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 (1:41.712) 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 (1:37.490) 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.
Carlos Checa (1:54.144) started on pole after dominating both the Superpole and practices for the 2011 World Superbike round at Nurburgring. No other rider could catch him but Max Biaggi, who led the Friday qualifying practice. However, he sustained injuries to his foot including a possible broken bone and nerve damage, leaving the Italian rider in pain and with a foot too swollen to fit in his normal boot. Still, Biaggi qualified on the front row between Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri, alongside Checa. He did not start Race 1, leaving Checa some measure of comfort in the championship fight.
Other than Biaggi’s foot injuries, no other rider had a major incident during the practice and qualifying sessions. Michel Fabrizio had a crash in Superpole 1, but continued on to qualify twelfth. Nurburgring marked the return of Jonathan Rea to Castrol Honda, though teammate Ruben Xaus was still out and replaced by Makoto Tamada. Perennially injured Chris Vermeulen, despite his protestations that he is fit and ready to sign for 2012, did not participate and was not replaced by Paul Bird Motorsports Kawasaki for this round. In the Sunday morning warm-up, Haslam led Guintoli, Corser, Sykes, and Berger as the fastest five. Checa was thirteenth fastest and Biaggi, who would not race, did not participate.
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.
Max Biaggi started the first World Superbike race of the Brno round on pole after no one could touch him in the final Superpole session on Saturday. He was joined by Marco Melandri, Carlos Checa, and Eugene Laverty on the front row. Though Biaggi led at the end, Jakub Smrz, Checa, and Laverty all took a turn at leading a session in the Czech Republic. Much further back, neither Castrol Honda rider managed to move on to the Superpole sessions and will start on the fifth and sixth rows. Checa led the morning warm-up on Sunday, with Smrz, Sylvain Guintoli, Biaggi, and Michel Fabrizio the fastest five.
Though James Toseland did ride for Friday morning’s free practice, he was forced to sit out the rest of the race weekend, hoping to heal for the next round at Silverstone. He was replaced by Lorenzo Lanzi at BMW Motorrad Italia. Also sitting out the weekend is injured factory BMW rider Tory Corser and Jonathan Rea at Castrol Honda. Though Corser has not been replaced at this round, Rea’s recovery might be long-term, leading to his replacement by Alex Lowes.
Marco Melandri (1:57.634) started on pole for the first time in World Superbike for the Race 1 at Motorland Aragon after dominating Friday and Saturday’s final Superpole session. Though he had some prior knowledge of racing at the Spanish track, after MotoGP made its debut their last season, the WSBK riders had an additional hairpin at the end of the back straight. Similarly, many teams tested there during the off season and extended break between some of the early races. Still, that did not keep Melandri from fending off Max Biaggi, Leon Camier, and Carlos Checa, who completed the front row.
They were joined by two factory Kawasaki riders, Melandri’s Yamaha teammate, and a satellite BMW on the second row as Ayrton Badovini outperformed his factory brethren to start eighth. Melandri led both the first free practice and the first qualifying practice on Friday, only to lose his lead to Checa in the final qualifying practice and Biaggi in the Saturday free practice. During Sunday’s morning warm-up, Biaggi led Checa, Camier, Haslam, and Sykes as the fastest five, with Melandri eleventh. Jonathan Rea did not ride or attend the Spanish meeting, having undergone surgery Monday after sustaining injuries in a warm-up crash at Misano last week.
Tom Sykes (1:55.197) was the surprising pole sitter for the 2011 World Superbike round at Misano, with Carlos Checa, Jakub Smrz, and Marco Melandri also on the front row. Saturday’s damp Superpole session made for a crash-fest, with Checa, Smrz, Eugene Laverty, Ruben Xaus, and Leon Camier, among others, all crashing. Neither Xaus nor Camier managed a time in S1 and qualified fifteenth and sixteenth, respectively. Sykes’ time was inspired, with the next-fastest Kawasaki of Joan Lascorz qualifying twelfth.
Third factory Kawasaki rider Chris Vermeulen was knocked out after the final qualifying practice, which is surprisingly good news for a rider that has yet to complete race distance in the 2011 season. Also recovering James Toseland was replaced for this weekend and next by Italian rider Lorenzo Lanzi, as his testing injury re-flared after the previous round in the United States. On Sunday morning, Checa was back into his top spot on the timesheets, leading Badovini, Fabrizio, Haga, and Smrz as the fastest five for the warm-up. Rea was taken to a local hospital after a heavy crash at Turn 11 in the warm-up, after being quite uncooperative in the medical center.
Despite raining last night, Monday’s Isle of Man TT Monster Energy Supersport race started under promising skies, as the sun was mostly out through the cloudy skies. Though John McGuinness won the weekend’s Dainese Superbike TT, the Padgetts Motorcycles’ rider was not a favorite to win this year’s Supersport races, though still considered a strong competitor. Instead eyes were on Michael Dunlop, Cameron Donald, and Gary Johnson, with Guy Martin always a crowd favorite.
With racing starting well enough, it sadly did not last long as the race was red flagged as the race leaders entered into Ramsey. Though several competitors had crashed in the first lap, news soon spread that Derek Brien had crashed and died on the extremely fast Gorse Lea section of the course, where speeds are in excess of 140 mph.
With the Isle of Man TT officials giving riders a chance to restart the race, several crashers were given a second opportunity to tackle the Mountain Course with their 600cc machinery, one of whom was local hero Guy Martin. Though off to a rocky start, find out how the restarted Monster Energy Supersport Race unfolded after the jump.
After a rainy Saturday Superpole, the sun blessed the Miller Motorsports Park for World Superbike’s Race 1. Carlos Checa returned to the Utah track in dominant form, though problems early on in the weekend gave glimpses of last year’s mechanical snafus. With both the factory Yamahas and Liberty Ducatis looking very quick in Superpole and in the practice sessions, Checa’s dominance for this year remained to be seen, with the pre-race predictions being anyone’s guess. Having standing water still in Turn 5 or the “Black Rock Hairpin” as it is called here at Miller, and mud at virtually every run-off, the Outer Course had a few tricks still up its sleeve for this race day Monday, despite the improved weather conditions. Click past the jump for spoilers on how it all panned out.