It has been clear for some time that 2012 would bring a major shake up in World Superbikes. With Yamaha announcing their withdrawal from the series and Althea looking doubtful of continuing, all the way up until Sunday afternoon at Portimao, it has been very difficult to sketch the outlines of a rider line up for next season. But after the hectic round of negoiating at the final round of the 2011 season in Portimao, at least part of the equation has become clear, and a relatively healthy-looking WSBK grid is starting to take shape.
It took some last-minute haggling - and the direct intervention of Ducati Corse CEO Claudio Domenicali - to get the situation straight, but on Sunday afternoon, between race 1 and race 2, the future of the Althea Ducati squad was assured. The situation was helped by the threat of losing the #1 plate of newly-crowned World Champion Carlos Checa to BMW, where he had been offered a seat in the BMW Italia team wth factory support, but Checa and Althea team boss Genesio Bevilacqua wanted to extend the partnership which has proven so successful this year. The Althea team will be expanded to two riders, with Superstock 1000 champion Davide Giugliano slotting alongside Checa.
2011 Phillip Island MotoGP Friday Round Up - On Bumps, Speed And The Lack Of It, And WSBK Silly Season
Phillip Island is the best circuit in the world, according to just about everyone in the MotoGP paddock. At least, that's what they thought yesterday, before they actually rode the circuit, and found out that the recent visits by the Australian GT series and the V8 Supercars have torn the track up and left bumps everywhere.
The verdict was unanimous, but as ever, Casey Stoner phrased it the best. "This year, the track's terrible," he told reporters. "It's always been a little bit bumpy into Turn 1, but this year, they're a lot more aggressive than they were in the past, and I'm not too happy with the condition of the track. I don't know what they've been racing around here, but it's made the track a lot worse." So bad was the surface that Jorge Lorenzo said he and the other riders would bring the subject up in the Safety Commission on Friday night, and ask for the track to be repaved.
After Yamaha announced that they would cease factory support for their World Superbike team, the team's two riders, Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty, became two of the hottest properties on the World Superbike rider market. Interest was especially keen for Melandri, the former MotoGP winner making a huge impact on his first foray into the World Superbike series, the Italian having switched to WSBK after leaving MotoGP at the end of 2010.
Melandri had offers of factory rides from both Aprilia and BMW, but the prospect of being stuck alongside his arch rival Max Biaggi, in the certain knowledge that he would be the number two rider in the Aprilia garage persuaded Melandri to head to the German manufacturer alongside Leon Haslam. There is still plenty of work to do at BMW - the homemade electronics system is notoriously complex to set up causing problems with tire wear - but if Melandri can help get that sorted using his experience of MotoGP-level electronics (still a couple of years' ahead of the systems used in WSBK) then BMW may finally be able to make the breakthrough to regular wins that they have been looking for. The BMW S1000RR provides an outstanding basis to be competitive, and the aim is for Melandri and Haslam to help the factory make the next step.
The official press release announcing Melandri's signing appears below:
Days like Sunday at Imola always remind me of what Nicky Hayden says after particularly poor qualifying sessions: "That's why we line up on Sunday; you never know what's gonna happen." Two championships were up for grabs at Imola on Sunday; one looked a dead cert to be wrapped up by Sunday night, while the most likely scenario for the other is that the race would still be open after the second World Superbike race.
It didn't quite work out that way. Sure, Carlos Checa and Chaz Davies are still the hot favorites for the World Superbike and World Supersport titles, but the dreaded "events" got in the way of seeing a double coronation in Italy. Every Sunday brings a surprise, and this Sunday was no exception.
It's going to be a big weekend at Imola. The World Superbike series should be crowning at least one champion on Sunday, and it is entirely possible that both the World Superbike and World Supersport titles are wrapped up at Imola.
The World Supersport class looks a shoe-in for Chaz Davies. The Welshman leads the series by 59 points, and just needs to finish on the podium to take the title. Even if he doesn't get on the box, his main rivals have not succeeded in putting much pressure on him throughout the year; David Salom and Fabien Foret have struggled to beat him even on his (very rare) off-days, and Broc Parkes trails by 67 points, a very big ask indeed.
Parkes demonstrated he hasn't given up completely, finishing 2nd behind Davies' teammate Luca Scassa during qualifying on Friday, but Davies looked like a man who was in control of the situation. The ParkinGO Yamaha rider ended QP1 with the 3rd fastest time, just over a third of a second behind Scassa, and confident there was more in the tank. Davies' calmness has been an asset all season, and so far, it looks like it is going to pay off.
Yamaha has announced that it has decided to withdraw its factory team from the World Superbike Championship at the end of 2011. The withdrawal comes as a result of a review of Yamaha Motor Europe's marketing activities throughout Europe forced by the rapidly declining motorcycle market throughout the region. The move leaves both Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri without a ride for next season, although in light of the strong performance by both riders in their debut WSBK seasons, finding a new seat should not be difficult.
2011 Silverstone World Superbike Sunday Round Up: On Championship Contenders, A Single Bike Rule, And Equalizing Twins Vs Fours
It's on days like these that championships are won. In both the World Superbike and World Supersport classes, the championship leaders came in with differing expectations, met with wildly different experiences through practice, yet both Carlos Checa and Chaz Davies leave Silverstone with their lead nicely consolidated and comfortably in charge of their own destinies. They confronted the circumstances that crossed their paths and turned them to their advantage.
In the World Superbike class, Silverstone was supposed to be a tough track for Ducati. A couple of high-speed straights would favor the four-cylinders - especially Aprilia's brutally powerful RSV4 - leaving the Ducatis with too much work to do in the twisty sections to be able to match the fours. The best that Carlos Checa could hope for at the UK round was to limit the damage in both races and see what remained of his lead when he left here for the next round.
2011 Silverstone World Superbike Saturday Round Up: Wasn't This Supposed To Be A Bad Track For Ducati?
Things haven't quite turned out as expected at Silverstone. Going into the weekend, everyone - fans, pundits and the Ducati teams themselves - were downplaying the chances of the Ducatis at Silverstone, with its fast layout and high-speed straights, and estimating how many points that championship leader might be forced to concede to the faster four cylinder bikes of Max Biaggi and Marco Melandri. But if anything, it has turned out to be the opposite, with Ducatis at or near the top in both the World Superbike and the Superstock 1000 classes. Indeed, so strong have the Ducatis been in Superstock that they sit in the front three places of the grid for tomorrow's race, Danilo Petrucci taking pole ahead of Davide Giugliano and Niccolo Canepa.
Pole was not on the cards in the World Superbike class for a Ducati rider - that honor falls to an outstanding John Hopkins, entered as a wildcard on board a Samsung Crescent Suzuki GSX-R 1000 - but with Checa on the end of the front row and Effenbert's Sylvain Guintoli at the head of the second row, they are well-placed to be competitive at Silverstone. Checa's race pace is punishing, especially when the track is a little cooler as it is expected to be on Sunday.
Marco Melandri's decision to switch series has paid off handsomely for the Italian. Melandri went from struggling to score top 10 finishes in MotoGP to regular winner and championship contender in World Superbikes, the factory Yamaha rider now challenging Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa for the 2011 WSBK title.
So it comes as no surprise that Melandri has extended his contract with the factory Yamaha World Superbike squad for another year, according to GPOne.com. The agreement will see Melandri remain alongside Irish teammate Eugene Laverty for another season, Yamaha's WSBK team remaining unchanged for the first time since 2008. It is also the first time since 2007 that Marco Melandri will be staying with the same team and riding the same bike for two years in a row.
Melandri's contract extension is the first move in what could be a long and very late World Superbike silly season. The Yamaha team is now set for 2012, but just about every other team is likely to see a radical shakeup. At Aprilia, it is still unclear whether Max Biaggi will stay on to serve the second year of his two-year contract, while Leon Camier is widely rumored to be heading for the door.
With the Brno round of World Superbikes the 8th out of 13, the lines of both the World Superbike and World Supersport championships are starting to become clear. In WSBK, three men have a realistic shot at the title, while in WSS, the championship leader took a big step towards consolidating his first title. Though it is too early to start handing out trophies, we can already start scrapping a lot of names from the list.
The two World Superbike races turned into a rather pleasing allegory for the current state of the championship fight. The three title rivals were the main protagonists in both races, the Italians Marco Melandri and Max Biaggi taking a race win apiece, while Carlos Checa limited the damage by taking two 3rd place finishes. Despite having given up 13 points to both of his rivals in the title race, Checa came away content: at Biaggi's favorite track, and a circuit where horsepower is crucial - and which the Ducati is crucially lacking - the Althea Ducati man still has a 30 point lead over Biaggi, and a 53 point lead over Melandri. He had been able to stay close to the two Italians in both races, and most importantly, he hadn't suffered the kind of punishment he had at Monza, where he gave away points by the bucketload to his rivals.
There is a rather pleasing symmetry to Max Biaggi's victory in race two at Aragon: it meant that Biaggi's win rate in the first half of the season was 0%, but is 100% in the second half of the season. Of course, the second half of the 2011 World Superbike season is exactly one race old - the 13-round WSBK season has 26 races, and race two was the 14th race of the season - rather flattering his 100% win rate, but that won't diminish the psychological impact of the reigning champion's first win this season coming right in the middle of the season.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after qualifying on Saturday at the Motorland Aragon ciruit near Alcañiz in Spain:
Sometimes the pundits are right: the race weekend at Miller Motorsports Park turned out exactly as predicted, with a convincing double victory for Carlos Checa. The Spaniard put in a repeat performance of last year, with the crucial difference that on Monday, he avoided the technical problems that left him stranded by the wayside in both races. Checa was a little slow off the mark in race 1, taking all of 6 laps to take over the lead and run away with the race, the Althea Ducati rider treading carefully in the still chilly and uncertain conditions. Race 2 was a different matter altogether, Checa taking the lead into the first corner and out of sight by the end of the first lap. The Spaniard barely put a foot wrong all weekend, his only mistake being to slip over in the mud while trying to pick up a Ducati flag from a fan to celebrate victory in race 1.
But while Checa's record is impressive - six wins out of ten starts, with two more podiums thrown in for good measure - his 61-point championship lead is down to more than just his own dominance. Number 2 in the championship is Marco Melandri, who had a very mediocre weekend at Miller after a strong outing at Monza. In 3rd place is Max Biaggi, who seems determined to do everything in his power to lose his #1 plate in the most heartbreaking way possible this year.
A drop or two of rain always adds an extra dimension to motorcycle racing, and Sunday at Miller saw more than a drop or two of rain. That rain had a pretty big impact on the order, with riders such as BMW's Leon Haslam, who had struggled in the dry, suddenly finding themselves near the very top in the morning downpour, then dropping back as the conditions improved a little.
In fact, the rain may have inadvertently highlighted BMW's problem: In the dry, Corser was going strongly while Haslam struggled. In the wet, Haslam positively flew while Corser dropped down the order. As the conditions improved, the fates of the two men reversed, Haslam knocked out of Superpole 2 - crashing while trying to push - while Corser secured a spot on the second row of the grid. The settings of one appear not to suit the settings of the other, and that may go some way towards explaining why the development of the S1000RR has been erratic. The electronics, especially, have been the BMW's bugbear, with the complex system that BMW has developed in-house causing the riders, team and engineers plenty of headaches.
Carlos Checa picked up on the first day at Miller where he left off after last year's race: running at the front but plagued by technical problems. The Spaniard dominated here last year, but was forced to pull out of both races when his Althea Ducati packed up. So it was a little bit worrying for Checa when, after blitzing straight to the top of the timesheets in FP1, Checa's 1198R packed up on him, with what was apparently diagnosed as an electrical problem. Going out on the second bike, Checa continued to dominate, until his bike packed up a second time in the same session, this time reportedly with gearbox problems.
Despite the painful echoes of 2010, Checa was back out in the afternoon, this time ending the first session of qualifying without any technical dramas, but with an advantage of nearly eight-tenths of a second over the nearest competition. The Spaniard was merciless from the start: his first flying lap during qualifying was faster than any other rider had managed during FP2, and he got quicker from there, eventually getting to within a couple of tenths of the race lap record. If the bike stays in one piece, it's going to be hard to beat Checa at Miller - if the weather stays dry, of course.