Rea and Aoyama back on track at Imola

After a month-long break since the opening round at Phillip Island in Australia, the 2012 World Superbike Championship returns to action this weekend (31 March – 1 April) for round two at Italy’s historic Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola.Honda World Superbike Team riders Jonathan Rea and Hiroshi Aoyama will approach Imola from different starting points – Rea having won at the 4.933km circuit near Bologna last September, Aoyama having never raced there.Rea’s victory in race one last season marked a spectacular return after a three-month layoff through a wrist injury sustained at Misano. His win also represented the debut of the team’s ride-by-wire throttle management system for its Honda CBR1000RR Fireblades.After finishing seventh and fourth in last month’s opening races, Rea will be hoping to get back to podium ways this weekend at Imola to give his 2012 championship a boost.For Aoyama, Imola represents the first of seven new circuits that the 30-year-old Japanese ace must learn in his debut SBK season. After a steady build-up to qualifying in Australia, Aoyama showed his true racing spirit by taking two solid top-ten finishes after starting from 16th place on the Phillip Island grid.The Honda World Superbike Team is offering a very special opportunity to Honda race fans for the Imola event by building a special viewing gallery in the pit box. Any owner of a Honda motorcycle or scooter who has paddock access can visit the team’s box and see the riders and technicians at work during practice and qualifying.Honda owners simply have to show their vehicle registration certificate, either at the garage door or at the ‘Honda In The City’ unit in Imola’s SBK Village, where they will receive a special team wristband to access this unique viewing opportunity.Jonathan Rea I can’t tell you how excited I am at the prospect of riding my bike again this weekend. It seems like a lifetime since the opening round in Phillip Island so I’m raring to go again at Imola. I love racing in Italy – the food, the culture, everything about it is special – and Imola has some pretty special memories for me, especially winning last year after a long injury lay-off. That was the first time we rolled out on the ride-by-wire system last year and we’ve done a lot of work on it since then, so it’ll be really interesting to benchmark where we are against our performance last season. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and a lot of research since Phillip Island and I’m looking forward to putting what I’ve learned into practice this weekend.Hiroshi Aoyama Of course, Imola is a new circuit for me but I am looking forward to riding there very much. I have looked at a lot of videos from Formula 1 and World Superbike races and I can see a lot of very fast corners. It looks like a great track to ride on and with all its history it will be a very special weekend for me. I learned a lot about the championship in the first round at Phillip Island and I know now that the gap from the front is not so great and a small improvement can give you a big jump forward. I still have a lot to learn with the bike and the tyres, but the team was working very well at Phillip Island and we made some good progress. I hope to continue that at Imola this weekend.Ronald ten Kate – team manager Imola brought us a breakthrough last year with Jonathan’s return from injury and a new electronics package enabling us to fight once more for wins and podiums, so, of course, it holds special memories for us and we’re happy to be back again so soon. On the other hand, it’s another circuit and another race weekend, and it would be foolish to rely on past results, so we’ll take nothing for granted. It’s been a long break since the first round at Phillip Island where I believe we probably made too many changes to the bike and lost our rhythm a little. We’ll slow down a little and develop our racecraft this weekend to try and get the results that we all want. Of course, it’s Hiroshi-san’s first visit to Imola but we know that he’s been studying a lot of old footage. We’ll aim to combine that with some of Jonathan’s data to start the ball rolling on Friday and try to have him near the front in time for Sunday’s races.2012 World Superbike championship, round twoImola, Italy – weekend schedule (local times)Friday 30 March 11.45-12.30 Free practice 15.30-16.15 Qualifying 1Saturday 31 March 09.45-10.30 Qualifying 2 12.30-13.15 Free practice 15.00-15.14 Superpole 1 15.21-15.33 Superpole 2 15.40-15.50 Superpole 3Sunday 1 April 09.20-09.35 Warm-up 12.00 Race 1 (21 laps 103.656km) 15.30 Race 2 (21 laps 103.656km)