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|07-31-2015, 06:50 PM||#1|
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World Superbike Sepang Friday: Biaggi goes quickest
Once again, 44-year-old Max Biaggi proved to be the quickest rider on the first day of WSBK practice at the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia, in the second of his one-off wildcard rides after retiring in 2012.
Age is a state of mind, at least according to Max Biaggi. At his second outing this year as a wild-card in World Superbike with Aprilia, the Roman Emperor once again kicked off his campaign in style, posting the provisional best time after the first two free-practice sessions in Sepang (Malaysia) just as he did in Misano (Italy) a month and a half ago. An encouraging result for the 44-year-old who, this time, could not make the most of the pre-race tests due to adverse weather—it rained for three days out of four at the Asian track last week—but nonetheless quickly lapped below the official lap record of 2:04.884 set by Marco Melandri last year, posting a 2:04.823 during FP1 that granted him first position as no one was able to improve in the afternoon session because of a typical, heavy shower.
“My goal before coming here was to improve my double sixth from Misano but, after skipping three days of tests because of the rain, I was not as optimistic anymore,” Biaggi said. “However, today's result gives me confidence. I need more time on track, as my rivals are used to make evaluations on the setup after just a few laps, while I'm still looking for a base. We've changed the swingarm, gears, and several chassis parameters before each stint. If I were as ready as other people say, we'd just have put fuel in the tank.”
Biaggi's last race in Sepang dates back to 2005. The track, ironically without undergoing any renovations, has changed a lot since then. Nonetheless, Biaggi is tackling his second and last—at least for 2015—wild-card appearance with renewed ambition.
“The tarmac is really bumpy because of Formula One,” he observed. “I need more stability, especially on the front under braking. I expect Kawasaki and Ducati to be the bikes to beat, as they dominated the last couple of races, but I'd like to step in between. In Misano, I was a bit too 'sweet' with my opponents during the race. Here, I want to be more 'salty.' Rea doesn't have to worry anyhow, I decided to come back because the championship was basically in the books already (laughs).”
In second position, Chaz Davies was the only rider other than Biaggi capable of breaking the 2:05 wall, finishing only 0.149 seconds behind the Italian. “I'm quite happy because my ideal time from today is already faster than my best from last year on a qualifying tire” he said. “But, we need to put all the pieces together, especially when it comes to stability on the rear. We need to work on the electronics in particular, to calm the bike down, so hopefully the rain will give us a break tomorrow.”
In third position, 0.559 seconds behind Biaggi, championship leader Jonathan Rea laid the foundations for what could turn into the most important weekend of his career. If he gains 25 or more points on his teammate Tom Sykes, the Ulsterman could seal his first world title with three races still on the calendar.
“I just want to win more races,” the Kawasaki rider commented. “I dreamed about the title for so many years, and finally it's within reach, but I don't think it's a realistic possibility to capture it here. I haven't even prepared a special helmet or t-shirt (laughs). I may get nervous before what could be the decisive race, but for now I'm as relaxed as ever. I have a comfortable lead and I know I just need to stay healthy and do my job to seal the deal.”
Rea preceded his teammate Sykes in oddly symmetrical combined time sheets. Behind the Kawasaki pair stand the Aprilia duo formed by Leon Haslam and Jordi Torres, followed by the Suzuki (Alex Lowes seventh and Randy De Puniet eighth) and Honda (Sylvain Guintoli ninth, Michael Van der Mark tenth) riders.
World Superbike Sepang Friday practice results:
1. Max Biaggi (ITA) Aprilia Racing Team 2:04.823
2. Chaz Davies (GBR) Aruba.it Racing-Ducati SBK Team 2:04.972
3. Jonathan Rea (GBR) Kawasaki Racing Team 2:05.382
4. Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki Racing Team 2:05.491
5. Leon Haslam (GBR) Aprilia Racing/Red Devils 2:05.533
6. Jordi Torres (SPA) Aprilia Racing/Red Devils 2:05.623
7. Alex Lowes (GBR) Voltcom Crescent Suzuki 2:05.806
8. Randy De Puniet (FRA) Voltcom Crescent Suzuki 2:05.920
9. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Pata Honda WSBK 2:05.961
10. Michael Van der Mark (NET) Pata Honda WSBK 2:05.986
11. Ayrton Badovini (ITA) BMW Motorrad Italia 2:06.147
12. Román Ramos (SPA) Team Go Eleven Kawasaki 2:06.518
13. Niccolò Canepa (ITA) Althea Racing Ducati 2:06.709
14. David Salom (SPA) Team Pedercini Kawasaki 2:07.086
15. Matteo Baiocco (ITA) Althea Racing Ducati 2:07.170
16. Leon Camier (GBR) MV Agusta Reparto Corse 2:07.597
17. Leandro Mercado (ARG) Barni Racing Ducati 2:07.654
18. Christophe Ponsson (FRA) Team Pedercini Kawasaki 2:09.866
19. Gianluca Vizziello (ITA) Grillini SBK Kawasaki 2:10.516
20. Gábor Rizmayer (HUN) BMW Team Toth 2:11.122
21. Imre Toth (HUN) BMW Team Toth 2:12.119
22. Alex Phillis (AUS) Grillini SBK Kawasaki 2:12.682