Troy's got what it takes
No doubt by the time you read this the picture will be much clearer. The reason for this is that once certain key people have inked contracts, the rest will follow.
One of them we know about already. Troy Bayliss will team with Lorenzo Lanzi in the factory Ducati squad. It could be argued that this is a case of Ducati throwing away a proven losing pair and having a double punt into the unknown. Last month you'll have read why Toseland and Laconi had it tough in '05, and this month it seems prudent to say that things may not be much different for Bayliss and Lanzi in '06.
Lanzi has shown he has speed, winning ability, and - unusually for a Ducati rider - an Italian passport. But whether he can win the championship is unknown. He has proved fallible as well as fabulous - just like Laconi and Toseland.
With Troy's return, Ducati will see itself as scooping a rider who has shown he's got what it takes to win in SBK. But of he and Lanzi, Troy may be the even bigger gamble. No fewer than 18 pins in a recent arm injury, a dreadful '05 MotoGP season on a Honda and Michelins, a finicky 999 instead of sublime 998, and a changed SBK scene will count against him in '06.
On a purely factual level, only Bayliss and very few others had true factory twins on Michelins in his SBK glory years, when all else had 750c fours and/or less effective tyres. Now everyone has the same Pirelli rubber, and even if some riders have the ability to go faster, the slowly improving tyres function as a glass ceiling. So in terms of Bayliss or Lanzi returning Ducati to the glory days of old - well, 2001 was a long time ago.
Where Meulen? Oh to be a Honda Racing boss and have so much choice every year. Chris Vermeulen, however, is difficult to place. Wanted by every team in SBK, he may even be wanted in MotoGP, in which case Ten Kate have lost their (and, in effect, Honda's) lone genuine championship challenger. And there are not many potential champions about. Toseland could be a canny choice for Ten Kate.
Potential race winners abound, but there are maybe four in the current field who can do it regularly enough to compete for the title. Corser is Suzuki sorted, Haga not quite yet with Yamaha, Toseland an underrated free radical, and Vermeulen is desperate to ship out to MotoGP.
The rest, in the harsh reality of racing, are not in any way central figures. If Ducati is set, then where Vermeulen goes will allow everyone else to pick their next best options, and so on down the line.
Climate of change. The damp squib at Imola showed up a couple of things that need addressing for next year. One is Imola itself, with its ancient Tarmac that has more patches than a 40-a-day smoker on a long-haul flight, and drainage that was so easily overwhelmed by the downpour.
The second is that calling off a race because of weather should not mean a reduction in the total number of races in the series. It short changes everyone, especially when (as at Imola) it provides an unsatisfactory end to the championship.
So here's an idea: if we have to cancel a race in any weekend but the final one, let's have three the next weekend, replacing Superpole with a race. If FGSport can shoehorn in the Suzuki Cup races and attendant practice sessions, plus a whole new class of Superstock (as happened this year), why can't we have a fallback position of dumping one hour of Superpole?
The TV crew is already in place on Saturdays and a race shouldn't take any longer than normal, or require any more investment. Scoff if you like, but it's a whole lot better than deciding the championship by subjective discussions in pitlane, simply because of the weather.
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