WSB – Gassin' it at Assen

Smooth, unflustered and very, very fast, Carlos Checa is proving to be the guy to beat in the 2011 World Superbike series.

The third of 13 events in the World Superbike series provided some excellent racing and a few surprises. But the end result was that Althea Ducati’s Carlos Checa – the Spaniard now nicknamed The Matador after donning a bullfighter’s hat after the race – carded a third place plus another win (his fourth in six races) to further extend his championship lead.

In the first race Checa tried the harder rear tire, started well, dropped far back, then fought his way back up to third as the tire finally came in. A softer tire was chosen for the second race. “We decided to change the tire and so, with the softer solution, I had more grip and could maintain a strong pace right from the start,” he said. It was the same set of choices they’d made at the last race at Donington in the U.K., and the second race provided a masterful display of riding from the experienced former 500 GP racer.

Biaggi had a rough start at Assen, but recovered from this practice tumble to take a pair of seconds and move back into second in the championship.

Italian Max Biaggi, the 2010 WSB champion, took two second places and despite saying the right things on camera was clearly pissed at not winning, particularly in the second race. He passed Checa when the veteran Spaniard made a small error three laps from the end of the second race, and was clearly displeased that Checa shouldered his way back through at the start of the final lap and held on to win.

There were lots of excuses later from the Alitalia Aprilia rider about “technical problems” and “tires not working on the bike,” but basically that was Max being Max. Admittedly, his bike looked terrifying at a number of places on track, shaking and twitching like a brahma bull in the ring. You have to give him credit for hanging onto the thing.

He’ll likely have a chance to be gracious in victory after the next event at Monza where the Aprilia’s stupendous top speed can be used to great advantage. Checa laughingly said, “a win at Monza for us will be a top five.”

Rea collected his first podiums and victory of the year at Assen, despite riding while recovering from surgery on both wrists.

The only other rider to collect podiums at Assen was Ireland’s Jonathon Rea. Unbelievably still recovering from surgeries to both wrists, Rea was picture-perfect in the first race for his first win (and podium) of the season for his Ten Kate Castrol Honda team (and at the team’s home track, too; they’re based just down the road).

In the second race he got held up initially by a scrap with Yamaha’s Marco Melandri, but once free of that he ran times at least equal to the leaders, catching them up for a bit before settling for third as his front tire went all CMG on him late in the race. “I’m really satisfied and that’s exactly the confidence and momentum we need to take to the next races … a first and a third, I feel like we are back where we belong. It’s nice to see the guys in the team smiling.”

Even Kawasaki had problems with hard rubber. Pic courtesy

In the first race, six different makes filled the top spots: Honda, Aprilia, Ducati, Yamaha (Melandri, in another good ride), Suzuki (Fabrizio, ditto for his performance), and BMW, with Troy Corser landing sixth. In the second race, it was five makes in the top six, Leon Camier taking the second Aprilia into a great fourth (he had mechanical issues in the first race but rode a storming second one … the kid is due for a win), Leon Haslam getting a fifth for BMW after a rough weekend, and Eugene Laverty getting his Yamaha into sixth.

The new Pirellis for 2011 seem a lot more sensitive to wear than last year’s. There are basically two of the spec tires offered at each race, a soft and a hard, and almost all the bikes are chewing through even the hards over a race distance. Checa’s Ducati (and oddly, Fabrizio’s Alstare Suzuki) are the only bikes that seem able to do a fast race distance on a set of soft tires – everyone else seems to have to live with a slow start until the hards come in at about half-distance.

And even they’re not working for everyone; the Kawasakis in particular are chewing up tires like they were soft mints – Tom Sykes chose to use the softs because he figured he’d at least get a few fast laps in before they degraded, where he didn’t expect even that from the hards.

By Larry Tate

Next race: the historic event at Monza in Italy May 8

Series standings after six of 26 races (three of 13 events)
1. Carlos Checa, Spain, Althea Ducati, 132 points;
2. Max Biaggi, Italy, Alitalia Aprilia, 89;
3. Marco Melandri, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 85;
4. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Castrol Ten Kate Honda, 79;
5. Leon Haslam, U.K., BMW Motorrad, 68;
6. Leon Camier, U.K., Alitalia Aprilia, 50;
7. Jakob Smrz, Czech Republic, Team Effenbert – Liberty Ducati, 49;
8. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Alstare Suzuki, 47;
9. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Yamaha Factory Racing, 35;
10. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, Pata Aprilia, 34.


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