Salt Lake City (USA), 24 May 2011 - The FIM Superbike World Championship takes its second and final trip overseas this year as it heads for the Miller Motorsports Park circuit in the USA. This year’s event, round 5, will be the fourth edition to be held in the State of Utah. The 4.907 km circuit, which lies 1300 metres above sea level, is located half-an-hour’s drive away from the capital Salt Lake City and is on the edge of the Great Salt Lake basin, not far from the world-famous Bonneville Salt Flats. The rarified atmosphere has an effect on performance, with engine power loss estimated at 10%.
As is tradition, the Miller Motorsports Round will be held on Monday, as part of the Memorial Day weekend (28-30 May), when the entire nation plays tribute to its armed forces. As a result, first qualifying takes place on Saturday, the Tissot Superpole on the Sunday and the two WSBK races on the Monday. World Superbike will be the only one of the four regular categories to be present at Miller, with World Supersport, Superstock 1000 and Superstock 600 taking a break until their next round at Misano Adriatico.
Current championship leader Carlos Checa will undoubtedly be the star attraction on his Althea Racing Ducati machine as he aims to make up for disappointing runs at Monza. Checa has a 27 point lead over second-placed man Marco Melandri (Yamaha World Superbike), but the Spaniard, despite missing out on two wins last year due to mechanical failure, does have a double win to his name at Utah, in the event’s first edition in 2008.
And still on the same subject, the Miller circuit appears to lend itself to double winners, with Max Biaggi (Aprilia Alitalia) taking the honours in 2010 following on from Ben Spies (Yamaha) in 2009, both becoming champions at the end of the year. So that statistic may play into the hands of Ireland’s Eugene Laverty (Yamaha World Superbike), WSBK’s latest victor, who opened up his scorecard with a double win at the last round in Monza. Laverty is now in fifth place, sixty points adrift of leader Checa.
Four points ahead of Laverty is his fellow Irishman, Jonathan Rea (Castrol Honda). Nominating Miller as the team’s designated test track following set-up problems last year and completing two days of positive testing on Sunday and Monday could prove to be a winning move for the Dutch squad and good results here will help to galvanize Rea’s title bid.
BMW Motorrad Motorsport scored their second podium of the season at Monza, with Leon Haslam on board, but the German squad are still searching for that elusive breakthrough in their third year of WSBK activity. Haslam is the man who is getting closer and closer and not even a broken toe he picked up in a first chicane clash at Monza will prevent the Englishman from giving 100% over the Utah weekend.
Michel Fabrizio (Suzuki Alstare) always goes well at Miller and is a firm fans’ favourite, but the Italian is slightly handicapped this year by being a singleton entry for the Belgium-based squad. However Fabrizio was a podium finisher at Monza and has taken home good points from virtually every race this year.
Leon Camier (Aprilia Alitalia) and Jakub Smrz (Effenbert-Liberty Ducati) are next up in the current standings, with one podium apiece to their name this year, while Noriyuki Haga (PATA Aprilia Racing) rounds out the top 10.
The Kawasaki Racing Team still need time to get their new ZX-10R machine to a competitive level, and with top rider Chris Vermeulen struggling with an 15-month long injury, it’s left to Tom Sykes and the talented youngster Joan Lascorz to show flashes of form.
The final big name on the entry list to watch for is James Toseland (BMW Motorrad Italia SBK Team), the former winner also still struggling to get back to form after a nasty wrist injury, while Miller will see a welcome return for the young Australian Josh Waters, and his all-Japanese Yoshimura Suzuki Racing Team for their second appearance of the year.
The ‘BigM Weekend’ will have World Superbike as its feature event, while the rest of the programme will include AMA Pro Road Racing support races from the national Superbike Championship, the Daytona SportBike Championship, Supersport and XR1200s. Currently in the lead of their respective classes are Josh Hayes (Yamaha R1) in Superbike, Jason Di Salvo (Ducati 848) in SportBike and Tomas Puerta (Yamaha R6) in Supersport.
Points (after 4 of 13 rounds): 1. Checa 145; 2. Melandri 118; 3. Biaggi 117; 4. Rea 89; 5. Laverty 85; 6. Haslam 84; 7. Fabrizio 74; 8. Camier 58; 9. Smrz 55; 10. Haga 47; etc. Manufacturers: 1. Ducati 152; 2. Yamaha 147; 3. Aprilia 139; 4. BMW 101; 5. Honda 93; 6. Suzuki 74; 7. Kawasaki 53.