With good weather under British skies, World Superbike is making one of its few breaks from the European mainland, and racing at Donington Park this weekend. With a slew of local boys comprising the top spots of the WSBK grid, race fans at Donington had more than a few favorites for Sunday’s races, though pole-setter Tom Sykes seemed to be the favorite per usual, as the Brit looked for his first fair-weather win.
In a role-reversal, Race 2 at Assen for World Superbike got underway with clear skies, and a Dutch track with only a few wet spots left to dry. With tire choice proving to be a critical component in the second race, the WSBK field ran the gamut with slicks, intermediates, and even full-wets making it onto the grid for the start. Lining up another exciting race, the fans in attendance were well-rewarded for enduring the rainy Race 1 at The Cathedral.
With the rain playing a factor during the Qualifying Practice sessions, riders like Max Biaggi were caught out, and left high and dry during an otherwise water-filled build up to today’s Superpole qualifying. As the Roman Emperor watched from the sidelines, World Superbike Race Direction deemed the Superpole a wet session, reducing the qualifying event to two twenty-minute sessions, with only the top eight riders going onto the second round. With the track actually dry for Superpole 2, all eyes were on Tom Sykes, to see if the Kawasaki rider could make a hat trick out of his qualifying streak.
With Carlos Checa dominating Phillip Island during the private tests and the first day of official testing, Tom Sykes displaced the reigning World Superbikes Champion early on in the second day of official testing at Phillip Island. In WSBK’s final test before the season’s racing kicks off this weekend, the Kawasaki rider set the day’s fastest time with a 1:31.648, holding off Checa by just 0.004 seconds. Also setting their best times on Tuesday, Jakub Smrz, Jonathan Rea, and Max Biaggi rounded out the fastest five overall. Marco Melandri was sixth fastest overall, with his best time being set on Monday.
There were a number of crashes that tested both riders and available machinery, of which Leon Haslam was the most notable. The Englishman fractured his right tibia in a high side at the final turn on Monday, leaving the BMW rider to scramble for an available surgery. He tweeted Tuesday, “I’ve finally found a guy to sort things out booked in for a Op on Thursday morning there might be a chance to ride on Sunday,” adding, “fingerscrossed.” Rea also crashed heavily, but did more damage to his bike than himself, and was able to continue throughout the test sessions.
Taking the pole position at the final World Superbike round at Portimao, Jonathan Rea not only put his Castrol Honda on the front of the grid, but also broke set the fastest lap ever for a motorcycle at the Portuguese track. Fortuitously, the factory Honda WSBK team fitted one of its mechanics with a GoPro camera to capture the Superpole from the team’s point-of-view. At 6’10” tall (2.1 meters), the view provided by Daniel Postmus is not only one that few get to witness in side the team garage, but also comes from an altitude slightly higher than many are accustomed.
Lagging all season, the Castrol Honda team found some momentum in the latter races of the season, more specifically when the team was allowed to outfit its WSBK-spec Honda CBR1000RR with ride-by-wire throttle control. Hopefully the team can keep that momentum going forward, as it will have to contend with another season on an only mildly updated racing platform, the 2012 Honda CBR1000RR. Video after the jump.
Jonathan Rea (1:41.712) won his second pole of the 2011 World Superbike season to start the season finale at Portimao on pole. He beat newly minted champion Carlos Checa to pole by more than two tenths in Saturday’s Superpole session, despite the riders having traded fast laps in Friday’s sessions. Joining them on the front row are soon-to-be-former Yamaha teammates Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri. Sylvain Guintoli, Jakub Smrz, Joan Lascorz, and Noriyuki Haga complete the second row. 2010 champion Max Biaggi returned for the final race weekend after missing three race meetings due to a foot injury sustained at Nurburgring. Though he was quick on Friday and in the practice session, Biaggi managed only to qualify seventeenth.
Chris Vermeulen and Roberto Rolfo, along with Ruben Xaus did not participate on the weekend, all suffering from injuries that kept them home. Vermeulen was not replaced, though Rolfo was by his satellite Kawasaki team. The Italian had broken his left kneecap in a bicycle accident near his home earlier in the week, leaving room for Santiago Barragan to fill in for him. Karl Muggerridge again filled in for Xaus, as the Spainiard’s earlier neck and back injuries also kept him from racing. Though Rea and Checa each held a fat lap on Friday, it was Rea who held provisional pole going into the Superpole sessions. He would not relinquish pole, winning his second of the season. Race 1 was a sunny and bright affair, with a surprising early leader, decisive battles, and a a bit of icing on the cake of the 2011 season.
Jonathan Rea (1:41.712) won pole during Saturday’s Superpole sessions at Portimao with a new lap record time. He held off second place starter Carlos Checa with that fast lap set early in the final S3 session. The two riders had dominated the times on Friday, with Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri completing the front row of Starters for Sunday’s races. Though Rea’s fast lap came early in S3, there was plenty of nail biting for riders further back the pack. Multiple riders hauled themselves out of the knockout zone on final flying laps after the flag. Sylvain Guintoli, Jakub Smrz, Joan Lascorz, and Noriyuki Haga complete the second row.
Max Biaggi returned for this final round of the 2011 World Superbike season after injury kept him from contesting the championship. Fellow Italian Roberto Rolfo did not compete, having broken his left kneecap in a bicycle accident near his home earlier in the week. Santiago Barragan replaced him at Pedericini Kawasaki. Fellow Kawasaki rider Chris Vermeulen ended this season as he began it, attempting to recover fully from a knee injury sustained in 2010. He did not participate in the weekend. However, Portimao saw Josh Waters and Yoshimura Suzuki again at a WSBK round, though the Australian was knocked out in the final qualifying practice and started only 21st. Finally, word came from Troy Corser that he would not be returning to WSBK racing after this final weekend of the season.
Jonathan Rea (1:41.712) took the final pole of the 2011 World Superbike season at Portimao, beating off championship winner Carlos Checa with a lap set early in the final Superpole session. Rea and Checa had traded session fast times on Friday, with the younger rider coming out on top and leading a starting front row also including current Yamaha teammates Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri. Superpole was relatively uneventful, with leading fast laps coming early in the three sessions and only riders pulling themselves out of the knockout zone in the final seconds after the flag. Sylvain Guintoli, Jakub Smrz, Joan Lascorz, and Noriyuki Haga complete the second row for tomorrow’s two races.
There was plenty of news before the racing began on Friday, with word that Biaggi would return for the season finale, as would Josh Waters and Yoshimura Suzuki. Meanwhile, Roberto Rolfo had to be replaced at Pedercini Kawasaki by Santiago Barragan, as the Italian rider had broken his left kneecap earlier in the week in a bicycle accident near his home. Chris Vermeulen was again out, missing the final race weekend of a season that saw him compete in only seven races. On Friday morning, recent pole winner and recipient of bad luck, Rea (1:43.945) led the timesheets over Checa, Badovini, Sykes, and Guintoli as the fastest five. Meanwhile, Leon Camier tweeted, “just had front row seat to max an Marco having another punch up but on the slow down lap after first sess! Shoving each other all sorts.”Checa (1:43.579) was not one to relinquish control after winning the championship, taking provisional pole in the afternoon qualifying session under sunny Portuguese skies. Laverty, Guintoli, and Rea were also on the provisional front starting row.
Jonathan Rea (1:37.490) won pole for the 2011 World Superbike round at Magny-Cours, beating out fellow front-row starters Eugene Laverty, Carlos Checa, and Leon Camier to the position with a new lap record. Rea won his first pole in WSBK after his Race 1 win last weekend at Imola, holding off marginally struggling championship leader Checa. The Spaniard was fastest in both Friday sessions, but lost the provisional pole to title rival Marco Melandri (who starts eight) Saturday morning. Then, Checa struggled to get out of both Superpole 1 and Superpole 2 on Saturday, barely making the final session to fight for pole.
Only Melandri had a mathematical chance of beating Checa to the championship going into the Magny-Cours round, as reigning champion Max Biaggi’s season slumped. After focus issues at Donington, the Italian has been forced to sit out three races weekends in a row with a slowly healing injury sustained at the Nurburgring. Checa looked to wrap up the title last weekend, but a late race resurgence in Race 2 in Imola by Melandi kept that Italian in the hunt. With no wild card entries, Ruben Xaus out with a neck injury, and Chris Vermeulen still unable to race, the field is down to eighteen riders. Race 1 had plenty of action, leading in the crowning of a champion from the top step of the podium. In other news of the day, Melandri has signed to race with BMW Motorrad for 2012, alongside Haslam and without Corser.
Jonathan Rea (1:37.490) started the penultimate race weekend of the 2011 season on pole at Magny-Cours with a new lap record time. Completing the front row after Saturday’s Superpole sessions are Eugene Laverty, Carlos Checa, and Leon Camier. The championship leader had something of a fraught Saturday, with challenger Marco Melandri (who will start the races on the second row in eighth) taking provisional pole that morning. In the Superpole sessions, Checa was regularly near the bottom and managed only to move on with a couple of very late flying laps. He was also unable to best Rea’s time at the end of S3 and will start sandwiched between the teammates of current and former title rivals.
Max Biaggi, Camier’s Aprilia teammate and Checa’s recent title rival, again sits out this race weekend after his practice injury from the Nurburgring continues to heal slowly. Also missing in Ruben Xaus, Rea’s Castrol Honda teammate, whose neck continues to prove difficult after a practice injury at Magny-Cours on Friday. With Chirs Vermeulen still out and not replaced at Kawasaki and no wild card entries, the WSBK grid is down to eighteen riders this weekend. For the morning warm-up, Checa was back in charge, leading a fastest five including Corser, Guintoli, Rea, and Smrz.