Latest news:

James Toseland is 2004 World Superbike Champion

Raceline Photography

By Dan Moakes
February 27 2005

There was all to play for at the final World Superbike meeting of 2004, with just thirteen points separating the top three contenders. Ducati Fila’s Régis Laconi and James Toseland led the way, just four points apart, with Chris Vermeulen and the Ten Kate Honda an outside prospect in third.

For the second year, the series concluded at the Magny-Cours circuit in France, home of the Formula 1 Grand Prix for over a decade. With the points advantage, Laconi only needed to share honours with Toseland, whilst the youngster had to be ahead in both races. Vermeulen really needed the Ducati men to do no better than a second and a third, while he won twice. Laconi may have had home advantage, but Toseland had taken his first pole position here a year ago. It was delicately balanced, and no-one could afford a mistake.

These three qualified in the top five grid positions, but with Troy Corser’s Petronas FP1 recording its second pole of the season. Vermeulen and Toseland were next, but with Laconi fifth, behind another local man. Wildcard rider Sébastien Gimbert was fourth, in his second outing of the year for Yamaha France. It represented the best performance on the R1 by anyone all year. Another threat in the races would surely come from sixth man Frankie Chili, and again there was a clutch of wildcards towards the rear of the grid.

Corser held the lead at the start of race one, but only as far as the tight right-hand Adelaide hairpin, which follows on from a fast section of bends and a straight. Here he lost out to Toseland, with Vermeulen third, from Noriyuki Haga, Laconi, Chili, Chris Walker, Gimbert and Leon Haslam. Before long, Corser was down to fifth, now behind Haga, Toseland, Vermeulen and Laconi, with Gimbert moving past Chili for sixth. Haslam passed Walker, with Piergiorgio Bontempi, Steve Martin, Ivan Clementi, Garry McCoy and Sergio Fuertes following.

The hairpin was the scene of a lot of the overtaking, as Toseland squeaked past Haga to lead, then losing it to the same rider at the same place, as Laconi was passing Vermeulen behind them. The race looked likely to develop between the rapid Haga and Toseland, but with Laconi fighting Vermeulen for the right to challenge them. Régis won this tussle, then charged up to make it a three-way affair. Haga may have been out of the title race by now, but he was a integral part of the race itself, albeit passed by Toseland at Adelaide and by Laconi at the dipping then rising Imola chicance.

Toseland seemed to be getting clear into the lead, possibly helped by the place swapping Haga and Laconi. A wide moment for the Frenchman allowed Noriyuki to catch back to James, but Régis attacked again and the three closed up once more. In the final laps, Toseland’s 999 began sliding as he kept up the pace, and at the same time Laconi began to drop away from the first two, into a solitary third. Haga attacked on the last lap, but Toseland was the winner, with Laconi third and citing tyre troubles for his late race difficulties.

Vermeulen had held fourth for the first half of the race, which would have kept him in touch theoretically, but his challenge ended when the Honda broke down. This let the impressive Gimbert up to fourth and, although Martin had taken fastest lap as he fought through from eleventh to fifth, the Australian rider’s challenge faded in the latter stages. These two finished in the same order, ahead of Chili, Haslam, Walker and McCoy. Kawasaki rider Stéphane Duterne was ninth, from Bontempi, Lucio Pedercini, Stefano Cruciani, Alessio Velini, and Poland’s Pawel Szkopek. Retirements had included Clementi and Fuertes, both fallers; and also Corser, after recovering from eighth to pass Chili for sixth.

They went into race two with the points as follows: Toseland 316, Laconi 311, Vermeulen 282 and Haga 274. Now only the first two could win it, and with the advantage having once again swung from one works Ducati rider to the other. Again Corser held onto his advantage at the start, while Toseland and Vermeulen battled for second. James ultimately elbowed his way ahead of the Honda rider, then took the lead at the hairpin. Corser soon slipped down to fifth, as Vermeulen, Haga and Laconi came past and, as these three caught up to Toseland, it became a four man group at the front.

Haga pushed Vermeulen, going ahead at the hairpin, and was soon able to get by Toseland around the outside into the same corner. Meanwhile, after a wide moment, Laconi attacked Vermeulen at the turn one left-hander, also getting the place at the hairpin. He then upped the pace to catch the two ahead, as the pattern of race one re-established itself. Toseland got the lead from Haga at the hairpin, holding it despite a slide, but losing it at the same place on a subsequent occasion.

Laconi knew he had to beat Toseland, but again he slipped off the pace in the closing stages. In fact, this time Haga was the quickest man, and by the time they had backmarkers to contend with he was into a clear lead. Second would only be enough for Régis if James went down to fourth, but the Frenchman was falling back at 1.4s, 1.7s and then 1.9s from his team-mate. Running wide took this to three seconds, but even though he pushed on again, Toseland took second by 2.64s at the finish. Haga had won by just over three seconds.

Vermeulen’s luck was really out on the day, as a lonely fourth place evaporated as he had to withdraw to the pits. In the last three races he’d dropped to fourth overall from a slender lead in the points table. With McCoy going backwards early on, fourth place in the race would have therefore been between Corser, Haslam, Chili and Martin. However, Gimbert came through from twelfth to join the group, and passed all four to repeat his first race result - and move to 18th in the final points table.

Martin had just overtaken Chili for sixth when he went out, so the Italian came home next, with Haslam, Corser and Walker behind. McCoy took ninth, from Warwick Nowland, in his best result of the year on the Suzuki. Then came Duterne, Fuertes, Szkopek, Miguel Praia and Berto Camlek. Regular series riders Borciani, Clementi and Gianluca Nannelli missed scoring in both races on the day, whilst Mauro Sanchini was missing for the second event running.

It had come down to the last race of the year, and ultimately the title had gone to the better man on the day. A greater record of wins, pole positions and fastest laps had not allowed Régis Laconi to take the crown he had been favourite for, but in the end James Toseland had made fewer mistakes. The Yorkshire rider, only days from turning 24, joined Lancashire rivals Carl Fogarty and Neil Hodgson on the list of World Champions, and he secured the eleventh rider title for Ducati, which had again dominated the top ten overall.

Final standings, after twenty-two races:
1 James Toseland, Ducati • 336
2 Régis Laconi, Ducati • 327
3 Noriyuki Haga, Ducati • 299
4 Chris Vermeulen, Honda • 282
5 Frankie Chili, Ducati • 243
6 Garry McCoy, Ducati • 199
7 Steve Martin, Ducati • 181
8 Leon Haslam, Ducati • 169
9 Troy Corser, Petronas • 146
10 Marco Borciani, Ducati • 130
11 Chris Walker, Petronas • 128
12 Ivan Clementi, Kawasaki • 85

View a Printer Friendly version of this Story.

Bookmark or share this story with: