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Canadian Superbike rivals exchange victories

It seems hard to believe, but the world motorcycle season is already past the halfway point!

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It seems hard to believe, but the world motorcycle season is already past the halfway point! It’s not just the date that points this out, but also the fact that rumours are already starting to fly about who’s riding for which teams in 2009. Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

Last weekend was a busy one around the world, and to the joy of race fans everywhere, at this point nobody has confirmed a title in any of the major series, so the action and suspense look likely to maintain 2008’s already-furious level right to the end — which this year would be Moto GP at Valencia in Spain Oct. 26.

So, starting from home:

PARTS CANADA SUPERBIKE SERIES

Jordan Szoke on the Canadian Kawasaki ZX-10R has a big lead for the 2008 title to go with his 2007 and 2006 crowns, but he’s being closely pursued by two other riders.

With three races left in the seven-round series, defending champion Szoke has a 196- to 158-point lead over Kevin Lacombe’s Team Toyota Yamaha/Fast Company Racing Yamaha YZF-R1. Lacombe, who carded a fourth and a close-fought third after starting from pole at Mosport last weekend, has taken pole positions and seconds, but hasn’t managed a win so far.

Brantford’s Szoke and Calgary’s Clint McBain on his Acceleration Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000 each have two victories so far this year, McBain in third place with 150 points after being forced to miss the first round at Calabogie with a shoulder injured in a regional event at Shannonville.

At Mosport, Szoke beat McBain by 0.058 of a second on Saturday, then McBain took a 0.306 of a second win in the second half of the double-header on Sunday, which was shortened by rain to just over half-distance.

McBain said, “It’s tough when the weather’s like this; it really plays on a rider. We made some changes after yesterday’s race and that gave us a little bit extra on the back straight.”

“The bike was perfect,” Szoke said. “I felt really comfortable and I felt like I was having to take the fewest risks,” after leading two of the 11 laps.

“But with weather like this, you never can tell. I should have tried to lead every lap.”

The series resumes with another doubleheader at Atlantic Motorsport Park in Shubenacadie, N.S. Aug. 8-10.

MOTO GP

The Moto GP world championship series is much tighter, as after last weekend’s race at Laguna Seca near Monterey, Calif., seven-time world champion Valentino Rossi and his Fiat Yamaha are back on top of the standings, ahead of Marlboro Ducati’s defending champion Casey Stoner and Spanish hopeful Dani Pedrosa on the Repsol Honda.

Rossi is at 212, Stoner at 187, and former title-chase leader Pedrosa at 171 after he was forced to miss the first U.S. round due to hand and ankle injuries.

Laguna provided without doubt the best racing of the season, as Valentino Rossi used all his racecraft, skill and aggression to steal the Moto GP victory from Stoner. Stoner had been fastest all weekend, but Rossi got an uncharacteristic great start after qualifying beside Stoner on the front row, then jammed the Australian in a breath-taking move at the Corkscrew on the first lap.

The two traded places with aggressive and tight (but fair) passes on more than one occasion as they simply split from the rest of the pack; they were in their own world.

Stoner’s bike certainly looked faster, particularly when he motored past Rossi’s factory Yamaha on the front straight more than once, but Rossi always struck right back. Stoner looked more and more ragged as he pushed to get past the seven-time world champion (who just this weekend announced he’ll be staying another two years with Yamaha) and finally got a little too far out of shape coming into Turn 11 (the very slow last corner), got off into the gravel, and had a walking-pace tip-over as he tried to get back on the pavement.

They had built up such a lead that Stoner was still in a comfortable second place, where he finished. After the event he complained to Rossi that he believed some of the Italian’s passes were too close and dangerous, but Rossi reportedly just smiled and said, “That’s racing.”

The last podium spot went to Chris Vermeulen on the Rizla Suzuki. He and the bike always go well at Laguna, and Vermeulen seemed to be confident that the team and the bike had taken a definite step upwards. It was a great result, coming as it did after qualifying back on the third row.

The last rider on the front row at the start, home-town hero Nicky Hayden, was bitterly disappointed to finish fifth, with JiR Scot Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso splitting him and Vermeulen. They were the first Michelin riders to finish; Michelin riders struggled all weekend to get heat into their tires, with some riders actually resorting to cut slicks to get the rubber working in the dry for qualifying!

WORLD SUPERBIKE

The WSB contingent was at Brno in the Czech Republic last weekend, with Troy Bayliss on the Xerox Ducati taking a double victory. The series points leader took his seventh and eighth wins of the season in front of 63,000 spectators, the 15th time the Australian has picked up the double.

The ninth round of the season also saw great performances by team-mate Michel Fabrizio, twice on the podium, and by Max Biaggi (Sterilgarda Go Eleven Ducati), third in race two, while Troy Corser (Yamaha Motor Italia WSB) was also in good form in the two races.

In race one, after starting from pole, Bayliss took the lead on lap 12 and then powered to the checkered flag after setting the fastest lap of the race three laps from the end.

Second was Corser after a great race in which he kept Bayliss under pressure until the final stages. The final podium slot went to Fabrizio, who passed Biaggi on the last lap after a great duel.

Bayliss’ second-race win increased the Australian’s championship lead to 79 points over Max Neukirchner, fifth at the flag. Fabrizio and Biaggi put on a terrific battle for the runner-up slot, which eventually went to the Xerox Ducati team rider with another passing move on the last lap.

Freelance motorcycle writer Larry Tate can be reached at larryt@primus.ca

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