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Valencia – In Review
Gordon Ritchie

With the phoney war over and the first of the real battles having taken place at Valencia, we use the hiatus before Phillip Island to review the significance of the first race weekend.

Ducati should really be based in Rome, not Bologna, so enduring is the scarlet-painted Desmo Empire’s grip on the higher echelons of World Superbike. Tardozzi and his legions pulled it off once more at Valencia, with their reigning World Champion Troy Bayliss scorching to two wins against his highly motivated and well-equipped peers.

As if that weren’t ominous enough, Bayliss even managed to win race two on his spare bike, a fact that speaks volumes about not only Bayliss, but any team that has a fully operational machine ready to go at a few seconds notice – in exactly the same spec as the number 1 machine. Not too bad chaps, not bad at all.

The other main contenders Noriyuki Haga (Aprilia), Ben Bostrom (Ducati L&M) and Colin Edwards (Castrol Honda) were beaten hands down at Valencia, and whatever their public proclamations, they must be worried that Bayliss was such a force on a circuit he has never enjoyed a win at in the past.

Haga proved his speed is nonetheless a many splendoured thing, and that he has already mastered the big twin. For a guy who was panned last year in GP racing, he had some very good results on the two-stroke, and it appears that all Nori needs is a set of handlebars and an engine below him and he’s able to compete.

Ben Bostrom’s Valencia weekend was ruined by the simple fact that he felt his machine was not as fast as Bayliss’ and that his tyres were not able to last the full race distance. He was still pugilistic and strong, but with that seed of doubt in his mind, all the next few races will be tough, especially as they are flyaways.

The most curious case of the weekend was that of Colin Edwards, however. Always complaining last year that his chassis would not let him gain enough feedback from his tyres, the Texan got a new chassis in pre-season. He was delighted with it. He tested very well with it. He got to Valencia for the race and was nowhere near his fellow Michelin rider Bayliss, even if he did get balked in the early laps. He was complaining about a lack of consistency of feel from the machine again, to the point whereby it sounds like 2001 all over again, almost.

And speaking of which, Ruben Xaus was at it again, running well to a fifth place finish in race one then crashing inexplicably in race two. Another mystery front-end crash. Sounds like 2001 all over again for him as well, although this time he fell in a race, not just qualifying.

The stopwatch at Valencia proved that these riders, and/or their machines, have got something everyone else lacks.

Even those you would expect to perform well - Neil Hodgson, Pierfrancesco Chili, Steve Martin - were somewhat off the full pace. The new Ducati does indeed seem to be a cut above the rest again, which must be a demoralising thought this early for the top Duke privateers.

The four-cylinder runners? Write off Hitoyasu Izutsu at your peril, because he was as good as anyone at Valencia, and better than most. Armed with a quick Kawasaki he will be a surprise to some, even in his debut full SBK season.

Chris Walker, his team mate, deserved all the points he gained after a gritty ride, and as many predicted, the confidence Walker lost last year, and failed to regain in winter testing, is being re-forged in the heat of real competition.

Gregorio Lavilla (Suzuki) was pugilistic and committed on his lone factory Alstare bike, but was not able to get close to the form that won him a podium finish in Spain last year. Hard to see him improve on last year, even if he is on the more modern of the two four-cylinder entries.

Another clear signal from Valencia was that the new weight differentials, which favour the fours over the twins, have had little effect. But the most heartening thing about the Valencia race was that the top men at least were on record-breaking form.

The speed of the machines, the commitment of the top riders, the sheer combativeness of the racing at the sharp end has diminished little. It may even have intensified, as the numbers of factory bikes has contracted.

The biggest loss was the temporary exit of Benelli and the universal chorus from the paddock in Spain was a resounding - “hurry back!”

Early days for the 2002 season of course, but even after one peek into the future, things look rosy up front.

Maybe, as some predict, the hue of the championship will soon darken from merely rosy to Ducati red, if Bayliss carries on like this every week, but remember one thing. Troy Corser won both Valencia races at a canter in 2001, and he didn’t finish the season as World Champion. The fact is, this is Superbike, where anything can happen.

Taken from http://www.worldsbk.com.

 
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