The following reviews give a feel for the excitement experienced at these races.....
WSB Round 4: Donnington Park, Great Britain.
A British round without Fogarty (at least not on a bike, anyway) was always going to be an eerie prospect. The home fans still had plenty to cheer about, but without Foggy perpetually mouthing off in the paddock and rubbing everyone up the wrong way, an air of complacency has developed on the grid. The WSB contenders have had their thunder stolen by national championship riders for the second consecutive round. Colin Edwards saved some face by winning Race 1 at Donnington Park, but Neil Hodgson's home victory in Race 2 means that only one of the last four races has been won by a WSB full-timer.
Hodgson took his British championship Ducati to third place in the first outing, finishing behind Edwards and Frankie Chili. Race 1 was an uphill battle for the former WSB contender after he fluffed his start, but the enormous chip on Hodgson's shoulder seemed to have no adverse aerodynamic effect. Hodgson out-maneuvered the other British wildcards (including Chris death-or-glory Walker who was also having a good day) and the big guns around the Derbyshire circuit. Corser, Yanagawa and Haga successively failed to keep the INS Ducati rider in his place, but Hodgson couldn't quite catch Chili and Edwards, who had both maximised the advantage of their textbook start.
Colin Edward's SP-1 looked as fast as ever around Donnington, the Honda taking the speed trap 5mph faster than any other machine. Once again, however, there was to be no easy conversion of Superpole into a walkaway victory for Edwards. Where Haga and Foggy pestered the Tornado around Kyalami, so Chili clung stubbornly to the Honda's exhaust around Donnington, claiming the fastest lap of the race on his Suzuki. Apparently flustered, Edwards lost his lead to the Italian on lap 11, but Chili was equally unable to pull out a lead. Edwards, recomposed, used the superior power of the Honda to regain first place a few laps later and maintain just enough distance between himself and Frankie to take the win. Hodgson, making ground on the leading duo all the time, ran out of laps to finish his assault, and came home an admirable (and ominous) third, having shredded his tyres in the heat of the chase.
Nori Haga lost his championship lead to CEII for about two hours. Haga managed fourth place in Race 1, but it wasn't enough to defend his slender points advantage. Race 1 saw Haga apparently suffering from Corser syndrome; barging his Yamaha to the front of the field, looking fiercely aggressive for a dozen laps, then apparently settling for whatever position he found himself in for the rest of the race. For a former Double winner at Donnington, it was a worry. Is the Yamaha just not good enough to go the distance with Haga's determined style? Is Nori thinking more about sensible points than glory nowadays? Is the drug test debacle affecting his concentration? Race 2 would provide some answers.
If championship points are Haga's real concern, then Race 2 was certainly a much more productive outing. Nori made a much better start, following Edwards and a catapulted Chili into Redgate. This time around, the impression made by the wildcards in Race 1 was to be felt more painfully by their factory 'superiors.' Both Neil Hodgson and Chris Walker made vastly improved start to get away with the leaders. However, both of the British riders seemed more interested in settling a personal vendetta against each other than adopting potential race-winning tactics. As Hodgson and Walker swopped places and paintwork in every corner, Chili worked to give himself some breathing space at the front. Seeing Frankie hatch an escape plan gave Edwards the incentive to take on and pass the duelling Brits. Colin's distaste for having to cope with 'traffic' is a matter of record, and perhaps Edwards was distracted by the fairing-bashing he witnessed at the start of the race. The Texan's pursuit of the lead ended in the kitty litter at Redgate on lap 10, where Corser had come to grief a few laps earlier (on returning to the pits, Corser would throw his Aprilia to the floor in a fit of pique - after finishing eighth in Race 1, it was not a good day at the office). In theory, Edwards is champion elect. Practice has so far been a different matter.
Haga had held on to the leaders for a little longer in the second race, and was apparently happy to make the scrap between Hodgson and Reynolds a three-way affair, looking comfortable with two riders whose aggressive style and do-or-die antics mirrored his own. Indeed, Haga's inventiveness in passing Walker at McLean's and banging elbows with the Suzuki rider at Goddard's was enough to reaffirm faith in Nori's level of determination. Now he needs to sort out the mechanical failings; even with a slipstream, Haga's Yamaha could not match the straight-line speed of Hodgson and Walker.
Aware of Edwards' misfortune, Haga backed off towards the end of the race to take a safe fourth place and an 11-point championship lead. With a six-second lead to his advantage, it would obviously be Chili's race, with the British wildcards deciding the lower podium positions between themselves - so long as they didn't run each other off the track. With half a dozen laps of the race left, the 55,000-strong crowd was becoming decidedly agitated. As programmes and flags were waved more vigourously, and the vocal encouragement for Hodgson and Walker raised in pitch and volume, it became clear that Chili's apparently insurmountable lead was diminishing. Frankie, looking increasingly ragged through every corner, was in obvious trouble. Having caught a whiff of some very expensive Italian aftershave, the Brits finally looked beyond their own private battle to focus what could be done in what little remained of the race distance. With Walker in tow, Hodgson reclaimed three seconds in as many laps, but Chili still had a relatively comfortable lead, if he could just hold it together on the last lap. He couldn't. Under severe pressure from Hodgson and riding on demolished tyres, the back end of Frankie's Suzuki stepped out at Coppice. He saved the highside, but it was enough to allow Hodgson to pull alongside on Starkey's Straight. In the battle of nerves at Fogarty's Esses, Hodgson, with so little to lose and everything to gain, was spectacularly late on the brakes. After leading the whole race like a demonstration ride, Frankie was relegated to second three corners from the finish line. And his problems weren't over. Inspired by his fellow wildcard's disregard for seniority, Chris Walker blasted past Chili into the Melbourne loop; since Walker is a fellow Suzuki rider on theoretically inferior machinery, that had to sting. The level of Chili's heroism in bringing the ailing Alstare Suzuki home at all was made apparent when he collapsed with exhaustion and dehydration a few hundred yards after the finish line.
For series fans, however, the real last lap heroics were located a little further down the field. The Frankenstein-like scar across Aaron Slight's skull is a sobering reminder of what a worrying time he has been through. In his first round back from injury, we could have forgiven him for touring around just to get the feel of the bike again. Finishing a competitive ninth in Race 1 was more than could have been expected. Stuffing it up the inside of Bostrom at the Esses to take seventh on the last lap of Race 2 was awe-inspiring. Slighty is on his way. So too Akira Yanagawa is showing signs of imminent full recovery. The Kawasaki man still hurts, but seventh in Race 1 and fifth in Race 2 suggest the podium is not to far away. Perhaps Edwards will come to regret not taking advantage of the early season absenteeism.
Hodgson's win was the first for a Ducati this year: an unfamiliar statistic. Luca Cadalora, multiple World Champion, Ducati test-rider and alleged Donnington specialist was drafted in to replace Foggy. He couldn't even qualify for Superpole, managed only five laps in Race 1 (after messing up his hair or something) and finished 17th in Race 2. Davide Tardozzi should ask Neil what his plans are for the rest of the year.
The racing at Donnington was certainly more exciting than it has been for a while, but most of the action was provided by the Hodgson-Walker fisticuffs, who were always going try to wipe each other off the face of the earth anyway. The big guns still look less than focused, almost unsure what to do in Foggy's absence, like the motogps without Doohan. Hopefgully it won't take a full season for normal service to be resumed. Perhaps the return of Slight and Yanagawa to the fray will provide a much needed catalyst.
Race 1: 1. Edwards; 2. Chili; 3. Hodgson; 4. Haga; 5. Walker; 6. James Haydon; 7. Yanagawa; 8. Corser; 9. Slight; 10. John Reynolds.
Race 2: 1. Hodgson; 2. Walker; 3. Chili; 4. Haga; 5. Yanagawa; 6. Haydon; 7. Slight; 8. Bostrom; 9. Meklau; 10. Aoki.
British Grand Prix - 9th July,Donnington Park
race got underway after a rain shower with the vast majority of the grid
choosing Michelin rain tyres and though the track dried as the 30 laps counted
down, Rossi & Co kept it together, laying on some superb sideways
First man to show out front was Regis Laconi (Red Bull Yamaha) but then Alex Barros (Emerson Honda Pons) moved ahead, looking to repeat his recent Dutch GP success. The Brazilian stayed out front until one third distance when Roberts eased past and began to build a comfortable lead, until home hope Jeremy McWilliams got into his stride."I had a lot on my mind before that race," said Roberts, who crashed out of the Dutch GP two weeks ago. "I wasn't my usual confident self and this track is notoriously slippery in the wet. But my bike was set up really good, especially on the brakes. But I found the time I was gaining on the brakes I was losing through other parts of the track, where the bike wasn't working so well. Once the other guys caught me, I just tried to keep their pace. They were getting really sideways, so I was just trying to conserve my tyres."
McWilliams tried so hard to score Britain's first 500 success in 19 years and got a rapturous reception for his efforts from the crowd. "The fans were amazing," he said. "It must've been a great race to watch, I had a lot of fun getting sideways, though it was hard to ride. It was Valentino coming past early on who really got me going, he showed me how much grip there was. But once I was in front I lost a bit of concentration, so Rossi got me, then I made a mistake on the last lap and Roberts got me too."
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