WSBK: A Non-Starter Affects the Championship In a Dicey Race 1 at Nurburgring

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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.

The race got underway under cloudy skies, with Checa and Haga leading the two Yamhaha riders through the first turn. They still led at the end of the first lap, with Melandri in third ahead of his teammate. Sykes, Rea, Haslam, Guintoli, Aitchison, and Smrz completed the top ten. However, Laverty soon took third from Melandri while Haga was off into the lead around Checa. Both sets of riders continued to fight over positions, with Haga leading Checa, Laverty, Melandri, and Haslam across the line to begin L2. However, it would not last as Checa reclaimed the lead. The fighting at the front allowed the Yamahas to keep the front two well in their sights.

Within a few laps, Checa had managed to make a small gap of nearly a half second on Haga. Well back, Berger was knocked out with a mechanical issue, ending his race. At the front, Checa had managed to had eighth tenths as Melandri slid through to take second from haga with fourteen laps of twenty to go. Laverty had begun to fall back off the charging pace of his teammate, as Sykes completed the top five. Haslam and Laverty both went for an off track excursion, leaving Haslam down in fourteenth. Laverty was able to remain fourth.

On the next time around, Melandri ran wide where his teammate had, leaving Haga to dodge into second. Laverty was the next to capitalize, going third under his own teammate. Melandri fought back to take third again, as Checa led Haga by more than two and a half seconds at the halfway point. Laverty, Fabrizio, Guintoli, Sykes, Rea, Camier, and Lascorz completed the top ten. Checa gained another half second on just the next lap, while Haga had a two and a half second cushion on the dueling Yamaha teammates.

Smrz was the next to end his day, riding into the pit lane. Further back, Camier, Haslam, Sykes, Rea, Guintoli, Lascorz were all fighting over sixth and dicing amongst themselves. Soon Haslam had control of sixth, nearly back where he had been before his off-roading trip. With five laps remaining, Checa had just over four seconds over Haga, who was coming under pressure from Melandri. laverty, Guintoli, Haslam, Camier, Rea, Lascorz, and Sykes completed the top ten.

That order would not remain long and Melandri moved forward to take second again from Haga on the straight. Though Melandri gained a bit on Checa, it did not appear that he would have enough time to bring the nearly five second gap down enough to catch the Spaniard, let alone pass him, before the race was complete. Melandri pushed hard in the final laps, taking a second off the gap on each lap. Further to the back, Haslam had a brave move through on Guintoli to regain fifth on the last lap. In the end, Checa had a comfortable margin to win yet another race in 2011, extending his championship points to 368 as Melandri (292 points) leapfrogged Biaggi (281 points) into second.

World Superbike Race Results from Race 1 at Nurburgring:

Pos. No. Rider Team Diff.
1 7 Carlos Checa Althea Racing Ducati
2 33 Marco Melandri Yamaha WSBK Team 1.855
3 41 Noriyuki Haga PATA Racing Team Aprilia 2.322
4 58 Eugene Laverty Yamaha WSBK Team 7.789
5 91 Leon Haslam BMW Motorrad 9.727
6 50 Sylvain Guintoli Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati 10.113
7 17 Joan Lascorz Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki 17.226
8 2 Leon Camier Aprilia Alitalia Racing Team 17.228
9 86 Ayrton Badovini BMW Motorrad Italia 18.166
10 4 Jonathan Rea Castrol Honda 19.457
11 66 Tom Sykes Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki 22.136
12 8 Mark Aitchison Team Pedericini Kawaski 25.346
13 52 James Toseland BMW Motorrad Italia 31.617
14 44 Roberto Rolfo Team Pedericini Kawaski 31.796
15 11 Troy Corser BMW Motorrad 33.320
16 84 Michel Fabrizio Team Suzuki Alstare 38.149
17 100 Makoto Tamada Castrol Honda 1:16.143
Not Classified
96 Jakub Smrz Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati 8 Laps
121 Maxime Berger Supersonic Racing Ducati 16 Laps

Source: WSBK; Photo: Althea Ducati