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The 2012 World Superbike title reconvenes in Italy this weekend, with Australia's lone representative out to make a big improvement

Mark Aitchison, Australia’s only full-time presence in the 2012 Superbike World Championship, will be armed with a souped-up BMW as the title makes its first foray into Italy this weekend.

The 29-year-old’s team will be rolling out a new-spec engine and electronics package for his S 1000 RR at Imola, as well as a different gearbox.

“I can certainly say that the first day of practice and qualifying should be pretty interesting,” said Aitchison. “We gathered a lot of data on the S 1000 RR at the opening round in Australia, but we really haven't had a chance to confirm what was learnt as the bikes only arrived back at our Italian base quite recently.

“But once we actually get some testing under our belts and the team and I are working in a good direction, we can then really start striving for some top 10 results.

“It was great to have three other Aussies on the grid at Phillip Island, but now that it’s only me it won’t affect my outlook on each race. Of course I'm very proud to represent my country, but really I'm here to do the best job I can each and every time.”

Aitchison, from Tumbi Umbi near Gosford (NSW), finished 18th in his debut race for the Italian-based Grillini team at Phillip Island, but was among a number of retirees in the second outing.

The last two world champions, Max Biaggi (Aprilia) and Carlos Checa (Ducati), were easily the fastest riders on track at Phillip Island, sending an ominous warning to their main rivals -- British quartet Jonathan Rea (Honda), Tom Sykes (Kawasaki), Leon Haslam and Eugene Laverty (Aprilia), as well as Italian Marco Melandri (BMW).

Checa’s Ducati has been on rails at Imola over the last two seasons, with the Spaniard winning three of the four races, and Rea the other.

Checa was absent from a recent World Superbike test at Aragón in Spain, which saw Sykes set a cracking pace on the ever-improving Kawasaki to top the timesheets ahead of Haslam, Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki), Biaggi, Melandri, and the highly rated Laverty, who laboured with an injured wrist at the season opener – just as Haslam did with a tender ankle.

Imola, located about 40km south-east of Bologna, is a racetrack with a challenging stop-and-go character, suited to those bikes which not only carry a lot of corner speed, but also where acceleration is critical. Traditionally that’s been a Ducati trait, which is probably why the Italian machine has won 11 of the 17 WSBK races at Imola, well ahead of Honda (five) and Aprilia (one).

Australian pair Broc Parkes (Honda) and Jed Metcher (Yamaha) will carry some confidence into Imola, with Parkes coming off a strong third at Phillip Island and Metcher 11th in his World Supersport debut.

Metcher was third in the 2010 European 600 Superstock race at Imola, en route to eventual championship success.

Other Australians racing in the support classes at Imola will be Bryan Staring (Kawasaki) in Superstock 1000 and Corey Snowsill (Yamaha), Matt Davies (Kawasaki) and Adrian Nestorovic (Yamaha) in European 600.

Live coverage begins on SPEED at 7.30pm, April 1.

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Published : Friday, 30 March 2012
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