WSBK: State of the Silly Season -- Dog Days

When the days grow long and hot and summer is in it's shank, a race fan's thoughts naturally turn year!  All sorts of juicy rumors have been floating about who might be doing what for whom in 2011.

The most visible drama is in the Yamaha camp. The  scenario goes like this: If Valentino Rossi accepts an offer from Ducati to see how he looks in red leathers, then Ben Spies would take his seat at the factory team, neatly leaving a seat open at the Tech 3 team for 2009 World Supersport champion Cal Crutchlow. Never mind that Crutchlow, although undeniably promising, probably isn't ready for prime time (oooh, I'm going to get hate mail) -- he's under contract to Yamaha, he's British, which would please the BBC and, well, who else is there in the pipeline? Assuming that all the above happens, Crutchlow's current employer, Sterilgarda Yamaha, would be left in the lurch. There have been rumors, expressly denied by team management, that if Crutchlow moves on, Yamaha will yank the plug on the WSBK team, much as they did in WSS after the 2009 season.

Next up is the the Xerox Ducati team. Noriyuki Haga's performance has been, to put it bluntly, disappointing. Team management has said that Haga needs  to "redeem" himself in the remaining rounds for the team to consider him for further employment. This dissatisfaction, coupled with Haga's rumored 800,000 euro per annum salary, puts the likable veteran's head squarely on the chopping block. Possible candidates for the seat include Jonny Rea (never mind that he has a contract next year with Ten Kate), the evergreen Carlos Checa and a veritable cast of thousands. Michel "Mr Fabulous" Fabrizio, who has been mentioned as a candidate for a jump to Davide Tardozzi's BMW squad, is widely thought to be able to keep his ride if he keeps his results up and makes nice-nice with team manager Ernesto Marinelli.

Probably the hottest commodity on the Silly Season market is Alstare Suzuki's Leon Haslam. Haslam, who could do little wrong early in the season but has slumped recently as Max Biaggi has charged to the top of the points standings. Haslam says that his lack of results has been caused by a lack of support from the factory and an inability to get the GSXR1000 adapted to the new Pirelli rubber. This drop in results hasn't affected the Pocket Rocket's marketability, however, with virtually everyone with an open seat interested. Rumor, which team management has denied, has it that Aprilia has made Haslam an offer to join Biaggi on the factory team next year. Haslam could also return to Alstare, assuming that Suzuki coughs up the requisite funding for the team, which isn't a done deal by any means just yet.

Ten Kate Honda's Jonny Rea has a contract next year but it's rumored that a couple of teams (Mr Subliminal: Ducati and BMW) have pockets deep enough to bail the fast Ulsterman out of his agreement with the Dutch team. It's no secret that Rea is sick of having his fillings rattled loose on an intermittant basis by the chattery CBR1000 superbike.  Rea's partner in misery, Max Neukirchner, is widely perceived to be good as gone, with a potential replacement being Eugene Laverty, who currently  having his way  (mostly) with the WSS field. An impediment to that move, however, is the possibilty that Parkalgar team manager Simon Buckmaster will bring the team into WSBK in 2011 with Laverty as its rider.

Troy Corser is considered a lock to continue with BMW, but unless Ruben Xaus' sudden flare-up of Checa's Syndrome continues into the late rounds, he's probably history. Team management is reportedly considering Jonny Rea, Jakob Smrz,  Michel Fabrizio and Ayrton Badovini, who is currently tearing the 1000 Superstock field a new one aboard a S1000RR. Also rumored to be offered a seat was Gresini Honda's Marco Melandri, who would allegedly be thrown the bone of a ride on BMW's vaporware 2012 MotoGP entry, but that is considered unlikely unless Melandri absolutely can't find a MotoGP ride for 2011.

At Aprilia, the Roman Emperor isn't going anywhere for the forseeable future, and unless the team can do better,  Leon Camier, who is doing creditably well despite a freshman tendancy to fling the machinery into the scenery, will probably be back as well.

2011 was going be the year that Kawasaki reasserted itself in WSBK. A new, radically  different, ZX-10 was in the pipeline and a couple of  competitive riders had been recruited.  Unfortunately, Chris Vermeulen's knee injury has put a dark cloud over those rosy plans. Vermeulen has struggled to retain his form with an condition that has proved to be much worse than originally anticipated and now faces a complete knee reconstruction and lengthy rehab.  Tom Sykes has done as well as can be expected this year on the Green Nail and if anyone deserves a shot at the new bike, it's him.

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"Rea's partner in misery, Max Neukirchner, is widely perceived to be good as gone, with a potential replacement being Michael Laverty, who currently having his way (mostly) with the WSS field."

I continue to be mystified by Neukirchner. No one questions his talent and when he is one with the bike and the bike is capable, he is right up at the front (think back two years).

Max Neukirchner started his slide last year and it has continued unabated this year. You suggest that he is going to loss his ride for next year. What series am I going to see him in next year? Moving to Superstock (or is it Supersport?) will seal his fate forever; he is no Corser or Biaggi who get second chances based on proven performance. Would he go to the German SBK or BSB?

I recall him sticking it to Nori back at Monza. That Suzuki seemed like it had unbeatable speed. Then it fizzled out. I seem to recall that he was in a bad accident? Perhaps he lost his cutting edge.

,,IMO, he does not deserve the promotion to GP, way under-performer this year on a more-than-capable, proven bike. Win a few races first.
,,It would be great to see Checa get one last blast on a factory bike. He is the best Duc rider right now.
,,Haslam deserves better than a "B" kit Sazook, and move to Aprilia should make him the favorite next year.
,,I am really pulling for the new Kawak'. If rumors pan out, it should be formidable next year,,, though Sykes and Vermeulin to develop?

I agree re: Cal - he's doing better then Toseland, but still way off the points lead and hasn't won a race. When Spies was owning the poles last season he was also turning a lot of them into wins.

I was thinking the same thing re: Checa on a Xerox bike, but he'll be 38 at the end of this season and they might think he's too old. I've read about Rea grabbing Haga's seat, but I think Checa would do good on that bike considering he's ahead of both factory bikes at this point and it'd probably be beneficial to Rea to have Checa as a team mate.

I feel bad for Haslam - he was cleaning up at the beginning of the year but it's obvious his bike is not on-par with the factories.

Kawi - I ride a Kawi, love their street bikes, but it seems like they don't put any effort into racing. I don't think the new bike will change anything.

Agreed on all counts. I don't understand the hype around Cal. He's good, but needs some more time in WSBK before promotion. There are plenty of other good riders that are more deserving. I would like to see Toni Elias back in MotoGP.

The factory teams should be looking at Chaz Davies. Imo, he is the most underrated rider in the world (a few years ago I would have said he was the most overrated) and he's wasting away on a Parkingo Triumph in WSS. He's only 23 years old. Someone needs to recruit him in into WSBK and build their program around him.

I agree about CD. At Miller he was the hardest workin' rider on the track. I think the next step for him will be a better WSS ride. 

He's really good on a 600, but he's built more like an SBK rider. Aprilia would be wise to hire him as a potential future star of WSBK. Camier can go back to Yamaha where he had so much success.

Kawasaki might not be a bad option either if the team want to run extra factory bikes. Chaz went well for team green in the AMA.

You guys watch Davies at Brno? He was riding the wheels off of the 675 triple. I thought he was gonna lose 3rd but he held off Gino Rea for the podium spot.
I think he would do really well on a factory superbike.

I think Cal may have made the biggest mistake of his racing life by not taking that motoGP ride. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I would not be surprised to see two new riders on tech3 team. He should have been in there meeting the people and possibly even impressing with a top 10 before some pup from moto2 grabs it.

I'm sure having Spies come in fresh and rock the R1 last year, and then Mister Rossi coming in with a broken leg recently and rock the R1 some more, make terrible bookends from which to view the current performance of the riders.

I do enjoy Cal and i think he's a great rider with lots of passion and 100% commitment, but for whatever reason he hasn't got those wins in what some consider (K.S. included) to be a 'light' field this season in WSBK.

It seems to me that there is a real dearth of top flight riders for our two premier motorcycle racing classes. When a bloke who hasn't won a WSBK race yet is being touted as a Tech3 rider then this fact gets driven home all the more. Ben had to win the title last year to get his ride this year! Nobody is ripping it up in any of the notable domestic series globally. A rather sad state of affairs.

Part of the reason we've got the same old names banging around is that both GP and WSBK bikes are so damn complicated to ride on the edge. Their electronic possibilities are immense and critical, and it seems that Pirelli are now developing rubber not dissimilar to the Bridgestones - all edge grip and corner speed. These two factors take some considerable period of time to come to grips with for both riders and team personnel.

All that said I'd be throwing the name of Joan Lascorz in the mix as well. Fast and reliable, with that racing hat of his he looks like the gunslinger Lawson as well as riding a little like him. If anyone deserves to graduate from WSS to WSBK it is Lascorz.

I agree about Lascorz being good but i think he lacks a bit of the killer instinct for passing. I may be wrong but from watching him battle with Sufuglo at Brno I thought he should have won the race. It was one of the best supersport races yet this year.

I feel for Haga. I was rooting for him and Spies last year, torn between the two, but ultimately I was happy that Spies won it all. I was hoping that Haga would be able to take it this year, but I saw that it wasn't going to be easy with the depth of the field. It seems unfair to look for a replacement for Haga, when he's still ahead of Fabrizio, and only barely behind Checa. Yes, Checa's standings don't reflect the bad luck he encountered in Miller, but still the numbers stand. I don't see the sense in replacing Haga with Checa, an older dog. I would understand if they were hoping to get Jonny Rea or Haslam, but I would still be gutted for Haga, whom I hope will be able to take the Championship before he retires.

As for the Tech3 seat if Rossi leaves for Ducati and they move Spies up to the [Insert Sponsor Here] Yamaha team, what is the probability of Elias, someone who has been tested in MotoGP and potential first Moto2 champion, to move to that seat? I'm not an Elias fan, but I would think that this would be a prudent choice over Cal, even if Elias's performance has been spotty in the past.

At what point will we find out if Aprilia and BMW will enter MotoGP? If Aprilia wins the WorldSBK championship this year, which it looks like it will, does this increase the probably of the return of Aprilia to MotoGP or do they intend on focusing on WorldSBK?

I feel for Haga as well. But he is no longer the same Haga. Just look at his eyes. I truly think Ben Spies took the last of the fight out of him. The accident in Britain where the bike smacked the hell out of him may have messed him up more than he can take. He is not young anymore and the older you get the less you heal.

The level of talent this year does not seem to be any higher than last year, and as a matter of fact seems lower. Rea is strong but his bike is not working right. Haslam is stuggling with his bike. Biagga is the only person still seeming to be the same level, bike and talent. Fabrizio. Up today and down tomorrow. Checa has been remarkably strong to be on a non factory bike.

It is a shame that Haga is no longer the "Samurai of Slide.", but he has fought and won against some of the best champions in WSBK. Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss, Colin Edwards, Ben Spies....etc. All the ones I just named always said Haga was not easy to beat. NONE of the racers this year are on the level of Fogarty, Bayliss, or Spies. They are good, but not anything that is considered a Special Talent. Haga himself is like a Boxer that got hit one time too many. A little beat from all the years of battling. He is by far the best Racer not to be Champion in that series. If Ducati cut him it is my humble belief he may fade away. Without a Championship he deserves.

Biaggi is the only rider who's brought a bit more to the table this season. Even though he getting on in years, Aprilia would be nuts not to keep him for another 2 seasons. I do think that the rest of the field kind of fell away and anointed Biaggi as champion, but Biaggi hasn't faltered so it's legit regardless of the Aprilia's advantage.

Haga, on the other hand, needs to leave Ducati. The L-twin is not compatible with his love of tight lines and front-end feel. I don't know if Haga will regain form with another manufacturer, but I think an I-4 is better suited to his style. I hope he goes back to Yamaha, although, I think he will have a few options.

I also thought Haga would have trouble with the twin. I think it would do him good to get back on a 4. It just looks like he is so unhappy where he is (more ways then one).

How about Sylvain Guintoli? He seems to have sorted out his problems.

Will he stay with Suzuki or move to another team?

Assuming that there'll be an Alstare team, it appears likely that Guintoli will stay. He's getting up to speed and he doesn't cost much to keep around.

Alstare is going through their annual "Will Suzuki fund us and, if so, for how much" drama. Also, Batta has made some statements to the effect that if Suzuki won't up their level of technical support he'll go elsewhere. Where exactly elsewhere is is anybody's guess.

For the team, I suppose satellite Aprilias or BMWs could be attractive, at least as a negotiating tool.