Sugo: Michelin preview

Sugo Sportsland Circuit (Japan) - April 21st 2002 Bayliss on record pace with 6 wins in a row. Troy Bayliss (Ducati Infostrada-Michelin) is making history. After six races, the 2001 Superbike world champion is still unbeaten! An incredible...

Sugo Sportsland Circuit (Japan) - April 21st 2002
Bayliss on record pace with 6 wins in a row.

Troy Bayliss (Ducati Infostrada-Michelin) is making history. After six races, the 2001 Superbike world champion is still unbeaten! An incredible winning streak that has put him straight in the record books. Since the World Superbike Championship was create d in 1988, no-one has ever won the first six races of a season. Bayliss is still one race short of the outright record set by Doug Polen in 1991. The American won seven races in a row that year, but not at the start of the season. "It's unbelievable," smil es the Australian. "I never thought it would be possible." Bayliss obviously comes to Japan as the undisputed championship leader. "I don't have anything against Sugo but the place has just never really been good to me," he adds. "I can't wait for Monza! I'd much rather have a week-end off than go to Sugo but I am determined to score as many points as possible there."

Bayliss leads the championship with 150 points -- a 45 point lead on second-place man Colin Edwards (Castrol Honda-Michelin). "The SP-2 is a very good bike," says the American, "and Michelin is supplying us with great tyres. If someone had told me that I wo uld be so far back in the points after getting 5 podium finishes in 6 races, I would never have believed it. Troy (Bayliss) is doing something that's never been done before. But we've still got a lot of races left this year and I know I can still win the c hampionship. We'll see how we go at Sugo."

After 4 podiums in 6 races, Ruben Xaus (Ducati Infostrada-Michelin) is an excellent third in the provisional standings. So far, Michelin riders have won all six races and taken 15 out of a possible 18 podium places. In the past, Michelin's results have been good at Sugo, but last year's races were disappointing. However with such a strong showing so far this year, the outlook for Sugo 2002 is very promising. Last year, Michelin riders set their fastest lap times durin g practice: Edwards 1m29.803, Bayliss 1m30.658, Xaus 1m31.064. Their race times were slightly slower: Edwards 1m30.351, Bayliss 1m30.878, Xaus 1m31.994. Tests run since then have yielded encouraging results so Bayliss and Edwards will be concentrating on l eaving Sugo with their one-two championship positions intact. They will then be in the perfect position to continue pressing home their advantage for the following round at Monza.

Sugo and tyres

"Our main challenge at Sugo is grip," explains Nicolas Goubert, chief of Michelin's motorcycling competition department. "The track has about the same number of left-handers and right-hand corners. Traction is very important at Sugo. Both grip and traction are very important on the exit to the chicane just before the start/finish straight. If traction isn't good enough there, the rider will loose ground. He won't be able to overtake and that will end up costing him places. The track surface is different com pared to other circuits we go to and that makes it difficult for us to find grip. To be fast at Sugo, riders have to be confident with the front, especially in the first part of the circuit. When it's cold, the first left-hander always creates problems. So we need tyres that warm up fast, that give good grip and that last long."

Troy Bayliss : "Sugo, what a nightmare! I just don't like going to Japan. I love the circuit at Sugo but for some reason I never had any luck there as yet. So we are hoping to change that. I went there last year feeling good and having to do a good result, but really it didn't go so well for me. So I go again this year, hoping for a good result and hopefully I can get one."

Colin Edwards : "Sometimes I have a good day here whenever we come and test. But it just never seems to work out for the race. Last year we went testing after the WSBK race and we lapped faster than Tamada did when he won the race. I'm excited to come here and prove that Honda and Michelin can do well."

Ruben Xaus : "This is a difficult circuit because it's very technical. The Japanese riders know it really well. We tested there last year after Imola and both the bike and the tyres worked well. I hope to get a good result. That may change my opinion of th e track! The chicane is something else -- very interesting!"

Opened in 1975, Sugo is 300km North of Tokyo, between Shibata and Murata. Built by Yamaha as a test track, it has a wide variety of corners, from chicanes to fast corners (250m maximum radius). It is 3.737m long and the uphill run up to the start/finish li ne gives engines a real workout. There is a 70m difference between the highest point on the track and the lowest. The start/finish straight is 704.5m long.

"Our biggest challenge is to beat the many Japanese riders using local tyres," adds Nicolas Goubert. "They know the circuit like the back of their hands. The Japanese championship takes them racing there at least twice a year."

"The difficult thing for us is that we are unable to test there as much and as often as we'd like," says Jean Herisse, Michelin's Superbike manager.

Interview: Neil Tuxworth, Castrol Honda Race Team Manager.

Team Castrol Honda and Michelin have always gone well together and two World Superbike titles - for John Kocinski in 1997 and for Colin Edwards in 2000 -- speak for themselves. There's also been plenty of race wins and pole positions: 21 for Edwards (8 pole s), 14 for John Kocinski (3 poles), 13 for Aaron Slight (6 poles) and 4 for Carl Fogarty. 1997 brought the added bonus of the constructors' World Championship. Neil Tuxworth knows quite a bit about racing. As a rider, he's won more than 70 international ra ces and 200 plus regional races. He has 6 motocross championships to his credit and rode for England in ice-racing for 5 years. He also raced speedway for a year. Now 50 years old, Tuxworth is still a keen racer. He's just taken his tenth sand racing title and has won more than 700 races in the series.

Neil, how important is the Superbike World Championship for Honda?
- It's very important. What Honda likes about the Superbike World Championship is the simple fact that it relates racing to the customers' machines. Customers can see the same type of bikes being raced that they can buy from their dealers. So there is a cl ose relationship to the public.

What do you think about the technical rules for 2004?
- The rules are changing. In simple terms, in 2004 all machines can be up to 1000cc capacity. If you make the class more competitive, it will give you more opportunity. At the moment for sure, twin-cylinder machines seem to have an advantage, no question. It will be nice to see a bigger range of machines. If by changing the rules, it allows more people to be competitive, I think it has to be a good thing.

Tell us about the Castrol Honda Team.
- The Castrol Honda Team began in the WSBK Championship in 1994 when Honda decided to officially enter a team. We already had on association with Castrol and obviously an association with Michelin, and that was carried forward into the World Superbike Team . I think that we have had a tremendous amount of success, we have never finished out of the top 3 in the championship in any of the years we have been involved and we won the World Championship twice, in 1997 with John Kocinski and in 2000 with Colin Edwa rds. I think the team works very well as a unit. The key to the success of our team is the people who work in the team. I put a lot of effort in getting the right people to do the jobs and then I don't really get involved. I have got 100% faith in all the people who work for me, whichever position they are in. I think we are a pretty happy team. We all work very well together. It's no good having a team of people who can do the jobs but who cannot get along as well, because you are travelling together all the time, flying to places together, staying in hotels together and working together. It's not like a normal job, and I think to get success a team has to be in a happy working environment, I try to make it that way. We are a successful team, one of the most successful teams in the paddock and we hope to continue like that.

How is your relationship with Michelin?
-The relationship with Honda and Michelin has been very good. It has been a successful relationship for a number of years now and we work very well together. Michelin seems to react quickly when we have a problem, like sometimes our machine doesn't always work perfectly, sometimes maybe Michelin has a problem too, but together we seem to eliminate the problems. The ideal solution at the end of the day is to make the right tyres work with the right settings of the machine we have. And obviously we have had a lot of success and Michelin also have had a lot of success, so we are very happy with the relationship.

Sugo Stats Superbike

Official practice record (2001)
1m28.658 Makoto Tamada (Honda), 151.743 kph average speed.

Superpole record (2001)
1m28.797 Makoto Tamada (Honda), 151.505 kph average speed

Fastest lap (best race time 2001)
1m29.522 Makoto Tamada (Honda), 150.278 kph average speed.

-michelin-

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About this article
Series World Superbike
Drivers Troy Bayliss , Colin Edwards , Aaron Slight , Ruben Xaus , Makoto Tamada , Carl Fogarty , Neil Tuxworth