WSBK: A Surprising Early Leader Gets Hunted Down in Dicey Race 1 at Portimao

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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.

Race 1 began under bright and sunny skies, with Rea leading into the first turn, as Melandri slid in behind him. Biaggi moved up to eighth after a terrible qualiyfying session. Guintoli threw himself into second in from of Laverty, then took his teammate’s second place position as well. By the end of L1, Rea led Guintoli, Melandri, Laverty, Checa, Sykes, Lascorz, Biaggi, Haslam, and Camier as the top ten. Laverty and Melandri looked to take second form Guintoli, but he went well wide across the start/finish straight to get good position to keep second into the first turn. Guintoli got a great run across the line as the second lap ended, pushing Rea wide into the first turn and taking the lead. Camier, meanwhile, ran straight on at Turn 1. Laverty also ran off a few turns later, getting a huge wiggle on heavy breaking and being forced to take to the runoff area. He then pulled into the garage for a check of the bike, after coming together with Camier.

Fighting continued five laps into the twenty-two lap race, as Guintoli pulled a half second gap on Rea. Melandri and Checa completed a four rider breakaway at the front, a second and a half ahead of Lascorz, Haslam, Sykes, Biaggi, Badovini, and Berger completed the top ten, though Biaggi was on the move. In last place, Laverty returned to the track with seventeen laps remaining, two laps down. Over the next couple of laps, Guintoli could not escape Rea. Both had gained a bit of time over Melandri and Checa, though the latter were soon matching the former’s lap times. A bit further back. Biaggi and Sykes went around Haslam, one on either side.

Soon, Rea had lost time to Guintoli, as Melandri and Checa caught him. Checa looked to be pushing Melandri hard, pushing so hard that the had a massive rear slide in the middle of the final turn. A bit later, Checa nearly had a go at Melandri, but did not go for the position. He lost a bit of time on the straight, but closed right back up into the first turn. By the halfway point, Guintoli’s lead was 1.3s on a slightly slower lap, with Rea, Melandri, Checa, Lascorz, Biaggi, Sykes, Haslam, Haga, and Badovini the top ten. Checa took third from Melandri from decently back into Turn 5. The champion next went for Rea, keeping third from Melandri in Rea’s slipstream. Checa moved into second as Rea took a wide line out of a corner. Further back, Haga was pressing Haslam for seventh, with Badovini and Berger also part of the fight. Berger soon took both Haslam and Haga to go seventh. Haga then took advantage and gained eighth from Haslam.

At the front, Guintoli continued to maintain a second and a half to two second gap with seven laps remaining. Checa, though, was consistently posting some quicker laps, dropping the gap to just over a second. Rea had dropped off the back of the two of them, with Melandri coming under fire from Lascorz. When five laps remained, the gap between leader Guintoli and Checa had dropped to a second. Checa continued to dog the Frenchman, dropping the gap to a very manageable seven tenth on the next lap. Further back, Melandri ran very wide as Lascorz  looked for a way under the Italian. Lascorz gained fourth, leaving Melandri well within Biaggi’s clutches. The older Italian caught up with him and got beside him on the front straight and braked later into the first turn.

Checa made his way around Guintoli for the lead with two laps to go, diving underneath in a bold move. Soon, he had more than three tenths than the former leader. He led Guintoli, Rea, Lascorz, Biaggi, Melandri, Berger, Sykes, Haslam, and Smrz as the top ten as the final lap began. Further back, Biaggi had moved forward, catching Lascorz and taking him just beyond the start/finish line to start the final lap. In the end, there was no stopping Checa from the win, despite dropping to fifth on the first lap.

World Superbike Race Results from Race 1 at Portimao:

Pos. No. Rider Team Diff.
1 7 Carlos Checa Althea Racing Ducati
2 50 Sylvain Guintoli Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati  2.860
3 4 Jonathan Rea Castrol Honda  8.481
4 1 Max Biaggi Aprilia Alitalia Racing Team  11.963
5 17 Joan Lascorz Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki  13.333
6 33 Marco Melandri Yamaha WSBK Team 18.960
7 121 Maxime Berger Supersonic Racing Ducati 20.489
8 66 Tom Sykes Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki 25.320
9 91 Leon Haslam BMW Motorrad 26.695
10 96 Jakub Smrz Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati 26.801
11 84 Michel Fabrizio Team Suzuki Alstare 27.115
12 2 Leon Camier Aprilia Alitalia Racing Team 28.563
13 86 Ayrton Badovini BMW Motorrad Italia 31.765
14 11 Troy Corser BMW Motorrad 31.822
15 41 Noriyuki Haga PATA Racing Team Aprilia 31.866
16 34 Davide Giugliano Althea Racing Ducati 47.694
17 8 Mark Aitchison Team Pedericini Kawaski 47.737
18 31 Karl Muggeridge Castrol Honda 1:06.213
19 58 Eugene Laverty Yamaha WSBK Team 2 Laps
20 51 Santiago Barragan Team Pedericini Kawaski 3 Laps
21 12 Josh Waters Yoshimura Suzuki 4 Laps
Not Classified
112 Javier Fores BMW Motorrad Italia 7 Laps

Source: WSBK; Photo: Pirelli (Facebook)