WSBK: Portimao Race Notes -- Better to be Feared

“It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” -- Niccolo Machiavelli

Max Biaggi is an enigma. The man they call the Roman Emperor is outwardly charming and friendly but is best known for his darker side -- a career punctuated by trackside punch-ups both public and private, a reputation of playing team politics for keeps and a proclivity to slag on his current employer in the press, an unfortunate trait that ultimately earned him the bum's rush out of the MotoGP Paddock. 

At age 38 and with a new baby, Mad Max may have mellowed a bit off the track, but the drive and talent that saw the Italian take four 250cc world championships and three runner-up positions in the premiere class hasn't abated noticeably.  With last year's move to Aprilia, Max gained a new lease on racing life on a machine that was widely regarded to have been designed, if not expressly for him, then with considerable imperial input. That lease was renewed yesterday with Biaggi's double win at Portimao, his first in WSBK and Aprilia's first since 2001, when Troy Corser did the deed at Valencia.

Last year's RSV4 was arguably the second biggest story in the WSBK paddock in 2009, and Noale looks to have improved the package for 2010. The knock against last year's machinery was that while the engine was among the most powerful on the grid, the handling, specifically getting the beast to turn, was not up to snuff.  Although Biaggi managed a win at Brno and eight lesser podium spots, getting the RSV4 to go where he pointed it was a struggle at times as evidenced by the sometimes wonky, oddball lines that he was forced to run.

All that seems to have improved in 2010. The power is still there, even without the use of the controversial gear-driven valvetrain, as evidenced by the ease by which the big V-4 pulled the GSXR1000 of Leon Haslam down the start/finish straight to turn one at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve. What's new is the ability to get the Aprilia to go where the rider wants it to go. There were still moments where Biaggi ran wide or took a different line than the pack, but those could be ascribed to the ferocity of the battle at the front. Biaggi poo-pooed the idea that the prodigious power of the RSV4 was the determining factor in the double victory, citing instead the handling prowess that enabled him to get a drive off the last corner onto the home straight.

Both races were similar in beginning and end -- Biaggi got the holeshot at the start both times and battled tooth and nail, swapping leads with eventual second-place finisher Haslam most of the way to eventually take the win. The Pocket Rocket called his day "frustrating", citing a lack of grip from his Pirelli rear tire that kept him from that elusive "little extra" he needed to put Biaggi away.  Polesitter Cal Crutchlow  made a self-admiitted "stupid mistake" and crashed out of race one with three laps to go but atoned for his transgression in race two, holding off Althea Ducati's Carlos Checa to take the final step on the podium.

Going into the next round at Valencia, Haslam holds a 16 point advantage over Biaggi, a gap that is not nearly as comforting as it might seem, given the events that unfolded this weekend in Portugual. Biaggi reportedly has a series of four stars emblazoned on his leathers, supposedly standing for his four world championships, followed by a question mark that stands for the WSBK World Championship he'd like to attain this season. Although it's admittedly early days, if this weekend's racing was any indication, Biaggi's rivals for the championship will be forgiven for being afraid -- very afraid.


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His spectacular entry in the series aside, Biaggi has never looked as confident on a superbike as he does right now. I get visions of a pesky Italian gentleman winning the dance contest in an English folk club...

Max was fast off the trailer from the first session. I was surprised there wasn't much chatter about him before the race. On TV it appeared Max had a jump on everybody when standing it up on the exits. He gapped his pursuers a few feet every exit. Haslam was as good if not better on the brakes, but from tip-in on, it looked to be all Max and his Aprilia. Camier was pretty awesome too. He had to slog his way from the back and swallowed them up one by one.

Early days, but Max could do it.

Why didn't Biaggi go into the 500s after the first or second 250 title? Were there no takers? As competitive as he is, why would he - or anyone in a similar position - want to stick around to win the 250 FOUR times, and not instead move up to the premier class as soon as possible?

Biaggi rode the GP500/MotoGP bikes for eight seasons. As mentioned in the article he finished as runner-up three times; once to Doohan and twice to Rossi. Even so he was never really a threat to take the crown in the top class. The article mentions the off track problems he had with his employers, team mates and other riders. He was very fast on the 250 but not fast enough on the 500 or 990 for teams to overlook his behaviour.

It would be nice to see Max be a WSBK world champion. He appears to have mellowed a lot since his younger days and he certainly hasn't lost a lot of speed over the years. I hope he can finally put his prodigious skills to use in a premier class.

I also hope that someday there is another Biaggi in the paddock. Good luck to him.

These days, there seems to be more reason to cheer for him,, than against him. But the biggest obstacle against Max winning it all,,,is Max. He has been prone to "over-cooking" turns quite often in the past,, and he got away with a few in Portugal. Minimize or eliminate the "run-wides" and the new Max should be favored to win it all.

That dude does seems to have mellowed. But his post conference comments still seem like he wants to take a SH*T on the bike's performance. He seems to have gotten better about always blaming the bike. But, it seems to be simmering there right under the surface. Personally, I hope he just tries for the title and does not get caught up in the "Bike Holds Me Back", that got him in all the problems he had in the first place.

In 500s and 990 you could often see him taking very different lines to other people. Particularly on entry to corners where he seems to like to turn in from a more acute angle - closer to the inside (couldn't really tell from TV if he's turning in earlier or later than others though). I guess that ought to tend to take him wider on exit, but I don't recall noticing (damn TV).

Para: It could be rosy memory, but it seems to me it was more acceptable to stay in a class that suited you back then and/or less mobility between 250 and 500. I.e. 250 (and 125) were more prestigious in their own right back then relative to 500. Also, a few of the big names in 500 were australian or american and had never gone through 125/250 - don't know if that made a difference.

Not many people know that Biaggi came out from nowhere. He was into football and didn't even play that good. He started racing on 125 sport production quite late (18) when he got a bike for his birthday and only because pressured by a friend. Then got discovered by someone and started racing 250 European champ. The rest is known. That's may be a reason that kept him in the 250 cc for so long.

Nowadays many people seem to think that the 125 and 250 only exist(ed...) as a step-up to the heaviest class, as if you don't really want to be there. Well, obviously the current organisers seem to think they can do with just one poorly filled grid of 800cc-fourstrokes, judging by all the efforts they make to let the lighter classes bleed to death (even making up a horrible moto2-cup instead of a real GP class points that way), but not so long ago all classes had more or less the same status. Each class had its specialists, since riding a 50 or 125 needs different skills than riding a 500. Sure some people moved to bigger classes, but not necessarily so. And there was no age rule saying you had to go to give way to 15-year-olds. So you had guys like Luigi Taveri, Angel Nieto and Stefan Dörflinger who became lightweight specialists. It wasn't a teenage beginner's class, it was full-blown GP, as it should be. Biaggi stayed quite some time in 250 because he obviously was very good at it and probably liked riding them. And he became 250 world champion FOUR times. How cool is that. (Not to mention the thrilling performances last weekend on the gorgeous Aprilia V4; what a show!)

I appreciate you honoring the smaller classes, but for what I’ve experienced since my first GP in ’84 is that the 500 was always the icing on the cake. Yes, the 125 and 250 (and 80 and 50 for that matter) had more grandeur in the old days, but the 500 was not called the King’s Class for nothing.

As for the 500 and now MotoGP being the 'premier class', the heaviest class wasn't always the most important. There have been years at Assen (don't know for sure about other GP's) where the 250's were scheduled at the end of the day as the grand finale, instead of the 500cc class.

Very good riding by Max all weekend.The RSV is looking awesome and not only in Max' hands. Camier is certainly getting to grips with it rather quickly. I fancied it to be 'the' bike to be on this year. I'll bet Morais in a way wishes he had stayed home and honed his RSV for the next local SBK round. Having jumped from Kawa to Aprilia locally for 2010, he already has 1 win and 3 2nd's in 4 starts.
No matter the affiliation between Max and Aprilia,his rider input has obviously been very important in terms of the bikes development. Additionally, it appears to be a bike that other riders can get to grips with pretty quickly,unlike the BMW effort with all their resources. I'm glad BMW are improving,but thus far Aprilia are beating them hands down.I hope Aprilia can filter some serious bits and bobs down to Morais for the Kyalami round. He needs the exposure to break into the international scene on a more permanent basis,but going for it as a sub with a near stock Fireblade,is a tough ask and it showed.
Once again, great performance Aprilia, Max and ...both Leons.

class for so long because there were no competitive factory rides offered to him. i remember reading mick doohan complaining that if a 2 time 250 champion couldn't find a ride in the 500cc class, then there was a serous problem with 500 GP.

when max did finally make the jump, it was only after he had negotiated a contract with honda that said that if he won the 250 championship (for the 4th time), he'd be on an NSR500 the following year.

now here's the clincher- despite winning the championship 4 times on the trot- he wasn't even offered a factory bike! he was on a private NSR run by erv kanemoto- and what did he do? we all know what mad max did- he won his debut race in the class at suzuka, banging fairings for 24 laps with 3 japanese riders (including haga and norick abe) i believe that doohan crashed out that race.

he didn't stay too long in he 250 class, he wasn't given a chance to move up.

That's the kind of insight I was looking for.

As Erv is a legend, though Biaggi didn't get a factory ride, he didn't do too badly there it seems. Factory probably didn't have anyone close to Erv's caliber.

an aussi bloke named burgess at the helm for doohan- not too shabby :) in 1999, biaggi's 2nd year in the big class, he moved to the factory yamaha team as he decided that being on a satellite honda was playing second fiddle to doohan.

btw- after biaggi won his debut at suzuka, i'll never forget what a tearful erv kanemoto said to randy mamola is response to the question of what did he tell max before the race: "i just said to max 'let's show them what a 4-time 250 world champion can do' ". erv is a legend.

...Always something special but i remember that in 99,2000 i preffered to watch 250 than 500.capirex,rossi,harada days..Ok I know it is pointless to lament sorry for 250 to be raplaced. I just hope that this whole moto2 thing will develop nicely. But will it ever be as special as quarter litre. hope so. First time i've seen Gp bike it was 250 round Brno track and was something to remember. And I hope he wins this season. It would be nice epilogue to his colorful,eventful and extraordinary career.

I've almost always found the 125 and 250 races much more fun to watch. Obviously there are some great premier class races each season like Laguna '08 or Catalunya '09. But that's the kind of racing you see most weekends with the 125 and 250s. I have a feeling it's the collection of riders that makes it interesting and that Moto2 has the potential to be the same.

Further to what others have said here about the previous status of the 125 and 250 classess relative to 500/MotoGP it is not that long ago that the Spanish GP only fielded classes up to 350cc, there was no 500 race at all! Even when they included the 500s the crowds were really coming to see Angel Neito trounce all comers on Spanish built Derbis in the 80 and 125 classes.

It's only reading this thread and putting these words together that has reminded me how MotoGP (which I love) has come about at the expense of ALL the other classes. Remeber sidecars? It doesn't need to be this way - nobody expects a 55Kg boxer to become the World Heavyweight champion!