New Algarve circuit brings curtain down on 2008 WSBK season
The final act of the 2008 HANNspree FIM Superbike World Championship will be played out this coming weekend at the new Autodromo Internacional do Algarve circuit near Portimao in southern Portugal. Built in less than a year at a projected total investment cost of almost 200 million Euros, the Portimao track is currently having the finishing touches put to it as it prepares for the big inaugural event, but it promises to be one of the most spectacular circuits in Europe and is a fitting climax for this year's championships.
The Portuguese Round will also be notable for another reason as it will be the swansong for Ducati Xerox rider Troy Bayliss, who takes to the track for the final time before retiring. The 39 year-old Australian was crowned WSBK champion for the third time one month ago at Magny-Cours and will hang up his leathers after a glittering Superbike career that began in 1997 at Phillip Island. Troy has been at the top of his game for the past eleven years, but he will be aiming to bow out with a victory flourish this weekend.
The battle for the runner-up slot is keeping the end of season alive as just nine points separate Yamaha Motor Italia WSB team-mates, Noriyuki Haga (325 points) and Troy Corser (316). Both riders have something to aim for in the final round as they tackle their final races for Yamaha before heading for pastures new nest season; the Japanese rider to finish second for the second year in a row, the Australian to take his maiden win on the R1 machine in two years of trying.
Max Neukirchner (Alstare Suzuki), currently fourth on 298 points, can be satisfied with his debut season after scoring two wins, while Carlos Checa (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda), who also has two wins to his name, will want to finish off the season in style after an end-of year slump in results.
The second half of the season has been much kinder than the first to Max Biaggi (Sterilgarda Go Eleven Ducati), as he has strung together an exceptional sequence of podiums in the last six rounds, demonstrating once again that the Italian is still a top rider and a top attraction in his second year on Superbike. Biaggi still has to hold off the final attacks of Fonsi Nieto (Suzuki Alstare), one point behind in seventh, while the other rider from Rome in the top 10, Michel Fabrizio (Ducati Xerox) is one slot down in eighth on 203 points.
Ryuichi Kiyonari, winner of three races for the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda team, has not figured well in the last four races, the Japanese rider scoring just 3 points to take his total up to 193, while Ruben Xaus completes the current top 10 in the standings on 171 points in his final race for the Sterilgarda Ducati team.
A word of mention also for the PSG-1 Corse riders Regis Laconi and Makoto Tamada, who will attempt to conclude what has been a difficult and frustrating season for the Kawasaki team in the best possible way.
No Superbike titles therefore will be up for grabs in Portugal after Ducati completed its fifteenth Manufacturers' triumph to go with Bayliss's Riders' victory.
FIM Supersport World Championship
The title battle in Supersport appeared to be going down to the final round before Magny-Cours, but in the end it was all too easy for Andrew Pitt (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) as his team-mate and closest rival Jonathan Rea was taken out by Robbin Harms (Hannspree Stiggy Motorsport Honda) in a rash passing manouvre. For Pitt it was his second Supersport title, seven years after taking his first on a Kawasaki, while for Rea, some consolation came with the fact that he will be promoted to Superbike next year in the same team. Rea could still be caught for second place by Josh Brookes (Hannspree Stiggy Motorsport Honda) or even poleman king Broc Parkes (Yamaha World Supersport), who has been unable to convert his sensational qualifying form into race wins this year. Spaniard Joan Lascorz (Glaner Motocard.com Honda) has re-emerged as a front-runner in this latter part of the season and is equal on points for fifth place with Frenchman Fabien Foret (Yamaha World Supersport), who returned to the fray at his home round after a recent injury had totally jeopardized his season.
Superstock 1000 FIM World Cup
The final title remaining to be wrapped up this year is for Superstock 1000, continuing a tradition that has nearly always taken the battle down to the wire. There are four riders still in with a shot, separated by just nine points, so the race promises to be no-holds barred. The impetus now appears to lie with Belgium's Xavier Simeon (Suzuki Alstare), top with 131 points, four ahead of Alex Polita (Sterilgarda Go Eleven Ducati) of Italy, who has come on strong in these later stages. Both Maxime Berger (Hannspree IDS Ten Kate Honda) and Brendan Roberts (Ducati Xerox Junior Team) cannot be counted out yet, the Frenchman and the Australian third and fourth with 124 and 122 points respectively, but their momentum was dashed with two disappointing results in France.
European 600 Superstock Championship
French youngster Loris Baz (Yamaha YZF Junior Team) clinched the European 600 Superstock title at the last round, so will just be looking to add to his season total of three wins in Portugal. His task will be made much easier by the abandonment of the category by his closest adversary throughout the season, Patrick Vostarek (Intermoto Czech Honda), who was promoted to Supersport in the same team for the last two rounds. Second place in the championship therefore could go to Marco Bussolati (Yamaha Motor Italia Junior Team), or to either one of the StoneBaker Yamaha pairing of Dan Linfoot and Gino Rea.
The Autodromo Internacional do Algarve is the newest circuit to appear in Europe and it promises to be one of the best, with first-class facilities, a variety of different layouts and an ideal climate for this time of the year. Extending over almost 300 hectares, the complex is the biggest investment ever in the Algarve and is located at Escapadinho in the foothills of the coastal town of Portimão. It lies about one hour's drive away from Faro airport and an exit road from the A22 motorway is also being built to facilitate access. The track used for Superbike will measure 4.592 kms although 64 different variants of the overall layout will be possible, adapting to the needs of numerous different events, which one day could include Formula 1. Mastermind behind the initiative is local entrepreneur and motorsport fanatic Paulo Pinheiro, for whom it represents a dream come true after seven years of commitment to the project.