Saving the best for last

Marco Melandri
Yamaha may be withdrawing from World Superbike, but that didn't stop Marco Melandri from taking a podium in Portugal. Photo: World Superbike

We can hope it’s a good omen for the 2012 season, because the final World Superbike races of 2011, at the fabulous Portimao track in Portugal, provided perhaps the best contests of the year.

The winners were Carlos Checa on his Althea Ducati (already crowned champion at the last race) and Marco Melandri on the Yamaha Factory Racing bike. Ironically, the Yamahas of Melandri and Eugene Laverty could both have easily copped the top spots in both races, and did so in the second – ironic because Yamaha is withdrawing from the series.

Carlos Checa (#7) signed a last-minute deal to return to Althea Ducati after the weekend's races. Photo: World Superbike

Jonathon Rea on the Castrol Ten Kate Honda grabbed third in both races, while Sylvain Guintoli (who commentor Jonathon Green wryly noted, “Always goes well at contract time”) took the other podium spot, with a second in race one.

In both races, the contestants split quickly into two groups, with four-five in contention for the win, and pretty much most of the rest squabbling closely over the rest of the points. I swear there was more passing in these two races than we’ve seen in two months. Perhaps Green was right, and everyone was extra keyed on possible contracts, given it was the last race of the year and the first test for 2012 happens this week at the same track.

And there are a lot of people without contracts at this point, including world champion Carlos Checa, literally until after the races today. He looked likely to sign for BMW in 2012, but a last-minute money offer from Ducati to the Althea team Sunday afternoon meant he’s going to stay with Ducati and Althea next season.

“Before Race 1 it looked like there was no way that I could stay with Althea Racing in 2012 and I was very upset about this. But now it seems that Althea Racing and Ducati have come to an agreement and I am over the moon to hear that I can stay with my team and with my bike again next year.

“We have built something very special here and to leave would have been heartbreaking.”

Good news for Carlos and Ducati, bad for everyone else. With 15 victories out of 26 races, you’d have to say that Checa and the Althea team step into next season as firm favourites.
More on who’s going where later this week after the testing gets going in Portugal.

Final World Superbike Standings after 26 races (13 events)
1. Carlos Checa, Spain, Althea Ducati, 505 points
2. Marco Melandri, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 305
3. Max Biaggi, Italy, Alitalia Aprilia, 303
4. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Yamaha Factory Racing, 303
5. Leon Haslam, U.K., BMW Motorrad, 224
6. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Effenbert – Liberty Racing Ducati, 210
7. Leon Camier, U.K., 208
8. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, Pata Aprilia, 176
9. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Castrol Ten Kate Honda, 170
10. Ayrton Badovini, Italy, BMW Motorrad Italia, 165.

Next race, February 26, 2012, Philip Island, Australia.

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