The eni FIM Superbike World Championship is back in action this coming weekend at the AutoMotodrom Brno circuit in the Czech Republic for the ninth round of 14. Attention will undoubtedly be focused on Max Biaggi (Aprilia Racing Team) and Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad Motorsport), who split the wins in the previous round at MotorLand Aragon (Spain) as well as in last year’s round at Brno. With a similar result the two Italians, first and second in the standings, could be well on the way towards the title run-in.
Brno, 200 kilometres south-east of the capital Prague, will be the venue for a World Superbike round for the tenth time. The track, which like the production-derived championship itself, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year in its current layout, measures 5.403 km, has numerous drops and rises and is one of the most spectacular and difficult on the calendar. Max Biaggi, current leader on 248.5 points, is rightly considered to be the man to beat at Brno because the 41-year-old from Rome has won 11 times here on every type of bike he has raced: four times in 250GP, three in 500/MotoGP and four in Superbike: in 2007 with Suzuki and three times in 2009, 2010 and 2011 with the Aprilia RSV4. The 2009 win, Biaggi’s first for Aprilia, was particularly important as since then the Italian machine has always finished the race in first or second place.
Marco Melandri, second on 200.5 points, will have the difficult task of getting the better of Biaggi on his Italian rival’s favourite track. But the BMW Motorrad Motorsport rider also has a good record at Brno, wnning here last year on a Yamaha and in 2002 in 250GP, his world title year. The German bike’s best result at Brno is a fifth place for Ruben Xaus in 2009, when it made its debut. This year however the S 1000 RR has already won three times, so past results count for little. On Monday BMW Motorrad announced that in 2013 it would continue its commitment in World Superbike but would concentrate its energies on BMW Motorrad Italia which will now become the factory team for the Munich manufacturer.
Third-placed Northern Irishman Jonathan Rea (Honda World Superbike Team) will have to put in two excellent results if he hopes to stay in touch with Biaggi and Melandri from the 183-point mark. With a CBR1000RR Rea has already won at Brno, in 2010, but didn’t race here last year due to injury. The four-cylinder Japanese bike also won here in 2007 with James Toseland, who then became world champion that year.
Althea Racing, together with 2011 champion Carlos Checa, are aiming to make up ground on the two frontrunners. Checa is fourth on 175.5 points and can no longer afford any more slip-ups. A Ducati has not won at Brno since 2008 (with Troy Bayliss) while Checa has never won here. The Spanish rider’s plan is to limit the damage in order to give himself the best possible chances in the five rounds remaining, at circuits on paper more favourable to the Italian twin-cylinder machine.
Kawasaki on the other hand have not won at Brno since the very first edition in 1993 when American Scott Russell tasted the victory champagne. Kawasaki Racing Team’s ambitions are now all in the hands of Tom Sykes, the Tissot-Superpole specialist with six successes in eight rounds. Sykes has slipped to fifth in the standings (172.5 points) due to a couple of unfortunate episodes at Aragon. The ZX-10R is a rapidly-improving bike, and the last time it was in action at post-race Aragon testing, Sykes was quickest overall.
The FIXI Crescent Suzuki team are again at full strength with John Hopkins and Leon Camier, the British rider just returning from Japan where he took part in testing for the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hours race. The GSX-R1000 has won four times at Brno, the last time in 2007 with Max Biaggi: it could be a good weekend for the British team which is counting a lot on John Hopkins now being at the peak of his form following injuries in the early part of the season.
There will be considerable home support for Liberty Racing Team Effenbert, the Italo-Czech team based in Prague, and which races with Czech rider Jakub Smrz, as well as Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli, who won at Assen, and Maxime Berger. Meanwhile Red Devils Ducati have replaced Niccolò Canepa with former Superstock 1000 champion Alex Polita for this round.