Three hundred and thirty-four point eight kilometers per hour. Two hundred and eight miles per hour. By any conceivable measure, that's fast, and the fact that Max Biaggi's lap time of 1'41.745 is nearly two-thirds of a second faster than the man in second place, Eugene Laverty, and four-tenths faster than anyone else has ever gone at Monza merely underlines the Roman Emperor's dominance at the Italian circuit, which sits in the suburbs of Milan.
A large part of the credit for that lap must go to the Aprilia RSV4; the combination of big HP numbers, a tiny frontal area and a small rider mean that the Aprilia has a serious advantage at the high-speed Monza circuit. But that does not do justice to Max Biaggi's role in the lap, the Italian putting in a clean, precise lap to take pole. Given the fact that Biaggi took the double here on the Aprilia last year, you would be forgiven for pronouncing Biaggi the winner before the race has even been run.
While it would take a very foolish gambler indeed to lay odds against Biaggi taking at least one win at Monza, there is reason enough to think it will not be as simple as the timesheets might suggest. The main reason, perhaps, is the first obstacle that everyone faces at Monza, and the one that always ends up playing a significant role in the proceedings: the first chicane, or Prima Variante. Despite many modifications over the years, it always manages to catch someone out, the problem being trying to squeeze 21 riders through tight and narrow esses directly after the start. The chicane even managed to play a role during Superpole, Carlos Checa having his lap time deleted during Superpole 2 when he cut across the chicane, a bewilderingly common occurrence throughout practice and qualifying.
Once through the chicane, top speed will definitely play a role in the proceedings. The Aprilias and the BMWs have all been fast throughout the weekend, and with Troy Corser on the front row of the grid and Leon Haslam just behind him, the BMWs should give Biaggi a run for his money. Eugene Laverty, too, could be a factor on Sunday, the Yamaha rider having been close to the front all weekend, his teammate Marco Melandri also quick, but still with a few tricks to learn at Monza. Completing the list of likely front runners is Castrol Honda's Johnny Rea, the Ulsterman having an up-and-down weekend at Monza, topping the first session of free practice, but also slipping down as low as 9th during the second session of qualifying.
The Ducatis have a clear disadvantage at Monza, unable to benefit from the extra drive out of corners that the larger capacity V-twin provides leaves the 1198Rs well down the order. Championship leader Carlos Checa starts from 11th, the first of the Ducatis, with Effenbert Liberty's Sylvain Guintoli behind him on the 3rd row of the grid. Checa's strategy must be to grab onto the chasing group, and use the slipstream of the faster bikes to score whatever points he can at Monza. Checa's advantage may yet come with the tires, the Ducati seemingly gentler on the softer - faster - tire than the four cylinders appear to be. The Althea Ducati rider will be aiming to grab onto whoever's coattails he can - Leon Camier is the most likely candidate, but a little bit of luck may allow Checa to latch on to Corser or Melandri - and take whatever points are available. Losing anything less than 30 points at Monza will count as a win for the Spaniard.
If Biaggi is a shoe-in for the World Superbike races - if there is such a thing as a shoe-in in something with so many potentially disruptive factors as motorcycle racing - then Chaz Davies is at least as hot a favorite for the World Supersport races. The ParkinGO Yamaha rider has gone virtually unchallenged since he arrived at Monza, and the win at Assen seems to have helped remove the mental block that so many racers who have not won for a long time appear to develop. The Yamaha is fast - it always was - and the switch to Bitubo suspension has done the Italian team no harm at all.
While Davies has looked untouchable, his teammate has had a much less happy time of it throughout the weekend. Luca Scassa lost much of the second qualifying session to an early collision with Marko Jerman, the one-bike rule introduced this year meaning it took some time for the Italian to get back out onto the track. Scassa still leads the championship, but he may not be doing so when the WSS circus leaves the Monza circuit.
Of the men likely to push Davies for the win, Sam Lowes is still too badly hurt to last the entire race against healthy opposition, the Parkalgar Honda rider plenty fast, but his endurance questionable just three weeks after breaking his collarbone. Broc Parkes is the dark horse at Monza, the Kawasaki fast, and Parkes not far off Davies' pace all weekend. Of the Ten Kate squad, Fabien Foret is probably the biggest threat, the veteran Frenchman a wily competitor at Monza.
But the biggest challenge could come not from the fast guys at the front, but he slow guys at the back: with 32 riders, the WSS field looks relatively healthy, but the talent pool is deceptively shallow. The gap from slowest to fastest is just over 8 seconds, with three riders over 7 seconds off the pace of Davies. At the end of 16 laps, the slower riders could end up forming a logjam for the leaders, and unless Davies is well clear when he hits traffic, the backmarkers could cause some pretty nasty complications. It's going to be an interesting race tomorrow, though not necessarily the barnstormer we have come to expect from the World Supersport class.