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.
After seeing Race 1 cancelled for safety concerns, i.e. not having a rain tire that could run in the wet conditions at Monza, World Superbike tried again to put on a show for the Italian fans. Giving riders two warm-up laps to sight the fabled Italian circuit, the race distance was also reduced by a lap to 17 laps total.
With the riders coming in from their two sighting laps, the hands from a majority of the racers went up on the grid, signaling that they did not want to start the race. Race Direction obliged, and delayed the start because of the conditions. Regrouping and going out on another warm-up lap, Monza continued to be problematic and claimed two victims, as BMW Italia rider Michel Fabrizio and pole-setter Sylvain Guintoli both suffered from malfunctions on the lap, and had to scratch their starts.
Declared a wet session by Race Direction, Superpole at Monza brought an interesting change of events at the historic Italian track. With horsepower being the name of the game during dry conditions, all eyes were trained to see if the damp weather could be the great equalizer for the Ducati contingency hoped for.
With the horsepower of the BMW S1000RR’s creating 1-2-3 advantage during the provisional pole session that was lead by the BMW Italia of Michel Fabrizio, Carlos Checa and the rest of the Ducatis had to contend with significantly slower trap speeds down the main straight. Getting some help from the weather, that seemed all to change though Saturday afternoon at Monza.
If you haven’t seen World Superbike’s Race 2 at Assen yet, you will want to stop reading now. Battling for the last spot on the podium, Eugene Laverty, Marco Melandri, and Leon Haslam put on a great charge to the finish line. With Laverty getting some distant away from the two factory BMW Motorrad riders, Melandri and Haslam were left fighting for fourth and the bragging rights of beating the other.
As had been the case all week, World Superbike had to look to the skies before Race 1 at Assen to determine what the weather gods had in store for the Dutch track. Expecting fair conditions for Race 1, and rain expected for Race 2, teams again would have continue to have to juggle two different setups for their riders.
With the grid on slicks for the start of Race 1, things would come to crashing halt just nine laps later, as the rain made an early appearance. Red-flagged and restarted, Race 1 ended up being a very wet affair. Click past the jump for spoilers and results.
Despite a tragic beginning to the first race of the season, World Superbike racing returned to our lives today with the season-opener at Phillip Island. With cloudy skies and strong winds, Tom Sykes and the factory Kawasaki WSBK team took their place on the starting line at the pole position. Showing a marked improvement over last year’s measure, Kawasaki would still have to contend with the Ducati of Carlos Checa, the Aprilia of Max Biaggi, and the ever improving Honda of Johnny Rea.
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.
Marco Melandri will join Leon Haslam at BMW Motorrad for the 2012 World Superbike season, leaving Troy Corser presumably out of the factory team. The Italian’s maiden season this year at Yamaha proved to be an excellent one, as he his Championship battle with Carlos Checa come down to this penultimate race weekend. Over the 2011 season, Melandri won one pole out the twenty-three races run so far this season, and has three race wins to his credit. Earlier in his career, Melandri won the 2002 250GP Championship, and seemed to find a home in WSBK this season. However, he and fellow WSBK rookie rider Eugene Laverty were left in the cold when Yamaha announced that they were shelving their WSBK effort in 2012.
“We are really looking forward to working with Leon and Marco. I am convinced we will have arguably the strongest rider’s line up in the Superbike World Championship field,” said Bernhard Gobmeier, BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director. He continued, “We are delighted to have two riders who are both hungry and experienced for the coming season. That is the next important step for our team.” There is no word yet on where current BWM rider Troy Corser will land, nor Laverty.
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.
Jonathan Rea won pole for the 2011 World Superbike round at Magny-Cours with a new circuit record (1:37.490), beating out fellow front-row starters Eugene Laverty, Carlos Checa, and Leon Camier. The latter’s teammate, Max Biaggi, is again missing this weekend. It is his third missed race weekend in a row, as a practice injury sustained at the Nurburgring continues to heal slowly. Though championship leader Checa starts on the front row for both of Sunday’s races, his Superpole sessions were touch and go. He was in the knockout zone in S1 until a post-flag flying lap put him fastest. He remained on the bubble for most of S2, only barely making it to the fight for pole. The championship hunt continues this weekend, after Melandri’s late race resurgence in Race 2 in Imola kept Checa from winning then. The Spaniard needs only finish three points ahead of Melandri to clinch the title this weekend.
Checa (1:39.013) started off the weekend quickest in the first practice session on Friday, leading Sykes, Corser, Haslam, and Smrz as the fastest five. Both Fabrizio and Xaus has minor crashes, with the former finishing the session. Xaus complained of neck pain and feeling dizzy, leaving him in the medical center and eventually declared unfit to race. In the first qualifying practice, it was again Checa fastest, with a near record lap to take the provisional pole. Close behind were Laverty, Guintoli, Sykes as the provisional front row.