The FIM Superbike World Championship returns to Donington Park after an absence of just one year, this time for the European Round, the second event on the 2011 championship calendar. Once again Donington becomes a ‘blast from the past’ as the Leicestershire circuit was the scene for the first-ever World Superbike round, which was held back on April 3rd 1988. It is also worth mentioning that Donington Park was also the first permanent park circuit in England, and the first motor cycle race took place there on Whit Monday in 1931, which is exactly 80 years ago.
Recent history however shows that the slightly revised circuit that lies under the flight path of the nearby East Midlands airport, will be the venue for another fast-paced battle between the protagonists of this year’s championship, starting with Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi.
On his Althea Racing Ducati 1098R, the 38-year-old Spaniard won both races in the opening round at Phillip Island (Australia) and is raring to go for the second round of the season. Checa has not obtained any outstanding results in his Superbike years at Donington, but it must be added that he has never really had a bike as competitive as the one he has been riding since the start of the season.
Max Biaggi (Aprilia Alitalia) on the other hand has always had a good feeling with Donington, winning there both in 250cc and in MotoGP. In Superbike, between 2007 and 2009, he was on the podium four times in six races but so far has missed out on the win. This year the reigning world champion intends to make amends for that, especially in the wake of his two second places in the opening round of the season.
Another Italian rider, Marco Melandri, also has a good feeling with Donington. Following his podium in Australia the Yamaha World Superbike Team rider is now aiming even higher on a track where he won in 250 cc in 2002. Michel Fabrizio (Suzuki Alstare) on the other hand has only a best result of third to his name at Donington and is focusing on getting his GSX-R1000 machine closer to the front.
But the men to watch at Donington will undoubtedly be the ‘Brit-Pack’ who have always been able to find that little bit ‘extra’ at their home event. There is always a special atmosphere at the British rounds and this will certainly help to spur on the likes of Rea, Haslam, Sykes et al. Unfortunately the number has been reduced by one as James Toseland (BMW Motorrad Italia), who crashed during testing at Motorland Aragón, has a fractured right wrist and will now have to miss the European Round.
Jonathan Rea (Castrol Honda) wants to make up for the misfortune that befell him in Australia, when a nasty crash in testing forced him to reign in his natural talents in the race. Leon Haslam (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) took a hard-earned podium at Phillip Island, and the 2010 championship runner-up picked up a couple of useful results at Donington the year before, a third and a fourth. After leading for a couple of laps and going close to the podium in the opening round, Ireland’s Eugene Laverty (Yamaha World Superbike Team) aims to demonstrate that his place on the factory R1 machine that twice won here with Ben Spies in 2009 is fully-deserved, while the other two Brits to follow closely will be Tom Sykes, who was on the Donington podium in 2008 as a wild-card, and Biaggi’s Aprilia team-mate Leon Camier, hopefully fully recovered from a recent debilitating illness.
Luca Scassa’s last-gasp win on the Yamaha ParkinGO machine over Broc Parkes (Kawasaki Motocard.com) and Sam Lowes (Parkalgar Honda) has added extra flavour to the Supersport World Championship, which is now booming in quality – following the arrival of several talented youngsters – and quantity. A return in grand style for Yamaha has also fleshed out the Honda-Kawasaki duopoly and now there are three manufacturers fighting for the win. Donington will surely see the riders who finished on the podium at Phillip Island again up at the front, with the addition of Fabien Foret (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda), who raced injured in Australia, while all eyes will also be on Gino Rea (Step Racing Honda), who hopes to be fully-fit and the promising Italian Roberto Tamburini from the Yamaha Bike Service Racing Team.