Phillip Island proved a smashingly good weekend for Aprilia, as Max Biaggi began to defend his #1 plate by qualifying and finishing second in both races, one nearly as uncontested as Carlos Checa’s wins, and one a ray of hope for close fighting all season. Though teammate Leon Camier did not fare nearly as well, his thirteenth and sixth place finishes were remarkable for someone contending with a nasty fever.
Overall, the opening round of the 2011 World Superbike season seems to belie the suspicions that all of Aprilia’s 2010 success came down to its “unfair” gear-driven camshaft, and that Ducatis could not be competitive in WSBK’s oppressive technical formula.
Aprilia brought the system to Phillip Island last season, and a general outcry prompted the FIM to clarify the rules (which did allow Aprilia’s design). Kept from using the upgrade until the round at Miller Motorsports Park at the end of May, Biaggi managed to double at both Monza and Portimao without the gear-driven camshaft. However after its use was approved, The Emperor went on to double at Miller and Misano, with single victories at Brno, and the final race at Magny-Cours (Biaggi’s Aprilia did not feature the “cheatershaft” in France).
With the uproar from the other teams in 2010, with some going so far as to suggest that Biaggi and Camier’s bikes be inspected fully after every race for other exploitation of loopholes, the FIM made the gear-driven camshaft illegal for 2011. Though this first round at Phillip Island is not a complete indication of how 2011 will progress, Biaggi’s performance seems to indicate that the uproar in the paddock and press might have been much ado about nothing.
Similar outcries forced the FIM to add weight and air restrictions to the Ducatis, in an effort to reduce their performance, and make the WSBK contest more equal. Being forced into these restrictions is one of the generally assumed reasons that Ducati withdrew its factory team for 2011. Instead, Checa is on a Althea Ducati privateer Ducati that is as near to factory as possible, and has run away with the first two races of the season, despite the restrictions.
There is a long way to go in the 2011 season: twelve more rounds and twenty-four more races, so there are plenty of opportunities for Checa to bin his Ducati one too many times, and for the other manufacturers to catch up to Aprilia’s speed. Even so, it now seems that all that rancor over a system that exploited a now-closed loophole made for useful posturing and extra column inches, rather than shining a light on an improper advantage.