WSBK: More than Close Racing in Race 1 at Donington Park

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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.

Getting to the actual racing, Haslam led the way into Turn 1, with Camier, Haga, and Smrz following. Quickly, the two Brits began escaping up front as Checa was bogged down in the pack, nearly clipping Biaggi as he moved forward. Early on, Sykes dropped down to fifth, with Rea behind. Checa continued to move backward, dropping down to tenth. Maxime Beger, whose Ducati would not start on the grid, added to the drama of close racing by losing his rear wheel and retiring.

With fifteen laps remaining, Smrz had caught and passed Camier and Haslam for the lead. They followed by Sykes and Melandri in the top five, as Biaggi, Rea, Checa, Corser, and Guintoli rounded out the top ten. Smrz extended his lead to nearly a second over the two Leons just a few laps later, while Biaggi continued to run wide further back, leaving enough room for Checa to pass him for sixth. The Italian attempted to gain the position back, but Checa held firm.

Just ahead, Melandri was close on Camier for a podium position, while Camier was trying to take second from Haslam. With nine laps to go, Smrz seemed to be safely away with more than a two second gap over the battle for second. Melandri pushed forward on Camier, passing him for third, as did Sykes for fourth a lap or so later. The Italian was on a charge, though, and was under Haslam for second with seven laps to go. Unfortunately, Sykes’ ended his day soon thereafter with a crash, though he was apparently unhurt.

Further back, Biaggi had an off-track excursion, only to rejoin and quickly pass the fading Camier for seventh. With three laps left, Smrz still led, with Melandri, Haslam, Checa, and Haga the top five. Smrz’s lead faded as Melandri stormed forward, battling the Czech rider and taking the lead with a lap remaining. Melandri would stay there to win his first WSBK race, just three races into the season.

Checa also pushed forward, taking the final podium position from Haslam, who had led early on, on the last lap. Also early in the race, Laverty had a scary crash at Coppice, forcing his retirement. Medical personnel attended him at the track and word came later from the circuit that he was ok, and further reports said he would participate in Race 2.

World Superbike Race Results from Race 1 at Donington Park:

Pos. No. Rider Team Diff.
1 33 Marco Melandri Yamaha Factory WSBK
2 96 Jakub Smrz Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati 2.455
3 7 Carlos Checa Althea Ducati 5.839
4 91 Leon Haslam BMW Motorrad Motorsport 6.176
5 4 Jonathan Rea Castrol Honda 9.039
6 41 Noriyuki Haga PATA Racing Team Aprilia 9.215
7 1 Max Biaggi Aprilia Alitalia Racing Team 9.960
8 2 Leon Camier Aprilia Alitalia Racing Team 14.860
9 11 Troy Corser BMW Motorrad Motorsport 14.877
10 17 Joan Lascorz Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki 16.182
11 50 Sylvain Guintoli Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati 25.820
12 111 Ruben Xaus Castrol Honda 28.378
13 86 Ayrton Badovini Team Pedercini Kawasaki 31.869
14 44 Roberto Rolfo Team Pedercini Kawasaki 40.015
15 8 Mark Aitchison Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki 1:00.128
Not Classified
16 66 Tom Sykes Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki 6 Laps
17 84 Michel Fabrizio Alstare  Suzuki 9 Laps
18 121 Maxime Berger Supersonic Racing Ducati 18 Laps
19 58 Eugene Laverty Yamaha Factory WSBK 20 Laps