The World Superbike circus lived up to the “circus” description at Miller Motorsports Park near Tooele, Utah on the U.S. Memorial Day holiday of May 28.
Despite a mile-long front straight, the track has a history of being a Ducati circuit, with Carlos Checa having won there four times in eight attempts before this weekend (and losing out two other times to mechanical problems). When Effenbert-Liberty Ducati racer Jakub Smrz grabbed the pole position with Checa on the front row and his team-mate Davide Gugiliano beside him, that position seemed confirmed.
In race one, Checa got a reasonable start, quickly got ahead of fast-starting Yorkshireman Tom Sykes, and did his familiar “Checa-out” routine, winning by a healthy 2.3 seconds ahead of Marco Melandri on the factory BMW and Max Biaggi on the factory Aprilia. Biaggi just barely held off an aggressive and on-form Jonathan Rea on the Ten Kate Castrol Honda.
Notable behind the winning trio was Welsh racer Chaz Davies; in his first year of World Superbike racing (although he’s hardly a “rookie”, having won the Daytona 200 and the World Supersport title). Davies has struggled a bit with the new bike and with injury, but in Utah he scrapped hard to catch Tom Sykes near the end for seventh.
Davies surpassed himself in the second race, however, positioning himself at the front and in contention for his first win until the last few laps. In that race, Checa again cleared off, until a shocking unforced error saw him pitch his Althea Ducati down the road. That left a foursome of Melandri, Biaggi, Rea, and Davies all fighting for the podium. Melandri and Rea eventually pulled a bit ahead of the two Aprilias, and in the last laps Biaggi got the measure of Davies.
But up front, Rea and Melandri were pounding on each other; Rea’s Honda carrying incredible corner speed while Melandri’s BMW was amazing on the long straight, pushing 200 mph (321 km/h) lap after lap. That’s how Melandri finally got Rea, using the BMW’s power to get past on the long straight as the last lap started, then riding defensively to hobble Rea in his strong areas through Miller’s complex back section.
It was a great lap, and the rivals seemed delighted and excited on the cool-down, shaking hands and slapping each other. It was terrific stuff. As far as the series goes, Biaggi ended up the big winner on the day with his two thirds and Checa’s crash, increasing his lead in the championship. Still, we aren’t even at half-distance yet and the points are reasonably close. This is definitely shaping up to be one of the best World Superbike series ever – if you can’t watch the races live on the WSB site, make sure you catch the SPEED telecasts (as awful as they are) or PVR them. You won’t see much better racing anywhere.
During the weekend, former WSB stars Scott Russell and Ben Bostrom were inducted into the World Superbike Hall of Fame. An interested onlooker was Canadian star Brett McCormick, still recovering from his severe neck injury but able to travel to watch. The Effenbert-Liberty team has resisted efforts to replace him, and McCormick hopes to be back on his bike by August.
Championship standings after 11 of 27 races:
1. Max Biaggi, Italy, Aprilia Racing Team, 160.5 points
2. TIE, Marco Melandri, Italy, BMW Motorrad Motorsport / Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 142.5
4. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Castrol Ten Kate Honda, 141
5. Carlos Checa, Spain, Althea Ducati, 130.5
6. Leon Haslam, U.K., BMW Motorrad Motorsport, 103
7. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Effenbert-Liberty Ducati, 95,
8. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Aprilia Racing Team, 86
9. Davide Giugliano, Italy, Althea Ducati, 64
10. Jakub Smrz, Czech Republic, Effenbert-Liberty Racing, 61.5
Next race, June 10, Misano, Italy.