2012 WSBK Imola weekend round-up
A round-up of the weekends events at the Imola round of the World Superbike championship.
Carlos Checa isn't loved by the Italian fans because he rides a Ducati; he's loved because he rides a Ducati well. Checa proved that he's a champion by winning what looked like a hard couple of races to win. Sykes was on his best ever form and Haslam wasn't one to gift anyone a win. Just because his supposed number one rival for the championship, Biaggi, was outclassed this weekend doesn't mean Checa was gifted the double.
In the Gazzetta dello Sport, an Italian sports newspaper, Max Biaggi fired an opening volley at, of all people, Valentino Rossi, claiming his own career was blossoming as his old rival Rossi's was losing its petals. The problem with making florid statements like that is that they only work if you back them up with actions. I suspect that after qualifying off the front row and missing out on two podiums, he will be regretting those words. As for Rossi, I doubt he's given Biaggi a second thought in the last few years.
Tom Sykes had a good rookie year in World Superbikes in 2009, but the problem was his team mate was Ben Spies who went on to win the title. His switch to Kawasaki, a team that's not well known for winning races or titles, was seen by many as giving up hope of wins and settling into be a jobbing rider, making up the numbers and keeping a green bike circulating. In late 2011, he rode a wildcard in BSB at Brands Hatch and won two of the three races he entered and he won a World Superbike race in the wet in Germany. In 2012, after his form this weekend, he looks like he could get Kawasaki more pole positions and podiums and maybe that elusive dry race win.
Leon Haslam and Marco Melandri had two different weekends. Melandri was being hailed as the man who will bring BMW its first victory while Haslam was the man who actually got two podiums. Haslam is now 6 points ahead of Melandri in the championship, and while it's very early days, we can assume that this matters to both riders and their team. Haslam's weekend was one of dogged determination while Melandri seemed resigned to the fact he couldn't do well. In race one, Melandri rode through the pit lane, missing the entrance to the final chicane and he finished 6th. In race two, he had no such mishaps and finished tenth, complaining of tyre wear at the end of the race. Haslam is upbeat while Melandri will be doing some soul searching in Monday's test. World Superbikes is better when Melandri is on form so it would be good if he can find a solution before the next race.
Jonathan Rea is 6th in the championship. His team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama, the 250cc World Champion, is 13th. While Rea had a difficult weekend, Aoyama had a terrible one. Rea had trouble in Superpole, Aoyama didn't even qualify for the shoot-out, starting both races 23rd on the grid. Rea managed to take 17 points away from a dissapointing weekend while Aoyama scored not a single one.
Jakub Smrz can usually be relied upon to qualify well. Unfortunately, he couldn't manage this and his 11th and 7th place finishes were only enough to keep him at 7th in the championship due to the misfortune of his team-mate Sylvain Guintoli who had the unluckiest weekend of all the riders, crashing in someone else's accident in race one and running through the pits in the second race.
Eugene Laverty could have been thought of as having an unremarkable weekend, but a 5th and a 6th were enough to promote him to 8th in the championship and while he wasn't at the front, claiming the glory, his solid finishes were not easily taken. It's never easy being Max Biaggi's team-mate, but Laverty may do well in the Aprilia team.
Fabien Foret rode a solid and mature race, fending off Sam Lowes. Both of those riders should be at the front of many more races this year. Kenan Sofuoglu was one of the many riders caught out by the last chicane and his disqualification seemed harsh, but everybody races under the same rules. His descent from first to third place in the championship is not the end of the world as it's still early days. Ronan Quarmby is a newcomer to the podium, but against riders like Broc Parkes, Sheridan Morais and Jules Cluzel, a repeat visit will be tricky.
It's still far too early in the championship to be predicting winners, but any of at least the top three riders in either class are in with a shout.