Donington Park remained cold for the second race of the second round of the World Superbike Championship, though there was plenty of drama both on and off the track to keep things heated up. Race 1 featured a thrilling charge through the field by one protagonist, while Superpole had drama all its own. Though Checa won pole convincingly for the second time in a row this season, it was Max Biaggi who garnered the most attention after Saturday’s qualifying. Reigning champion Max Biaggi had some traffic issues during Superpole, first holding up, and then being held up by rival and WSBK rookie Marco Melandri.
Neither James Toseland nor Chris Vermeulen participated in either race. Toseland was home recovering from a fractured wrist, injured in a testing crash last week, while Vermeulen was at Donington and participated in Fridays practice sessions, only to sit out qualifying and the races with his knee still recovering from a 2010 crash and surgery.
Carlos Checa started the race on pole during a cold and dreary morning, after a tension-filled Superp0le at Donington Park. He was joined on the front row by Leon Haslam, Tom Sykes, and Jakub Smrz, with an especially surprising quick time from Sykes bringing the Kawasaki to the front of the field. Eugene Laverty might have been near the front, but for a nasty crash through Craner that tore up his bike.
Four Brits started their first home race of the World Superbike season in the first two rows, though James Toseland did not participate at Donington, having suffered a fractured wrist after a testing crash. Chris Vermeulen also sat out the race, as was expected after skipping Phillip Island and the final qualifying practice in England.
Though Checa won pole in a dramatic fashion on Saturday, with a record lap on the revised circuit, the higher drama was between Biaggi and nearly everyone else. He and Melandri traded quickest times through the early qualifying practices, but it was Saturday that added to the Max Biaggi YouTube collection. He and Michel Fabrizio came together in a practice, with the reigning champion continuing on but Fabrizio and Alstare Suzuki left with bits of bike strewn across the circuit.
Then Biaggi balked Melandri during Superpole 2, leading the WSBK rookie to purposefully throw Biaggi off his own fast lap. Melandri was knocked out in Superpole 2, and Biaggi was off to complain to the younger Italian after the session. In the garage, he confronted a calm Melandri, leading to what has been called a slap, but would more likely be a tap of admonition on the cheek (see the incident in this video). Both riders were called to race direction, reprimanded, and Biaggi was fined €3,000.
Slap! And that’s what happened when Max Biaggi stopped by Marco Melandri’s pit box after qualifying, after the two riders traded moments stuffing each other during the Superpole sessions. While out on his fastest lap in Superpole 2, Marco Melandri came onto the slower lapping Max Biaggi, and according to Melandri, Biaggi blocked his fellow Italians fast lap.
Subsequently, Melandri returned the favor on Biaggi’s fast lap attempt, while Biaggi would go on to do the same to Noriyuki Haga (and others reportedly) as well. After Superpole concluded however, it was Melandri that got The Emperor’s wroth in the paddock, as the reigning World Superbike Champion stopped by the Yamaha pit, and gave Melandri a couple of light slaps on the face during a worded exchange. Video after the jump.
Carlos Checa won his second straight pole of the World Superbike season Saturday at Donington Park, setting a new circuit record in the process (1:28.099), and he will be joined by Leon Haslam, Tom Sykes, and Jakub Smrz on the front row. The testing last week at Aragon must have done wonders for the factory Kawasaki team as Sykes posted his fastest lap on a race tire, not a qualifier. Dropping back during qualifying, early weekend frontrunners Max Biaggi and Marco Melandri qualified only sixth and ninth, respectively. Melandri’s teammate Eugene Laverty crashed in Superpole 1, destroying his Yamaha, but continued on a backup bike to qualify thirteenth.
The saga of rehabilitating Chris Vermeulen’s knee continues this weekend at the second round of the World Superbike season. The Australian will participate in the practice and qualifying sessions beginning Friday at Donington Park, but he may sit out the races on Sunday.
This news comes after Vermeulen missed the season opener and winter testing at Phillip Island because his knee has not recovered as quickly as planned, and it was hoped that skipping his home race would allow Vermeulen time to recover enough to race the rest of this season, but it seems the Australian and his factory Kawasaki team are taking this weekend one session at a time.
The former MotoGP rider spent some time testing at Motorland Aragon in Spain last week (where compatriot James Toseland fractured his wrist, forcing him to sit out this WSBK weekend) and just yesterday spent some more time on the seat riding around Cadwell Park. After this most recent outing, Vermeulen tweeted, “was great to get back on the bike but still work to do on my knee to be race fit.”
James Toseland will miss at least the next two World Superbike rounds after crashing during private testing on Friday at Motorland Aragon. The former WSBK champion crashed on Friday in a highside at Turn 10, landing heavily on his head and right wrist. Initially Spanish doctors gave Toseland the go-ahead to race this coming weekend at Donington Park, after examining hi,m and finding only a small fracture in the wrist.
“But when I got back to the hotel, the pain in my right wrist was unbelievable and, considering that I had a race coming up in a week’s time, I sent the scan on to a specialist I know in Manchester,” said Toseland. “They took a new X-ray from a different position in Manchester and found that I had badly displaced bones in my wrist. At that point, things were getting critical as there was no blood flow in the wrist, meaning that the bone could die if I wasn’t operated on immediately.”
Despite newly announced title sponsor Samsung, British Superbike squad Crescent Racing will not enter John Hopkins as a wildcard entry for the Donington Park round of World Superbike racing as previously expected. Instead, both the American rider and his new teammate, reigning BST Champion Jon Kirkham, will be entered for the British WSBK round at Silverstone later in the season.
Originally, the team had announced that Hopkins would race at Donington, but with a rider new to the team testing today at Cartagena, it seems as though Crescent Suzuki has decided to wait to join the WSBK fray. They will continue their testing March 8th at Guadix, Spain in advance of the BSB opener at Brands Hatch on April 25th.
Donington Park has passed the final FIM safety checks, and been fully approved to host the second round of the World Superbike Championship at the end of this month, the first time the circuit has held a major event since 2009. The inspection occurred while much of the racing press watched the season-opening races at Phillip Island, though Donington has been part of the official WSBK calendar since late last year.
The fame British track has been embroiled in a bit of drama over the past two years, having been taken over by Simon Gillett and partners, who hoped Donington would take the place of Silverstone as the British Grand Prix on the Formula1 calendar. When Gillett’s company fell apart, as did the F1 venture, Donington was left with its extensive redevelopment only partially completed. Kevin Wheatcroft stepped in as chairman to restore the shambles his father’s circuit had been left in, and worked to gain Britain its second WSBK race of the season, with the traditional round held at Silverstone in July.
World Superbike riders have begun establishing a safety commission to have a stronger voice in providing safer conditions for racers in the series. Though other top-tier racing series have long had a body specifically to promote the safety of riders and drivers, it seems that the timing of the race at Donington Park this season has moved the riders to join forces. They met first during the official test in Portimao a month ago and met again this week during the testing at Phillip Island.