The penultimate round of the 2006 Superbike World Championship takes place this weekend at the famous Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in the town of Imola, the championship's third visit of the year to Italy.
The technically demanding circuit is steeped in heritage thanks mainly to its history as a Formula One circuit but it is also famous as a bike venue too, having hosted the classic Imola 200 events during the Seventies and, more recently, Grand Prix and superbike racing. The circuit's surface bears the scars of this history, with the old tarmac proving bumpy and providing the bike racers with a tough challenge to find good settings. Despite this, Imola is generally very popular with the riders - its challenging layout providing the sort of test that only the old-fashioned classic circuits can. Last year's event took place in atrocious weather conditions that eventually led to the cancellation of race two.
The Yamaha Motor Italia squad goes into the meeting looking to give another strong showing for their home fans and to help their riders meet their end-of-season targets. With Ducati's Troy Bayliss looking like clinching the series thanks to a 87 point advantage, the team's Noriyuki Haga is targeting more wins to add to solitary success so far this year and to consolidate his second place in the championship, which would equal his best ever end of season ranking.
Team-mate Andrew Pitt has also taken one win this season, in Misano, and is looking to get back on track after crashing out of the second race in Germany. The Australian has been the man on form in the latter part of the season, with only a slower than hoped for start to the season and a double DNF in Brno denying him a crack at the title. Having been the top points scorer at Assen, Pitt was unlucky to slip off last time out in Lausitz. That failure to score moved him down to fifth in the championship, one point behind outgoing champion Troy Corser (Suzuki).
"The result at Lausitz was disappointing because we made the wrong tyre choice in race one and then just touched the footrest down and crashed in the second," said Pitt. "I was disappointed to slip back to fifth in the championship but the bike was working really well and we were lucky that Barros and Corser also missed out on the big points. Imola's a circuit that I like. I've some good memories of the place, as I won the supersport title there in 2001. It's a challenging track with a lot of blind corners. To go well there you need a lot of confidence in the bike, which is good for us as the R1 is working really well. Who knows where we can end the season? Second place is not out of the question but my aim is just to keep finishing on the podium in these last two weekends and then the championship positions will sort themselves out."
In the Supersport World Championship, Yamaha Motor Germany's Kevin Curtain can lift the title at Imola. The veteran Australian goes to Italy 27 points ahead of current champion Sebastien Charpentier (Honda) and will win his first world crown should he leave Italy with at least 26 points over his rival going into the final round.
"I never expected to go to Imola with such a big lead," says Curtain. "I had hoped that maybe I could have something like 10 points advantage after Lausitz so to be in this position is something we couldn't dream of. It's all a credit to the team, who have worked so hard to put us in this situation. We had a new bike at the start of the season but straight away we have been competitive. With a lot of hard work we now have a bike which is as good as anything else out there. Imola is where I had my first ride with Yamaha Germany, in 2003, and I've gone well there in the past. I'm not thinking too much about the championship and am going with the same attitude as always, to pick up as many points as possible and let everything look after itself."
Curtain should be joined at Imola by his team-mate Broc Parkes. Parkes missed the race at Lausitz after crashing at Assen. The Australian will is ready to race but must undergo a final fitness test in Imola. Should he be declared fit by the circuit medics then he will look to consolodate his third place in the championship standings.
-credit: yamaha racing