The third stop on the 2008 SBK calendar, Valencia will host a pair of races on Sunday. Each race will include 23 laps on the tight 2.5-mile circuit that features 14 corners.
Topping the driver standings with 88 points is Ducati Xerox Team’s Troy Bayliss who has won three of the season’s first four races, including sweeping both races last month at Phillip Island in his native Australia. Bayliss has been taking advantage of the few weeks off to recover from injuries sustained at the Phillip Island race on March 2.
“I’ve put in some serious training during the last few weeks and feel like I'm now in really good shape - the collarbone feels stronger than ever and the elbow is pretty much back to normal too,” says Bayliss, who rides a Ducati 1098 F08.
Despite his early success this season, Bayliss expects the competition will begin to catch up.
“I expect nearly everyone to go better at this track and I’m sure that those teams that were perhaps a little behind with getting ready for the championship will now start to show results,” says Bayliss. “I’m really looking forward to the weekend. It’s quite a physical track and you don’t get much rest but this means that it's great for the spectator and makes for real racing – there’s normally a good battle there.”
This morning’s qualifying session suggests that the competition is getting fiercer. Team Alstare Suzuki’s Max Neukirchner had the top time at 1m34.806s while 15 other racers within a second of his pace. The second qualifying round will be held Saturday, but if today’s numbers were used, coming in a whole second behind Neukirchner’s time would not be enough to qualify for the Superpole.
Bayliss sits ahead of a group of Spaniards who look to excel racing in their homeland.
Team Suzuki Alstare rider Fonsi Nieto sits in the second spot with 61 points, and he hopes to rebound from a poor weekend at last year’s Valencia stop.
“Racing at home is always a bit special and I want to put on a good show for all my fans this weekend - especially after my pair of DNF’s last year,” says Nieto. “Valencia is a track where it is important to have a really good bike set-up if you want to go fast, so that’s what we’ll be trying to do from the very start of practice. There are quite a few Spanish riders in the championship this year and I am hoping that we get a good crowd for the race and can give them something to shout about.”
The Madrid native is the only racer besides Bayliss to taste victory so far this season, winning the second race at Qatar on Feb. 23 on his Suzuki GSX-R1000.
Just two points behind Nieto is fellow Spaniard Rubén Xaus of Team Sterilgarda Go Eleven. Riding a Ducati 1098 RS 08, the Barcelona-born Xaus hopes to repeat his success from 2007 when he won the first Valencia race.
“I hope to be one of the stars of the round immediately from the qualifying,” says Xaus. “I really would like to repeat the result of the last season but I know that it will be hard.”
HANNspree Ten Kate Honda’s Carlos Checa sits in a fourth-place tie with Troy Corser of Yamaha Motor Italia WSB Team with 45 points.
“We made some good progress here during the last test. We definitely come better prepared then the first races in Qatar and Australia where we were still awaiting some new parts,” says Checa, who also hails from Barcelona.
Checa, who will race on a Honda CBR1000RR, has already made an impression at Valencia by arriving at the track in a unique manner. Checa arrived at the pre-event press conference Thursday by parachuting out of a Cessna light aircraft and landing 10,000 feet later on the track in front of the waiting journalists.
“Since it’s the first race for me in Valencia and I thought it would be a good idea to do something special and arrive to the track in a different way. Some friends of mine own a skydiving centre near Valencia so we came up with the idea of making a jump onto the circuit,” says Checa, an avid skydiver. “It’s great to see the track from above and find that little mark where you’ll have to land. It’s a lot easier hitting the gravel coming out of the sky ... than coming off a bike. I’m all buzzing now and ready to start the preparations for Sunday’s race.”
Like the rest of the field, Checa hopes it’s Bayliss’ turn to come back down to earth.