Relief was probably the dominant emotion after the World Superbike event at the classic track of Imola September 25.
After battling injury and an often-recalcitrant Honda all season, Irishman Jonathan Rea finally got back on the top of the podium, and in spite of a heart-breaking battery failure cruelly robbing him of a double victory, pronounced himself well satisfied with the day.
“We’ve come a long way and I’m not going to get wrapped up in the negative of race two. What happened was a failure of a one-Euro battery connector so in my heart I know we had two really good races today,” said the Ulsterman.
Up to that point, Rea had been in control of the day, holding off on a tough battle with Nori Haga to win Race 1 and comfortably leading Race 2 until the battery went south.
The second-place rider in both races, Pata Aprilia’s Noriyuki Haga, was likewise relieved to be back on the podium with two seconds on the Pata Aprilia, despite being denied victory narrowly in both races. Said the wildly popular Japanese ace, “I’m really glad about this outcome gained here, in front of my supporters. I had a bad start in race 1 and Rea was great closing every gap. During the second one I kicked off even worse and that prevented a possible victory. I’ll try again next weekend when we’ll be back on track in Magny Cours.”
Most relieved of all, however, is probably Carlos Checa. With a third and a victory in Imola’s contests, combined with a slightly “off” performance by his only title rival Marco Melandri, Checa now needs only three points out of the final two events/four races. Unless he pitches himself into the hospital he’s home-free.
Rea, with a new electronics package on his Ten Kate Honda and a wrist that’s finally healed enough not to cause him trouble, was unbeatable except for the battery issue, taking Superpole and grabbing the lead in both races. He had to fight to keep the revitalized Haga behind him in Race 1, but had cleared off on his own before the problem in Race 2 stopped his race.
Winner Carlos Checa had just passed Haga for second when Rea’s bike failed, and said, “It was a great weekend, mathematically we don’t have the title but it’s very close. We feel it already, but especially we’re so enthusiastic for today’s win. It was a shame for Johnny, I think he deserved to win so we were a bit lucky.”
The only person with a mathematical chance to catch Checa, Marco Melandri on the factory Yamaha, had a difficult day. “In race one I felt a strong vibrating sensation on the rear of the machine and was struggling with the engine brake so it was impossible to push any harder. In the second race I was also finding it hard to brake on downhill slopes but as the race progressed and the tank got lighter, the bike was more manageable. I was hoping to fight for the podium but at that stage it was bit late so I had to settle for sixth.”
Max Biaggi, the only other rider in possible contention, was forced to skip the weekend from a bizarre accident at the previous race, where a piece of debris kicked up from another bike hit him and broke several bones in his left foot.
With only two weekends left, there’s as much interest being spent on 2012 as on this season’s title chase. Rea has re-signed with Castrol Honda, and BMW has confirmed that Leon Haslam is returning, although Troy Corser’s position is unstated and it’s likely he’ll be retiring. Suzuki still hasn’t decided if it will continue to support the Alstare team, so Michel Fabrizio’s job is up in the air.
Yamaha has already announced it’ll not be returning with a factory team, leaving both Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri without rides. Laverty’s hoping to land one of the Moto GP Tech 3 rides, but Melandri is definitely looking for a seat.
Aprilia’s Leon Camier seems unlikely to keep his ride even if Aprilia returns with a factory squad – not confirmed itself – and the team’s other rider, Max Biaggi, is said to be very strongly considering retirement.
It’ll be a more than interesting off-season, for sure.
World Championship Point Standings (after 22 of 26 races):
1.Carlos Checa, Spain, Althea Ducati, 417 points
2. Marco Melandri, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 320
3. Max Biaggi, Italy, Alitalia Aprilia, 281
4. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Yamaha Factory Racing, 256
5. Leon Haslam, U.K., BMW Motorrad, 187
6. Leon Camier, U.K., Alitalia Aprilia, 171
7. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Team Effenbert – Liberty Racing Ducati, 158
8. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, Pata Aprilia, 155
9. Ayrton Badovini, Italy, BMW Motorrad Italia, 147
10. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Alstare Suzuki, 141.
Next race, October 10, Magny-Cours, France.