There was action aplenty at the Nurburgring circuit in western Germany September 4, as the World Superbike circus ran the 10th of 13 events for 2011.
The action started on Friday, when defending champion Max Biaggi was hit in the foot by a piece of loose debris, breaking at least one bone and ruling him out of racing for the weekend even though he still managed to qualify third.
The first race on Sunday went – no surprise – to series leader Carlos Checa, who now has a huge lead in the championship, equivalent to the points of three race wins. With only six races (three events) left, and Checa looking forward to the tracks at Imola, Magny-Cours, and Portimao, you’d be a fool to bet against him taking his first WSB title.
WSB fans were delighted to see him initially pushed by long-time hero Noriyuki Haga, “Nitro” Nori looking rather like his old self after a difficult year on a customer Aprilia.
Behind him came the Yamaha factory duo of Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty, banging on each other like deadly enemies rather than team-mates, Melandri putting on a late-race charge to take Haga for second in the last few laps.
Checa dedicated his win to the recently-deceased Claudio Castiglione, the man who basically created Cagiva and saved Ducati from bankruptcy years ago. “It was a special race for many reasons, and I’d like to dedicate the win to Claudio Castiglioni on behalf of myself, the team and Ducati because this person was a part of this world and thanks to him we are racing with these bikes here.”
The second race provided considerably more drama, as the skies opened up just before the start and there was a frantic swapping of tires – of course, there’d been no wet practice at all. “Opened up” is a polite way of describing the downpour; it’s amazing that race control didn’t stop the contest well before they did at the 2/3 distance (which, one might cynically note, is when the rules say a race can be stopped while still awarding full points).
Conditions were absolutely atrocious, and while initially everyone was cautious and controlled, just before the red flags stopped the race it got so much worse that riders were dropping like flies. That included leader Haga, who was certainly less cautious but at least as controlled as everyone else. He had a huge lead approaching 10 seconds when he was caught out by the sudden increase in rain and went down, as did half a dozen others over a couple of laps.
The lead was inherited by Tom Sykes, riding a factory Kawasaki for the Paul Byrd team, the brand’s first WSB win since 2006. Ironically, Byrd had been informed that morning by Kawasaki that they wouldn’t be renewing the team’s contract for 2012. Sykes was followed home by team-mates Sylvain Guintoli and Jakub Smrz on the Team Effenbert Liberty Racing Ducatis.
Haga said, “’I’m really happy to be back on top. During race one I managed to take advantage of my starting place and everything went great … I was hoping for a dry race two as I was planning some adjustments. Anyway, I found myself pretty good on wet but when it rained heavier It was hard and even though I slowed down, I lost the front tyre. I’m sorry, I wished I could have give the team a win after the earlier podium.”
Sykes said, about his first WSB victory, “The first win feels absolutely fantastic, the conditions today were unbelievable! It was good to see the red flag and even better to see it in first position. In race two, conditions were diabolical and it was a battle to stay upright but I kept things smooth and just kept my concentration. In the end it was the right decision to stop the race.”
Jonathon Rea made a welcome return to the Castrol Honda team, finishing fourth in race two despite a crash at high speed that put him and the Honda into the barriers. Incredibly, despite still recovering from a broken wrist, he managed to get remounted to claim a good points toll ahead of the factory Yamahas.
World Championship Point Standings (after 20 of 26 races):
1.Carlos Checa, Spain, Althea Ducati, 376 points
2. Marco Melandri, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 302
3. Max Biaggi, Italy, Alitalia Aprilia, 281
4. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Yamaha Factory Racing, 232
5. Leon Haslam, U.K., BMW Motorrad, 176;
6. Leon Camier, U.K., Alitalia Aprilia, 154
7. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Alstare Suzuki, 141
8. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Team Effenbert Liberty Racing Ducati, 139
9. Ayrton Badovini, Italy, BMW Motorrad Italia, 134
10. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, PATA Racing Team Aprilia, 115.
Next race Imola, Italy, September 18.