The Colin and Troy show.
Colin Edwards (Castrol Honda-Michelin) plays at home this weekend as the World Superbike show comes to America's Laguna Seca. But this year, the whole championship has come down to a straight duel between Edwards and championship leader Troy Bayliss (Ducat i Infostrada-Michelin). Edwards has been on particularly consistent form scoring 15 podiums in a row (his worst result this year is 4th!). But Bayliss is the undisputed king of the series so far. The 2001 World Champion has won an incredible 13 times this year and holds a 49 point advantage on Edwards in the current standings. Both men tower over the rest of the field, with third placed rider Neil Hodgson a numbing 166 points down on Bayliss.
The 2002 season still has ten races left and Bayliss is right on target to beat American Doug Polen's win record (17 wins in 1991 on a Ducati). Bayliss is already up there with another World Superbike legend, Briton Carl Fogarty (Ducati-Michelin) who took 13 wins in 1995.
The two championship leader's current form is also a reflection of the high performance of their Michelin tires. Since the World Superbike championship's birth in 1988, Michelin has won 239 races (out of 353) and 9 out of 13 world titles.
This year alone, Michelin has won 15 of the 16 races run so far. Michelin riders have taken all three podium positions 7 times and 35 of this year's 48 podium finishers were Michelin men.
Interview Colin Edward
Colin, how do you feel about going to Laguna Seca ?
"I am excited about it. I mean this is probably the only year going to Laguna where I am confident about winning. It has always seemed to be a struggle. You show up and there is a lot of family and friends, you have to catch up with a lot of people you hav e not seen in years. It's tough. A lot of that going on is tough. This year the bike is working great, tires are working awesome, so I am excited."
This season, you've been on the podium 15 times in 16 races. Did you expect the fight for the Championship lead to be so hard?
"I knew it was not going to be easy. It's tough every weekend. Since I have been in World Superbike, the saying has been that if you can beat the fastest Ducati, you can win the Championship. And there always seems to be a fast one. It can be Fogarty or Bo strom or Bayliss or whoever it is, if you can beat the fastest one, you can win the Championship. So we keep pushing like we are doing."
Did you expect this kind of situation, with the championship dominated by two riders, you and Troy?
"No. I actually expected a lot more from Xaus, Haga, Bostrom and Hodgson. But I think to be honest, Michelin tire development has gone miles ahead of Dunlop. I think we have an advantage now. I'm sure we have an advantage, no question. At the beginning of the year, I thought it would be the six of us always together. You win some, you lose some-- But it turned out to be quite different".
Last year at Sugo the Michelins did not work so well. This year they won, thanks to you. Could this also happen at Laguna Seca ?
"I am certain that it can. There is no question of "maybe" or "I hope so", it's definitely going to be much better. I mean the development that Michelin has done makes the tires work everywhere. For instance, in Germany at Lausitz, on the first lap and the last lap the tire was exactly the same, there was no drop off in performance. When you have a tire like that, it makes it a lot easier. It will be good for Laguna, no question."
Laguna Seca and tires
"Laguna is a hard place for us because we don't go there very often," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's motorcycling competitions chief. "This year, we're racing in the AMA Superbike championship with Pascal Picotte but we didn't do the winter tests because we only started working with Pascal after Daytona. So we haven't worked with Superbikes at Laguna since last year's World Championship event. But we know that we've made a great deal of progress since then. Our front tires have improved a lot and that's i mportant in the Corkscrew. Plus, when you're working with riders like Troy Bayliss and Colin Edwards, you know success is never far away."
Troy Bayliss : "I never had so much success here. I like the circuit, it's a great circuit, but it just hasn't been kind to me yet, even if I had my first pole position here in World Superbikes. I'm looking forward to improving on what we did here last yea r."
Colin Edwards : "I like the track. It's a bit hectic when you get a lot of people here, like old racing friends, when you're trying to catch up, and a lot of pressure being one of the two Americans. But it's definitely a good track. I don't think Michelin has ever been the best here, but this year we are starting fresh."
Ruben Xaus : "It's a very interesting circuit but the local riders have a lot of experience here. The American championship is a really good series. Colin Edwards, Troy Bayliss and Noriyuki Haga have more experience than me here. I rode here for the first time last year. The Dunlop guys know this track well but I also know that Michelin has worked very hard. Laguna Seca is very technical and I expect to be in the top five here."
Laguna Seca Raceway was built in 1957 by SCRAMP, acronym for the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula. A very difficult circuit, this track is a real challenge for tire manufacturers. Laguna Seca has many types of corners, very slow ones like Turn 2, an 80 kph left hander, and much faster ones. The section after the infamous Corkscrew is special because it's all downhill. Laguna Seca is a hilly circuit with a maximum downhill slope of 30%. In 1988, the length of the track was increased fr om 2,9km to 3,6km (1,9 miles to 2,2 miles) to ensure world championship homologation. Laguna Seca hosted GPs from 1988 to 1994 and has been a World Superbike venue since 1995.
For Michelin, part of the challenge at Laguna Seca is the local knowledge other manufacturers enjoy there and the number of riders using other brands of tires. Most of the top american superbike teams use Dunlop products (Dunlop is part of the american Goo dyear group). Dunlop riders clock many more test miles in America than do the Michelin men and also have the advantage of racing at Laguna Seca during the American Superbike round held there. With a limited number of riders using Michelin tires in America, development is not as brisk as it could be.
Laguna Seca is in California, 185 km south of San Francisco and 480 km north of Los Angeles. It's about 15km east of Monterey, near Carmel and Pebble Beach.
Laguna Seca stats
Official practice record (2001)
1m25.248 Ben Bostrom (Ducati), 152.449 kph average speed
Superpole record (2001)
1m25.705 Ben Bostrom (Ducati), 151.636 kph average speed
Lap record (fastest race lap 1999)
1m25.185 Anthony Gobert (Vance & Hines Ducati), 152.560 kph average speed
10th round of the Superbike World Championship: July 28 at Brands Hatch (United Kingdom)