Winning three out of four races so far in the World Superbike series is a pretty impressive start for Carlos Checa and the Althea Ducati team (the one-rider team that’s basically replaced the official factory effort).
It might even have been four for four but for a bad tire choice in the first race; the Spaniard had a poor start and a lousy first half of the race before his harder rear tire came in. He still managed to claw his way up to an excellent third.
In the second race he went with the softer tire choice and simply disappeared for his third season victory. Marco Melandri got close in the last laps, but never looked like a serious threat.
Meanwhile, Aprilia’s 2010 World Champion Max Biaggi, second to Checa in the standings after the first race in Australia, had the weekend from hell. He crashed twice during practice, didn’t do well in qualifying (apparently throwing a bit of a tantrum when Noriyuki Haga out-qualified him on his satellite PATA Team Aprilia), and looked on the edge of being out of control, riding all over the track and running off once in Race 1.
Then he made a huge and obvious jump start in Race 2, and reverting to the Max of old, refused to come in for his stop and go penalty. He was eventually black-flagged and disqualified for that (he claimed he didn’t see the board, but he did see the black flag). Not a good advertisement for a five-time world champion or for the team, unfortunately.
Rider of the day had to be Italian Marco Melandri on the factory Yamaha. He chased down and caught Czech Jakub Smrz on the last lap in Race 1 for his first WSB victory (stealing Smrz’s first chance at a win in the process), then nearly did the same thing to Checa in Race 2.
After the second race he said, "It was a pretty good race for me. Leon (Camier) was very fast, about 50 per cent of the race I was coughing in my helmet and finding it hard to breathe so I lost my concentration. After that I recovered, I did my best and passed Leon again but Carlos was just too fast for me."
Leon Camier, Biaggi’s team-mate on the factory Alitalia Aprilias, had a great day. Eighth in the first race doesn’t sound impressive, but a hard fight with Melandri for third in the second race certainly was. Even the eighth was remarkable, considering he’s been in bed recovering from “glandular fever” (a form of mono) for most of the last two months, and hasn’t been able to train.
The young Brit said, "I can’t believe it’s happened. I started the year with glandular fever, which got me down a bit after all the hard work over the winter and to come here and get a podium at my home race is absolutely awesome.” He also gave credit to training guru Keith Code, who he said had come over from the U.S. to coach him prior to the race.
Smrz held on for second in the first race, but was nowhere in the second. "Of course I am disappointed to not win the race,” he said, “but it was really nice [to be] back on the podium. The feeling all the race was very good and the bike was perfect, in the end my rear tire was gone.”
The Kawasaki team looked like finally arriving, with Brit Tom Sykes as high as fourth in a great first-race battle, but he low-sided out a few laps from the end. His team-mate Joan Lascorz of Spain got a fifth in the second race, a good result for the first-year WSB rider.
The star of the team, former Suzuki Moto GP rider Chris Vermeulen, is still having serious knee problems from his awful accident at Philip Island in Australia in the first race in 2010. After a year’s worth of operations and therapy, he’s able to ride – barely – but found himself in too much pain after practice to compete.
Another rider who deserves huge credit for riding through adversity is Frenchman Sylvain Guintolli, Smrz’s team-mate on the Team Effenbert-Liberty Racing Ducati 1098. Two 11th place finishes might not sound like much, but he was riding with broken bones in one shoulder, hand, and foot from only a month ago in Australia. Tough guy.
Other than Camier, Leon Haslam was the only Brit to look threatening in both races on the factory BMW. He ended up with two fourth-places, just missing on a podium in the first, then running off while chasing the leaders in the second but keeping it up and riding well to displace Lascorz just before the end.
It’s early in the series of course, but the way the Althea Ducati team and Checa look, if I was betting I’d put money on Ducati taking its 17th world title.
Frenchman Maxime Berger probably had the most exciting ride in race 1, when the rear wheel of his Supersonic Racing Ducati 1098 disintegrated and rolled off the machine, causing him to crash. Fortunately it happened in a slower turn and Berger was able to compete in race 2. You can see a video clip of the mishap below.
The next event is April 17 at Assen, in the Netherlands.
Championship standings after two of 13 events (four of 26 races):
1. Carlos Checa, Spain, Althea Ducati, 91 points; 2. Marco Melandri, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 72; 3. Leon Haslam, U.K., BMW Motorrad Motorsport, 53; 4. Max Biaggi, Italy, Alitalia Aprilia, 49; 5. Jakub Smrz, Czech Republic, Team Effenbert-Liberty Racing Ducati, 42; 6. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Castrol Honda, 38; 7. Leon Camier, U.K., Alitalia Aprilia, 37; 8. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Team Suzuki Alstare, 27; 9. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, PATA Racing Team Aprilia, 26; 10. Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing, 19.