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WSBK: Roman Emperor Max Biaggi has landed!

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By Rob Every
February 25 2007

Well, the talk and discussion can all be put to bed straight away about Max Biaggi’s début in World Superbike. The multiple 250cc Grand Prix world champion showed his class and determination with two great rides in Qatar. (Pictured above on the 2005 MotoGP Honda) Biaggi’s performance was enough to jointly lead the championship after a great tussle with Brit James Toseland in both races of the season opener.

Predictably enough, Troy Corser won the Superpole contest on the Santander Yamaha R1, after a sizzling lap from Biaggi left the paddock stunned at the Roman’s pace. Corser, as usual, was right on the money in the one-lap session to steal pole.

The former champ though didn’t convert the advantage into the lead, and it was Biaggi who got the holeshot into the tight turn one - before overshooting the turn in what would become a familiar theme for the Italian. The Italia R1s of Corser and Noriyuki Haga led away after the first bend then, and had Toseland nibbling away at them. The Ten Kate Honda then showed its trump card on the next lap, blowing by both Yamahas on the straight and making Corser feel like it’s going to be one of those years! The Yamaha having nowhere near the speed of the Honda and Suzuki machines.

Fellow Suzuki team rider Yukio Kagayama had made a typically slow start and was mired in the slower works riders, before hustling through as the four riders up front made good their escape. The gap opened up very quickly to the group behind, that included the likes of Troy Bayliss and Lorenzo Lanzi, the Ducati pair simply not quick enough to challenge for anything other than top ten places on this track, or so it seemed.

So it was the front four all alone, Toseland, Biaggi, Corser and Haga. Then, as quickly as that Corser just dropped like a stone, his pace fell away bizarrely and it was later found that he had a bad tyre, a problem that has occasionally afflicted riders in the Pirelli control tyre era, it has to be said. But Haga’s pace dropped away in the same way and the pair simply fell down to the lower end of the top ten by the end of the race, after showing good speed early on. The Yamaha has always been harder on its tyres, and the new model seems to be the same.

At this stage Toseland looked comfortable, as did Biaggi in second. The Yamahas were just beginning their slide down the field and Kagayama was bridging the gap to them, as behind him Bayliss was pushing really hard and lost time with a trip over the Astroturf that lines the track. Lanzi though was looking assured in sixth.

It was clear that Biaggi was on a mission to win his first ever WSBK race, and Toseland was trying all he could to maintain a gap. When the attack came from Max, Toseland’s response was typical - he simply would not let Biaggi get in front as he knew the Roman would get away, so every time Max came by James would just nip under him again.

They touched briefly and had a few ‘rush on into the bend on the brakes’ contests as they fought for a couple of laps, before Biaggi realised where James was quick - remember, as both admitted later, that they know nothing of each others styles, and Toseland was very surprised at Max’s style of braking and cornering. Finally though Max got in front and started to eke out a small advantage, split by split, showing the consistency and pinpoint accuracy that we all know he has. Toseland simply could not respond and Biaggi took a début win.

The Roman was clearly very emotional about this win. He stayed on the bike for quite some time in parc fermé with his lid on, and when his face was revealed there were tears for all to see!

Toseland could be happy with second, but the other shock was third place man Lorenzo Lanzi on the Ducati. Kagayama had slowed a bit near the end of the race as his tyres went off, and Lanzi closed up to take a brilliant rostrum, comprehensively beating his team-mate Bayliss, who was fifth. Other great rides here for German Max Neukirchner, in sixth on a 2006 Suzuki; and also Roberto Rolfo, in seventh first time out on the Ten Kate Honda.

On to the second race then, and the action here was more uneventful as riders managed to set their bikes up a little better, and the slightly fraught first race action was not in evidence as much here. Biaggi again made a superb start to lead the field, as Toseland yet again proved really to be the only man capable of getting anywhere near the former GP star.

One legacy of his time in GP though is an apparent reluctance to hag it out in the early laps. Toseland yet again got past relatively easily as did the two Yamaha bikes. We remember this trait from Alex Barros last year on the Klaffi Honda, and Biaggi may be forced to ride harder in the early laps if he isn’t left at a disadvantage in the future.

In this second race, Max was right with the early leader Toseland, who was being harried by Haga and Troy Corser. The Yamahas looked a lot better in the second event and, though Haga dropped away a little, Corser was right up there until the very late stages of the race, promising form for the double champion in his first ride on the new R1.

Another to look good in race two was Fonsi Nieto. The Spanish former 250 championship runner-up got a superb start on the PSG Kawasaki, and held on to the group for a few laps before his pace dropped away. Like the first race, though, the leading four were much quicker than the rest, and quickly established a huge gap to the likes of Kagayama, Lanzi and Bayliss further back.

Bayliss had a torrid race, really struggling to keep the faster four-cylinder bikes at bay, and making mistakes that dropped him down the order - the reigning champ recovered well to eighth. Worryingly though his fastest lap was over a second down on the race’s fastest. Team-mate Lanzi also couldn’t break the pack this time, and finished in seventh, albeit beating his team-mate again - good stuff from the under pressure Italian.

Up front though Toseland was very assured in the lead. Biaggi had nipped past the Yamaha riders and closed up on James. This was lap eight, and suddenly Max was wide in the last turn, up the kerb and the Yam’s were through again. Biaggi rocketed past on the main straight but, as in race one, his speed was too high and he pushed the front end all the way to the edge of the track in turn one. His chance of a win was really decided there, as he took another lap to get past Haga and Corser, and Toseland in the meantime had built up a two-second lead, seizing his chance superbly.

Once in second Biaggi was quicker than Toseland, but the consistent Brit had too much of a gap and, though his gap came down a lot in the last two laps as his tyres went off, the Hannspree Honda was victorious as last year - and Toseland swapped wins with Biaggi to jointly lead the series.

Corser held on a fair way back from Haga, Nieto and Kagayama. The Ducatis felt this track was their worst of the year, and will be looking for much better form at Phillip Island next week. On this form Toseland and Biaggi are going to take some stopping.

Points standings: Biaggi and Toseland 45; Lanzi 25; Kagayama and Corser 23; Haga 21; Bayliss 19; Neukirchner 16; Xaus 13; Nieto 11.

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