Having dominated the final qualifying session under a cloudy sky and in cool temperatures, Carlos Checa won pole (1:35.292) for the World Superbike round at Assen. The Spaniard won pole for the third race weekend in a row, added by the fact that he was the only rider to have a fresh qualifying tire for the third Superpole session. He will be joined on the front row for Sunday’s races by Jakub Smrz, Eugene Laverty, and Noriyuki Haga. Though none could touch Checa at the end, the Superpole sessions were marked by very close lap times, with the twelve riders in Superpole 2 covered by a half second. Only Marco Melandri crashed during the Superpole sessions, on his last lap while attempting to fight for pole. He was unhurt and qualified eighth.
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.
Lapping by a very narrow margin over reigning World Champion Max Biaggi, Carlos Checa won the pole position for the 2011 World Superbike season opener at Phillip Island today. Though the Spaniard dominated the testing and practice sessions this week, Biaggi continued to improve his times, and was only .013s slower at the end of qualifying session. Also showing strong results were Sylvain Guintoli and Leon Haslam, who complete the front row for Sunday’s races.
Jonathan Rea rallied after a severe testing crash and his second crash of the day to qualify twelfth, while Leon Camier, suffering from glandular fever, qualified sixteenth and did not make Superpole, a blow for the Aprilia factory team even as teammate Biaggi unveiled his #1 plate.
Carlos Checa was fastest overall, with a lap time of 1:30.578, as the final World Superbike winter test ended Tuesday at Phillip Island. That time was also nearly a half second faster than the existing lap record set by Regis Laconi in 2009, and almost 1.3 sec faster than Troy Corser’s race lap record from 2007. In addition to Checa, Sylvain Guintoli, Jonathan Rea, Jakub Smrz, and Joan Lascorz completed the fastest five. Rea’s time from Tuesday morning kept him third fastest despite a crash at Turn 3 in the afternoon that resulted in an injured hand. No word is available yet on the specifics of his injury.
Carlos Checa was fastest overall during World Superbike testing Monday at Phillip Island, nearly a second faster than anyone else during the dry running in the afternoon. Monday was a quick day for Ducatis, as Sylvain Guintoli led the morning session and was second fastest overall, while Jakub Smrz was third fastest of the day. Reigning champion Max Biaggi was fourth fastest, with Michel Fabrizio fifth overall. Notably absent was Christopher Vermeulen who will not ride during the test or his home race this weekend, and has been replaced by Akira Yanagawa at the factory Kawasaki team.
Ruben Xaus will start his 200th World Superbike race at Phillip Island, making him the third rider in this season’s field to start such a large number of races. He will join the ranks of Carl Fogarty, Noriyuki Haga, Troy Corser, Aaron Slight, and Frankie Chili in numbers of starts by racing at the season opener later this month. Xaus began his WSBK career with two wildcard entries in 1998, after a rookie Supersport season in 1997.
He returned to World Supersport for 1999 and 2000, but began his full-time career as a World Superbike rider in 2001. He left WSBK for the 2004 and 2005 seasons to go racing in MotoGP, with a career high of third at Qatar in 2004 on a satellite Ducati. Xaus was named MotoGP Rookie of the Year for 2004 and moved to a satellite Yamaha for 2005, where he did not have the same luck.
Pata Racing Team Aprilia launched its 2011 World Superbike entry today at the Verona Motor Bike Expo in Italy. The largely white Aprilia has a large PATA logo on the side with accents of green and blue and other sponsor decals. As expected, Noriyuki Haga will be the sole-rider for the team that formerly fielded Jakub Smrz first on a Ducati then Aprilia for the 2010 season. The bike was unveiled by Team President Daniele Carli and Team Manager Marco Borciani, who also underscored the previous announcement that Aprilia is officially supporting the team, though no one officially from Aprilia attended.
Nitro Nori successfully stirred up some interest by saying, “I’m not worried about Max Biaggi! I think I can start winning again with this bike, and try to reach my goal of 60 career wins. Then I can retire…I’m aiming for the title, but my first objective will be to beat the factory Aprilias.”
UPDATE 3: Michel Fabrizio has signed-on with Alstare Suzuki team for 2011.
UPDATE 2: Leon Haslam has signed with the BMW Factory Squad.
UPDATE: It’s being reported that Noriyuki Haga has agreed to ride with the DFX team on a factory Aprilia RSV4, with an announcement delayed out of deference to Biaggi’s impending WSBK crowning.
While the MotoGP silly season is just starting to wind down, the World Superbike shuffling of riders is apparently just getting underway. So far this silly season we’ve seen Marco Melandri make the switch into WSBK Racing, joining the young Eugene Laverty in the Sterilgarda Yamaha squad, and clearly displacing James Toseland from a job. Johnny Rea has also been in the news, confirming that he’d be with Ten Kate Honda next season, despite being only two years into a three year contract, which was a strange announcement at the very least.
After Ducati’s little spat with Infront Motor Sports last month, the Xerox Ducati Team will be no more in 2011, leaving factory riders Michel Fabrizio and Noriyuki S.O.L. when it comes to gainful employment, which is where our fist batch of silly season rumors starts us. If Moto.it‘s Carlo Baldi is to be believed (he is the listed press officer for Althea Ducati after all), Haga will find himself on a satellite Aprilia ride, while Michel Fabrizio will go to Alstare Suzuki. If you’re a die-hard WSBK fan you may realize that means that current Alstare Suzuki star Leon Haslam must be finding work elsewhere, with Baldi putting the British rider in the factory BMW squad. Still with us?
Max Biaggi turned a year older yesterday, making the Italian rider 39 years-old, but he isn’t the only rider on the World Superbike grid that’s whose a bit weathered with age. Battling for Race 1 at Misano this weekend, the old duffs came out of the woodwork, and showed that you can teach an old dog new tricks after all. Get out your walked, and check out all the race spoilers after the jump.
Troy Bayliss may not be making a comeback to World Superbike racing, but he showed he still has what it takes to out-pace the current Xerox Ducati factory squad during testing at Misano. Bayliss showed strong riding at the Mugello test a few weeks ago, but at Misano he was half a second faster than Fabrizio, and nearly a full second ahead of Noriyuki Haga’s best time.