So much for Ducati giving up on World Superbike. With a chassis tech and electronics wizard from the factory loaned to his Althea Ducati team, Spaniard Carlos Checa was by far the fastest in testing, practice, qualifying and race day for the first World Superbike race of the year.
He ended up taking both race wins at Australia’s Philip Island track by big margins, although they looked a bit less than they really were as he eased off in the final laps of each contest.
"Every so often you have a weekend like that and we were lucky to be able to start the season in such a fantastic way,” grinned the ex-MotoGP ace. “Here [at Philip Island] we have something extra, maybe the bike works really well [at this track] and I like it as well… I started well and made a gap, controlled the race, went fast lap by lap, but it’s a fantastic winning start for me and the team."
The wins gave him a maximum haul of 50 points, 10 ahead of defending series champion Max Biaggi who took two seconds. Biaggi was all alone in the first race, but had a mad battle in the second, first thanks to a bad start, forcing him to fight through the field, then to a determined effort by fellow Italian Marco Melandri in his first-ever World Superbike race.
Melandri and the much-revised Yamaha were very, very impressive – were it not for the Aprilia’s unbelievable power advantage (touching 320 km/h on the straight now and then, while 305 was about par for everyone else), Melandri probably would have been second.
The best battle of the day was between Melandri and Biaggi, and bodes well for the rest of the season. With a sixth (could have been fourth except for the last lap in Race 1) and a third, Melandri is third in the series after this first race.
BMW was also encouraged, as both new signing Leon Haslam and veteran Troy Corser were right on the pace. Haslam got third in the first race but battled to fifth in Race 2, just nipped by Irishman Jonathon Rea on the Ten Kate Castrol Honda. Minor set-up issues slowed both riders in Race 2, Troy Corser especially suffering severe tire wear and a couple of missed gear changes that he was lucky to recover from.
Rea was riding hurt after three big crashes in practice and qualifying, including jumping off the bike once at 230 km/h when it leaked oil and burst into flames. His performance was quite impressive considering he’d spent a day in hospital after that one, and had two dislocated fingers mended.
At sixth in the series after that, and still fast enough to be challenging for the win, he was pretty happy with his weekend.
Another rider who deserves mention for sheer grit is Leon Camier, Biaggi’s partner on the Alitalia Aprilia team. The 2009 British superbike champion was desperately sick all week with either flu or some sort of “glandular fever” and was barely strong enough to get on the bike and ride. A 13th in Race 1 was followed by a remarkable sixth in Race 2.
"I am truly surprised by the results today,” admitted Camier, “especially in Race 2 … to say I was tired is an understatement … Without this illness things could have gone differently, but it doesn’t matter; now I need to lower my head and get to work – there is still a long season ahead".
Series Standings after two of 26 races:
1. Carlos Checa, Spain, Althea Ducati, 50 points; 2. Max Biaggi, Italy, Alitalia Aprilia, 40; 3. – Tie – Marco Melandri, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing and Leon Haslam, U.K., BMW Motorrad, 27; 5. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Suzuki Alstare, 18; 6. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Ten Kate Castrol Honda, 17; 7. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, PATA Aprilia, 16; 8. Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 15; 9. – Tie – Eugene Laverty, U.K., Yamaha Factory Racing and Jakub Smrz, Czech Republic, Team Effenbert – Liberty Racing Ducati, 14.
Next race: March 27, Donington Park, U.K.
Hmm, I guess I better come out of hibernation … I had no idea the season had started. :roll