Imola WorldSBK: Gossip, rumour and intrigue

Picture: Impact Images

Leon Haslam is a wanted man and that’s even before he has raced at next weekend’s Donington WorldSBK round. Manuel Puccetti is desperate to get the 2017 BSB title favourite back on the world stage next season and he is even planning to make his team smaller in order to do it.

Haslam impressed Puccetti when he tested with the team at Portimao, he also flew out to Imola at the weekend to get more acquainted with the operation ahead of his debut on next Friday. Big things are expected from the Smalley man especially given his performance on the Pedercini bike in Qatar last year.

If he can snag Haslam, Puccetti will run a two-rider Superbike team and one in WorldSSP - more than likely Kenan Sofuoglu. None of which is good news for incumbent Randy Krummenacher who hasn’t set the world on fire this year. The Swiss has struggled and could find himself replaced by Superstock star Toprak Razgatlioglu.

It’s still not happening for Honda. The new engine configuration for this year’s Fireblade has proved unsuccessful - too much power for the current level of electronics, we understand, which is causing spin - so both riders ran at Imola with the basic unit and will again at Donington. Another upgraded set of motors will be tested at Misano alongside a swingarm and tank but it is clear that both Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl are losing patience.

Xavi Fores made Marco Melandri look a little silly in race two at Imola. Or did he? The Barni team are racing with pretty much the same bike - save for a swingarm upgrade and a couple of other minor differences - so Fores ought to be able to at least run with the slower of the two works bikes. That he made mincemeat of the Yamahas is not such good news. After a great start to the season, the R1 looks a little inconsistent through practice though Lowes and, to a lesser degree Van Der Mark, have still pulled off results. It may be the bike was as good as it was going to get at Aragon and everyone has now caught up. But let’s hope not…

Melandri said his Panigale was ‘impossible’ to ride on corner entry and exit. He couldn’t do anything about Fores on the brakes as his rear wheel was off the ground too much, causing the same problem, he said, as he downshifted. ‘The difficulties that I had today have never happened to me before in my life,’ he said, with a little tear in his eye.

In Italy, there was some talk of slowing the Ducatis and Kawasakis by inventing new rules and slapping on control electronics. Penalising the winners never works. It was tried in BSB in 2008 with a weight penalty and Airwaves Ducati still wrapped up the title well before the season finished. Dorna need to look a system of concessions and rewards that give the smaller operations a chance to fight for the podium when they think they can.

Give MV their split throttle bodies back for Donington and Magny-Cours, for example, and you might see Leon Camier do as he did at the start of race two at Imola but for two races. The podium needs mixing up and, at the moment, you pretty much know who is going to be on the podium on Wednesday - and no-one is paying to see that.

Speaking of Camier, the British rider has proven time and again he can do wonders with the bike and six-man team when all the ducks are in a line. In any kind of final analysis, the woefully underfunded and underdeveloped MV has no business being able to chase Sykes around Imola and Camier said it was one small error - not loading the front tyre enough into Acque Minerale - that was his downfall, rather than putting in one screen-biting lap after another.

Camier admits that yes, he was on the limit keeping Sykes’ pace but that’s the game surely? MV have done some sort of job in being able to field a bike that can do that from time to time but in 2018, the Kent man must snag something more competitive on a weekend-by-weekend basis. It’s time for series boss Daniel Carrera to make it so.

Tom Sykes and Ayrton Badovini entered the handbag arena after race two. Former champion Sykes decided that the Italian stayed on the track way too long when his engine blew and that it was a ‘stupid’ move. Badovini retaliated, telling Sykes not to call him stupid and threatening to eat his goldfish, Wanda.

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