Luckily for us, the drought is nearly over and the World Superbike series will resume this weekend at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, near Imola, Italy. When we last met at the Nurburgring, American rookie sensation "Big" Ben Spies had wrested the lead in the series from Xerox Ducati's "Nitro" Noriyuki Haga as a result of the Texan's win in race one and second place in race two while Haga
With 6 races left in the season, the championship has become Spies' to lose. The Yamaha Italia team tested at Imola last July and Spies was at or near the top of the time sheets most of the time. Spies was also fast at the season-ending Portimao test last year on a bike he'd never seen before. That leaves Magny Cours as the only track that the American has no prior seat time at, not that lack of track knowledge has been much of an impediment to his meteoric rise to the top.
Nori looks to have mostly recovered from the broken wrist and shoulder blade incurred at Donington Park in June. Haga finished a close second to Spies in Race one in Germany and was running at the the front before he was taken out. Haga's Xerox Ducati team mate, Michel "Mr. Fabulous" Fabrizio hasn't provided much of an assist to Haga, other than his failed pass in race 1 at Brno that sent both himself and Spies into the kitty litter.
The most improved rider as of late has been young Ulsterman Jonny Rea who has taken to his Ten Kate team's new Ohlins suspension like a duck to water. Teammate Carlos Checa has had a recurrence of his annual bout of "Checa's Syndrome", a mysterious condition whereby his results get better as contract time nears.
The real news during the hiatus has concerned the Silly Season in both the SBK and MotoGP paddocks. When it was announced prior to the Indianapolis MotoGP round that Ben Spies had signed with Yamaha for 2 more years, Yamaha stated that the team "foresaw" that Spies would be in SBK in 2010 with a possible bump up to the Tech 3 satellite team in Moto GP. Reports in MCN (it *must* be true!) that Spies had committed to appearing in MotoGP in 2010 seem to indicate the the tuning fork crystal ball was cloudy and the future is a lot closer than it seemed a few weeks ago.
Spies' departure could and probably will set in motion a veritable domino effect of team restructurings and rider placements in the weeks to come. Most likely, we'll start to see some official movement soon, maybe this weekend. Whatever happens, us racing junkies will be comfortably numb with a fresh supply of our favorite drug.