WSBK: Exciting Duels Under the Sunshine at Imola in Race 1

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Carlos Checa started Race 1 of the 2011 World Superbike round at Imola on pole. He beat out fellow front row starters Jonathan Rea, Noriyuki Haga, and Tom Sykes with a new track record lap (1:47.196) during the three Superpole qualifying sessions Saturday. Though Checa looked unbeatable early in the weekend, Rea and his newly implemented ride-by-wire throttle control took provisional pole in the first qualifying session on Saturday. Sykes was the next rider looking to keep Checa from winning the championship, as he took provisional pole during Saturday’s qualifying practice, but Checa was again on top of the timesheets during the final free practice minutes before Superpole began.

Checa did not dominate the Superpole sessions, but his lap time early in S3 was enough to hold the others at bay and maintain his qualifying domination of the season. Though Ruben Xaus has returned to his Castrol Honda for the weekend, Max Biaggi was forced to sit out this round, his second in a row, after his Nurburgring injury. Also missing from the field is Chris Vermeulen and the newly-retired James Toseland, who has been replaced by Javier Fores at BMW Motorrad Italia. In the final session Sunday morning, Haga led Sykes, Rea, Haslam, and Checa as the fastest five in the warm-up.The lights went out under brightly sunny skies, though the day was not impossibly hot. Checa got a good start, but it was Rea who took the lead, with Checa following into the first turn. Laverty looked to take second from Checa, but Rea ran a bit wide and allowed Sykes to take over the lead. At the end of L1, Sykes had control of the lead, with Checa, Rea, Laverty, Haga, Haslam, Fabrizio, Melandri, Badovini, and Guintoli the top ten. Camier out-braked himself and was forced to dive into the pitlane and take the long way around.

Moments later, Fabrizio crashed out of seventh while Berger pitted. Rea pushed hard to take second from Checa, with Laverty following him through soon thereafter, dropping the championship leader to fourth, four laps into the race. Quickly, Rea dropped Sykes’ half second lead down to two tenths. With seventeen laps remaining, Rea slid through on the inside to take the lead from Sykes as Checa continued to slide backward. Haga had moved up to fourth while Rea was ahead at the front. Just seven laps into the race, Rea had more than a second on Sykes, who had more than a second of cushion on Haga in third.

Haga, though, was not allowing Sykes to get away, soon clawing back a half second with a new race fast lap. The Japanese rider was soon right on Sykes’ rear wheel, though further back Haslam had crashed, rejoining the race down in fourteenth, only to later head for the garage and end his day. However, the more important drama came from Haga, who made his way through on Sykes to take second position.

At the end of L10, Rea had a second and a half on Haga, with Sykes another second back. Checa was in fourth, comfortably two and a half seconds ahead of Laverty, while Guintoli, Melandri, Badovini, Smrz, and Sandi completed the top ten. Haga was closing on Rea for the lead, though, with plenty of time to make up the gap. Just one lap later, he was only eight tenths back. He was another half second closer two laps later, with seven laps remaining.

The two riders continued to duel over the lead as the laps ticked down, with Haga very close and pushing Rea hard but unable to make the move. A bit further back, Checa looked to take third from Sykes, but ran wide and was unable to maintain the position. With four laps remaining, Rea still led Haga, with Sykes, Checa, Laverty, Guintoli, Smrz, Badovini, Melandri, and Aitchison the top ten. Rea continued to hold off Haga, pulling a two tenth gap back over the Japanese rider with two laps to go.

The top four positions held two battles in the final lap, with Haga looking for any way around Rea, and Checa passing Sykes only to lose the position again. In the end, Haga just couldin’t find a way around Rea and the Castol Honda rider took the win, However, Checa did make a pass stick at the end and took the final podium spot from the early race leader.

World Superbike Race Results from Race 1 at Imola:

Pos. No. Rider Team Diff.
1 4 Jonathan Rea Castrol Honda
2 41 Noriyuki Haga PATA Racing Team Aprilia 0.111
3 7 Carlos Checa Althea Racing Ducati 9.449
4 66 Tom Sykes Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki 9.792
5 58 Eugene Laverty Yamaha WSBK Team 14.699
6 50 Sylvain Guintoli Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati 16.820
7 96 Jakub Smrz Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati 24.227
8 33 Marco Melandri Yamaha WSBK Team 24.935
9 86 Ayrton Badovini BMW Motorrad Italia 25.224
10 17 Joan Lascorz Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki 25.487
11 8 Mark Aitchison Team Pedericini Kawaski 26.148
12 11 Troy Corser BMW Motorrad 26.444
13 23 Federico Sandi Althea Racing Ducati 29.761
14 53 Alex Polita Barni Ducati Racing Team S.N.C. 30.083
15 2 Leon Camier Aprilia Alitalia Racing Team 34.862
16 15 Matteo Baiocco Barni Racing Ducati 40.331
17 111 Ruben Xaus Castrol Honda 44.547
18 44 Roberto Rolfo Team Pedericini Kawaski 50.241
Not Classified
91 Leon Haslam BMW Motorrad 13 Laps
112 Javier Fores BMW Motorrad Italia 15 Laps
84 Michel Fabrizio Team Suzuki Alstare 20 Laps
121 Maxime Berger Supersonic Racing Ducati 20 Laps

Source: WSBK; Photo: Pirelli (Facebook)