Thursday, April 06, 2006

A busy weekend

Despite being relatively early in the season, this weekend is pretty packed with racing. One terrific thing about this time of year is the great amount of uncertainty. Championships are wide-open, teams are still working on getting their cars or bikes sorted out and if you're in the northern hemisphere, the weather can be unpredictable (a recent German sportscar race at the Nurburgring was cancelled due to SNOW!)

The WRC is on the island of Corsica this weekend for the 3rd tarmac event of the year. This is obviously Sebastien Loeb's territory, but look for Marcus Gronholm to push him hard in the very quick new Ford Focus. Dani Sordo will also be looking to capitalize on his terrific run in Spain.

Valentino Rossi will be looking to bounce back from his terrible start to the MotoGP season this Saturday in Qatar. His Yamaha team have struggled with vibration issues, and this leaves the door open for other contenders such as Nicky Hayden, Marco Melandri and Dani Pedrosa on the Hondas and Loris Capirossi and Sete Gibernau on the Ducatis.

The Le Mans Endurance Series starts where they finished up last year, in Istanbul. Although the field is thinner than usual (32 versus a typical 40), it should still give some indication as to who's done their winter homework. Check out my Le Mans preview for detailed analysis.

The British Touring Car season kicks off on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit. This little track always produces door-banging action, and Matt Neal will have some stiff competition as he starts his title defence. Fast young guy Tom Chilton and WTCC champ Fabrizio Giovanardi are running for the Vauxhall team this year, and James Thompson returns to the series (this time alongside Jason Plato at SEAT).

Smart money will be on either Ryuichi Kiyonari or Gregoria Lavilla to take wins in the British Superbike series which this week visits Donington Park. Despite the apparent lack of pace of Ducatis in other Superbike championships, Lavilla and his team-mate Leon Haslam seem to have figured out how to keep up with, and often beat, the big 4-cylinder Japanese bikes. Outside bets could go to Karl Harris on the second HM Plant Honda.

After the cancellation of the Cherokee Trails Rally, the US Rally Championship gets underway in New York. Expect to see the Irish New York "Evo Tree" to bear fruit (check out the start list to see how many Irish and how many Mitsubishi Evos there are in the Northeast rally community). Tom Lawless and Seamus Burke will be out front fighting Subaru's top dogs Matt Iorio and Otis Dimiters.

Out in the Far East the Japanese Super GT series moves to the Okayama circuit, formerly known as TI Aida. In the opening round at Suzuka, Lexus took their first ever top level sportscar victory anywhere in the world. Due to the series' use of weight handicapping, both Honda and Nissan will be expecting it to be their turn this time. In GT300, Lamborghini will also be hoping to build on their first ever sportscar race win.

Finally, DTM starts up at Hockenheim. Check out my preview from yesterday.

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