1979. In world rallying, Michelin and Lancia have claimed 8 titles (3 driver championships and 5 constructor's titles). In motorcycle GPs, Michelin has won world titles with Valentino Rossi, Paolo Pileri, Walter Villa, Mario Lega, Eugenio Lazzarini, Pier Paolo Bianchi, Marco Lucchinelli, Franco Unicini, Fausto Gresini, Luca Cadalora, and manufacturers Morbidelli, Aermacchi Harley-Davidson, Garelli and Minarelli.
Michelin won the very first World Superbike race. At Donington in 1988, Davide Tardozzi won the first leg on a Bimota-Michelin and Marco Lucchinelli took the following win on a Ducati-Michelin. Michelin's years working alongside Ducati have yielded great results including Carl Fogarty's four world titles in 1994, 95, 98 and 99, Raymond Roche's 1990 title. Then came the Australians with Troy Corser becoming world champion in 1996 and Troy Bayliss last year.