Former MotoGP, current British Superbike, and this weekend’s wild card rider John Hopkins (2:04.041) started the 2011 World Superbike round at Silverstone on pole after dominating multiple sessions throughout the weekend, including setting a new track fast lap. The American rider led the first practice, the second qualifying practice, and ended the final Superpole session on Saturday on top of the timesheets and on track whilst much of the rest of the field resignedly remained in their garages. He was joined on the front row by Eugene Laverty, Leon Camier, and Carlos Checa. Max Biaggi crashed in Superpole 1, hurried through to Superpole 2, and was unable to qualify higher than eleventh on the starting grid.
For Silverstone, home rider James Toseland was back and barely squeaking through to Superpole, though he would only qualify fourteenth. Over at Castrol Honda, it was a bad weekend with both official riders out with injury. Alex Lowes continued to replace Jonathan Rea, but could not make it to Superpole. The worse drama came with Ruben Xaus’ newly-diagnosed L3 vertebrae fracture. Karl Muggeridge was to replace the Spaniard, but he injured his wrist in a mountain biking accident, leaving Fabrizio Lai to take the place of the replacement. Tom Sykes also had trouble in Saturday’s free practice, in the form of a crash that left him with a sprained ankle and minor concussion. He did not participate in Superpole, but started sixteenth. In the morning warm-up, Biaggi as fastest, leading a top five of Berger, Camier, Haslam, and Hopkins.
Race 1 got underway under sunny skies, with the track temperature surprisingly warm. Laverty barely took the lead from Hopkins into the first turn, with Checa taking an inside line to sweep into third. Fabrizio had a massive crash, with the bike sliding in to the barrier to end his race, though he appeared unhurt. Haga, though snuck through on Checa to take third and push Hopkins for second. At the end of the first lap, Laverty led Hopkins, Haga, Checa, Melandri, Haslam, Camier, Biaggi, Aitchison, and Berger as the top ten. Laverty soon had a few tenths on the rest of the top four, as Haga took third back from Checa, then drafted past Hopkins to set off after the leader.
Checa was the next to force Hopkins back, as the championship leader looked to Haga ahead. The Spaniard made his way through on Haga, looking to regain some of those points lost in a couple of poor weekends. A bit further back, Melandri and Hopkins had begun to dice over fourth, with the Italian taking the position, losing it, and continuing to fight Hopkins for it. Five laps in, Laverty still led, but over a catching Checa, Haga, Melandri, Hopkins, Haslam, Camier, Biaggi, Aitchison, and Corser as the top ten. Lowes was the next to drop out, highsiding out as he had been losing grip in the front all weekend. Whilst Lowes was crashing, Checa neatly took the lead from Laverty.
In the fight over fourth, Hopkins soon emerged a clear victor, with Camier taking Melandri for fifth. Melandri was next in danger of falling back to sixth, with a feisty Haslam working him over for the position. Meanwhile, Haga had slid well back to seventh. At the halfway point of the eighteen lap race, Checa had nearly two seconds on Laverty, who had his own two second gap back to Hopkins. Camier, Melandri, Haslam, Haga, Lascorz, Badovini, and Guintoli completed the top ten, after Biaggi slipped down to thirteenth.
Haga was the next to retire, crashing out after running very close to the front in the early part of the race. Soon, Hopkins had also faded slightly, getting passed by Camier for third. He next dropped to fourth as his earlier nemesis Melandri took that position from him. Checa’s lead continued to increase as the laps ticked down, with Laverty, Camier, Melandri, and Hopkins the top five. Haslam, looking to put more British riders in the top five, was the next to take position from Hopkins while Checa blithely increased his gap on Laverty. The Yamaha rider was increasingly coming under pressure, as Camier was within a half second on him with four laps to go.
However, Camier was soon raising his hand in defeat, with an issue somewhere on the bike. He continued to circulate without retiring, but did not have the pace to run even with Biaggi. Checa still led with a lap to go, followed by Laverty, Melandri, Haslam, Hopkins, Guintoli, Lascorz, Berger, Corser, and Badovini the top ten. In the end, it was Checa, Laverty, and Melandri on the podium, with much of the serious fighting early in the race slowing down as rear tires deteriorated and riders crashed out.
World Superbike Race Results from Race 1 at Silverstone:
|1||7||Carlos Checa||Althea Racing Ducati||–|
|2||58||Eugene Laverty||Yamaha WSBK Team||3.304|
|3||33||Marco Melandri||Yamaha WSBK Team||4.782|
|4||91||Leon Haslam||BMW Motorrad||7.116|
|5||211||John Hopkins||Samsung Crescent Suzuki||11.057|
|6||50||Sylvain Guintoli||Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati||21.899|
|7||17||Joan Lascorz||Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki||22.308|
|8||121||Maxime Berger||Supersonic Racing Ducati||22.734|
|9||11||Troy Corser||BMW Motorrad||25.491|
|10||86||Ayrton Badovini||BMW Motorrad Italia||25.725|
|11||1||Max Biaggi||Aprilia Alitalia Racing Team||25.844|
|12||52||James Toseland||BMW Motorrad Italia||45.578|
|13||44||Roberto Rolfo||Team Pedericini Kawasaki||51.650|
|14||10||John Kirkham||Samsung Crescent Suzuki||57.310|
|15||2||Leon Camier||Aprilia Alitalia Racing Team||1:36.457|
|32||Fabrizio Lai||Castrol Honda||6 Laps|
|8||Mark Aitchison||Team Pedericini Kawasaki||8 Laps|
|41||Noriyuki Haga||PATA Racing Team Aprilia||9 Laps|
|96||Jakub Smrz||Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati||12 Laps|
|22||Alex Lowes||Castrol Honda||13 Laps|
|84||Michel Fabrizio||Team Suzuki Alstare|
Source: WSBK; Photo: Althea Ducati