News 17 Jun 2009

WSBK: Hopkins back for Misano, Honda riders hope to shine

Honda Racing:

With the half-way point of the World Superbike and World Supersport Championships now reached the next race, at the Misano World Circuit this weekend, will be followed closely by the British round at Donington between 26 and 28 June.
Normally the Misano event is one of the hottest and most gruelling on the 14-round World Superbike calendar, with track surface temperatures usually the highest of the year.

The forthcoming Misano race, officially the San Marino round, will feature a host of potential race winners in Honda colours, with Jonathan Rea (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR) fourth overall and thus the highest placed Fireblade rider in Superbike. Eugene Laverty (Parkalgar Honda CBR600RR) sits second in the World Supersport Championship, only nine points from the lead.

Rea and his team have overcome some early season issues with their machine set-up and all the Ten Kate riders underwent a further test session at Magny Cours, France recently, in order to take another step up the ladder of consistent competitiveness. Jonathan has two podium finishes to his credit so far in 2009, his debut season.

Laverty is the closest Honda challenger to WSS series leader Cal Crutchlow, but after a superb late charge to victory at the Miller Motorsports Park in late May, Kenan Sofuoglu (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR600RR) took his second win of the year, the overall championship fight opened up again. Laverty has three wins of his own now, with Crutchlow the winner of the remaining two races.

The Superbike class has been as competitive in the midfield as could be expected in a season with large numbers of experienced riders and ambitious teams, which makes Leon Haslam (Stiggy Racing Honda CBR1000RR) particularly happy to have made such an early impact for his team, which is experiencing its first WSB season on top of existing WSS commitments. Haslam is sixth in the rankings after Miller, 11 points behind Rea.

The top ten, in a championship with an impressive level of competition right down through the top 20 this year, has two more Honda riders in it, Ryuichi Kiyonari (Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR) in eighth place, and Carlos Checa (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR) ninth.

John Hopkins (Stiggy Racing Honda CBR1000RR) is set for his race return at Misano, having now recovered sufficiently from the broken hip he suffered at Assen in April.

Matthieu Lagrive (Honda Althea CBR1000RR) has moved from the Supersport class to the Superbike class, to replace the outgoing Tommy Hill, allowing Italian rider Flavio Gentile (Althea Honda CBR600RR) to take over Lagrive’s Supersport ride. Vittorio Iannuzzo (Squadra Corse Italia Honda CBR1000RR) returns for this race after missing the two recent fly-away rounds in South Africa and America.

Like his WSS team-mate Sofuoglu, Andrew Pitt (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR600RR) is on the way back to full competitiveness, having started the season well, then tailing off until recent rounds. He is fourth, tied on points with Spaniard Joan Lascorz, but Pitt has a better podium finishing record.

A great start to the year by Anthony West (Stiggy Racing Honda CBR600RR) has not continued the way he had planned, most recently because of lowly qualifying performances leaving the Australian rider too much to do in races to recover and fight for top positions. He is still inside the top six of the championship itself, thanks to podium finishes in Australia and Spain.

Third at Kyalami was a breakthrough podium finish for Mark Aitchison (Althea Honda CBR600RR), as he sits eighth in the points table right now, despite his no score in America. Miguel Praia (Parkalgar Honda CBR600RR) is out for his first top ten finish, despite the lingering effects of injury carried over from a crash at Miller.
Gianluca Vizziello (Stiggy Racing Honda CBR600RR) who came close to a top ten finish at Valencia, is looking for a better result than that in his second home race of 2009.

Immediately after the Misano race, the teams head cross Europe once again, to Donington Park in England, for round nine.

WSB Rider Comments.
Jonathan Rea: “It’ll be really cool to go to Misano – it’s a nice place to be and a good track that I enjoy riding at. I was on the podium there in Supersport last year. I really need to work on improving my qualifying because in the last few races, we seem to have had the pace all weekend but then, for one reason or another, ended up off the front row after Superpole. I’ve not started from the front since Australia but, if you’re not there, it makes the first lap really difficult.
The bike development has been going in the right direction for me recently and that really motivates me and the rest of the crew to do the best job we can possibly do. We’ve just passed the halfway stage of the season and it’s important to deliver consistently good results now and, at some point, take it up to the next level. There’s still a gap to the guys ahead of us, but it’s a gap that we’ve managed to reduce slightly and that’s what we’ll keep working on.”

Leon Haslam: “I am looking forward to the Misano event this weekend, for me it is another circuit I have not been to before. It looks like a great track to me, and it will be another challenge to quickly learn the track and get the bike competitive. After returning from the US, I have spent some time in Italy with my engine company Oral. They have made some further improvements to our engines and I am looking forward to testing the hard work on the track this weekend.”

Ryuichi Kiyonari: “It was a little bit frustrating in America because the team worked so hard to give me a bike to put on the front row. We showed that we had the pace to run at the front but the problems that appeared only in the races did not allow us to do that. But I think we have made good progress in the last few weeks and I want to continue that in Misano by returning to the podium. The results there last season were not so good but so far this year, things have been better when I return to a track that was new last year. As always I will try my best for a good result.

Carlos Checa: “I like the circuit at Misano a lot, although we suffered from quite a bit of chatter there last year. It would be good to get back on the podium again, after the first race at Miller two weeks ago. The second race there was not so good but the feature of the circuit where I crashed is not something you find anywhere else. The important thing from the last race is that we had enough pace to fight for podium finishes. The bike felt really good and we want to carry that to Italy and through the second half of the season.”

John Hopkins: “Misano is a track I do like a lot. I had some decent results there in the past, and got on the podium in the 2007 MotoGP race. It is a circuit I enjoy well, and the audience is always great. People really take a liking towards the World Superbike series, and I expect the atmosphere to be similar to the one we received at the MotoGP races. It is going to be an exciting race and hopefully I can be out there from the start. Right now, I am not going to make any promises of running at the front of the field. I am just taking it step-by-step and focus on getting a good feeling with the bike again and set the best possible results for the team and myself.”

Matthieu Lagrive: “This will be my first race with the Honda Althea Superbike team. I never raced in World Superbike before and so I will have to familiarize with my new CBR1000RR starting from Friday’s free practices. I have already raced with an Endurance spec Fireblade, but I know this will be a completely different bike. I know the team’s technical staff and I’m sure they’ll help me adapt quickly to the new machine.”

WSS Rider Comments
Eugene Laverty: “I am looking forward to these two next races, Misano and Donington, because out of all the tracks through the year they are the ones I feel strongest about. I have raced at Misano twice in the past and I think the track will suit the Honda better than the Yamaha. I had a good race on a 250 there last year, for a time at least, and I really like the layout of Misano,”

Kenan Sofuoglu: “The win in America was very important for me and the whole team, who have worked so hard since we received the 2009 machine at Valencia. You could tell from the reaction of everybody what it meant to the team and I was so happy to be back on top of the podium. Of course, we still have a lot of work to do to make the bike always competitive and to give us the best chance of winning. Misano was not so good last year on the Superbike, but I was on the podium there on the Ten Kate CBR600RR in 2007, so I will be trying my best to take another win this weekend.”

Andrew Pitt: “Misano’s been good to me in the past – in both directions – so I’m looking forward to getting back there. It’s going to be hot and hopefully that will be where all the training and all the kilometres on the bicycle pay off. Acceleration out of corners is something we still need to work on with the bike, but it’s been making real progress lately and that showed in America, despite the problem in qualifying. We need a little bit of luck on our side now and only race wins will do, so that’s what we’ll be aiming for from here on in.”

Anthony West: “I am looking forward to the Misano race this weekend. There is always a good atmosphere out there. I have had a tough couple of races in which I struggled through the qualifying sessions. I did manage to come back inside the top ten at the last Miller race, which has lifted my spirits a little, but we need to do a lot better than that, and I know I can and should be running at the front.”

Mark Aitchison: “After leaving Salt Lake City I was very disappointed about how the weekend finished, but now I am totally focused on putting a solid result together this weekend at Misano. I really like this circuit and at the moment I have a good feeling with the bike.”

Miguel Praia: “I’m still not 100% to be honest, a little bit sore in my leg, but much better than after I crashed. For sure during the weekend I will forget about it and just go for it in the race.  I just started walking normally a couple of days ago, and have had some physiotherapy, but I will be ready to race and aiming for a top ten.”

Gianluca Vizziello: “I am looking forward to riding in front of my home audience at Misano this weekend. I like the track a lot, and hope to set a better result than I did in the last race at Miller. I have been struggling with the grip of my tyres and the handling of my machine, but we have worked hard on finding a solution, which we can hopefully put into practice this weekend.”

Flavio Gentile: “I’m really happy to be here and I know my team will help me to quickly adapt to the new bike. I’m lucky because I can start this new interesting experience from Misano, which is actually my favourite circuit. I have always obtained good results here and I think I will be able to challenge hard this time as well.”

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