With double wins – his first victories in World Superbike in his first season in the class – at Monza’s famed “Cathedral of Speed,” Eugene Laverty slapped his personal stamp on the series.The double crown far surpassed his hopes. “I came in aiming for a podium and now I’m coming away with two incredible race wins. It’s fantastic!” said the Irishman.
The dark side of Laverty’s dream day was that of Aprilia’s Max Biaggi, who was commonly expected (and clearly expected himself) to win both races. The high-speed Monza track is almost tailor-made for the incredibly fast Aprilia – it’s not a bad bike otherwise, certainly, and everyone knows that Biaggi can ride – but its acceleration and astounding top speed, more than 330 km/h at Monza, are like dealing a hand full of aces to a poker pro.
However, you have to ride the bike, and in Race One Biaggi seemed to get rattled, something he’s famous for. He didn’t get away early as he’d hoped. In fact BMW’s Troy Corser led for the first lap and shortly after that Laverty barged through on the Yamaha, something Biaggi clearly wasn’t expecting. Then Max got tangled up with BMW’s Leon Haslam and Laverty’s teammate Marco Melandri (as another Italian, one of Biaggi’s arch-rivals) and started making mistakes.
Eventually the tangle with Haslam and Melandri slowed the three enough that Laverty broke free, taking a win by 1.5 seconds, with Biaggi and Haslam following him across the line.
In the second race, Biaggi broke free early and simply smoked the field, effortlessly taking out a few tenths every lap. Meanwhile, Laverty had a poor start and got boxed in a long way back in ninth place. Having to avoid a first-lap first-corner crash that took out Jonathon Rea and Leon Haslam didn’t help, either.
The Irishman kept his head down and started pushing up through those ahead of him, then got jammed off line and off-track by his teammate Melandri and had to do it all over again. He managed that remarkable feat, then got the break of his life when Biaggi made an unforced error at the chicane after the long, long pit straight, and had to take the escape road, which is a quicker way through the chicane than riding it – getting an advantage is easy if you make a mistake going in, so the penalty is fierce.
Even though Biaggi was way out ahead and gained no position advantage by re-entering, he got whacked with a ride through the pits penalty because he crossed a line marking acceptable track location. It was a tough call to make and to take, but if he crossed the line he deserved the penalty, hard as it seemed. After his ride-through he re-entered in 12th, eventually finishing eighth.
That left the Yamahas up front, Melandri and Laverty looking more like guys fighting in the bar with broken bottles than teammates. Finally, on the last lap, Laverty pulled an incredible move in the super-fast Parabolica, the next-to-last corner, and took the win for his double.
Melandri wasn’t happy with second, but was philosophical about at least ending up second in the standings after the day. Considering how unstable his bike looked, often out of shape and more than once in the air after hitting a curb too hard, he should probably be grateful for what he got instead of a visit to the Clinica Mobile.
Third in that second race was a shocker, with Michel Fabrizio taking the last podium spot on the only Suzuki in the field this year. He had one hell of a late-race battle with his former Ducati teammate Noriyuki Haga on the Pata Aprilia, and just barely managed to hold off Nitro Nori for third.
Haga wasn’t happy about his day, to say the least. On the weekend the team finally got the bike working well, Biaggi’s teammate Leon Camier ran him off the track in Race One, and he got a ride-through penalty for his re-entry; then in Race Two Melandri ran him off in the same corner, costing him time and places. He was furious, but the fans and paddock were happy to see the Samurai of Slide back at the front of the field where he belongs.
Meanwhile, series leader Carlos Checa and his Althea Ducati (“a top 10 for us here is as good as a win”) collected a ninth and a 10th to carry a diminished but still hefty lead into the next round in the U.S.
It was great entertainment, racing as good as it gets. It’ll be hard to top the show for the rest of the season.
Next race: Miller Motorsports Park, Tooele, Utah, May 30.
Standings after four of 13 events (eight of 26 races)
- 1. Carlos Checa, Spain, Althea Ducati, 145 points
- 2. Marco Melandri, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing Team Stonex, 118
- 3. Max Biaggi, Italy, Alitalia Aprilia, 117
- 4. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Castrol Ten Kate Honda, 89
- 5. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Yamaha Factory Racing Team Stonex, 85
- 6. Leon Haslam, U.K., BMW Motorrad, 84
- 7. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Alstare Suzuki, 74
- 8. Leon Camier, U.K., Alitalia Aprilia, 58
- 9. Jakob Smrz, Czech Republic, Team Effenbert – Liberty Racing Ducati, 55
- 10. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, Pata Aprilia, 47