After the second day of practice at Donington Park, we should be talking about the way that Carlos Checa blew everyone away on the Althea Ducati. About the way that Checa got perilously close to posting a lap of 1'27 round the revised Donington track. About Leon Haslam's strong 2nd spot on the grid after qualifying, or Tom Sykes' outstanding 3rd fastest time. Maybe we should even be talking about Eugene Laverty's narrow escape when he had a huge crash at Craner, writing off his Yamaha R1. But we're not.
Tonight, all the talk is of a minor scuffle in the Yamaha pitbox, when Max Biaggi strode in to complain about being balked by Melandri during superpole and issued his fellow Italian with a light double tap, before stalking back to the Aprilia garage:
The incident started out during Superpole 2. Melandri was out on a flying lap, when, according to the Yamaha rider, he came across Max Biaggi sitting pontifically astride the racing line. Annoyed at being balked and losing a fast time, Melandri passed Biaggi, then put the brakes on in front of the Aprilia, slowing up the 2010 World Champion and putting him off his flying lap in turn. After Superpole, Biaggi hotfooted his way to the Yamaha garage, and the scene shown above unfolded.
Both men were called into Race Direction to explain their actions, and both given a verbal warning to behave themselves in future. Biaggi was given an extra 3,000 euro fine for the slap, for bringing the sport into disrepute, presumably in the hope of discouraging others from taking up similar practices.
A cynic might say that this is a double win for Infront Motor Sports: The organization pockets a three thousand euro fine from Max Biaggi - in reality a trifle to the World Champion - but the amount of publicity the incident generated for the Donington World Superbike race makes the fine pale into insignificance. Twitter, Facebook and racing forums have been seen a deluge of links to the incident on Italian TV (shown above) and to Youtube, while the talk has been of little else - and ironically, I am only adding to the fire. Money cannot buy this kind of coverage, and the TV ratings for tomorrow's race should receive a very healthy boost from the incident, with more people tuning in in the hope of seeing some fireworks.
Given the history between Melandri and Biaggi, there is every reason to expect them to happen. The two have made a habit of getting in each other's way, with the most famous incident at Assen in 2005, when Biaggi ran Franco Battaini off the track, and Melandri nudged Biaggi on-track to reprimand him for acting dangerously (video of the incident here). But Biaggi has a reputation all of his own. Various people complained afterwards of nearly being knocked down by the Italian in the paddock, and Nicky Hayden's first experience of him as a teammate back in 2005 was almost being run over by Biaggi as he exited the pits. Biaggi's speed is beyond question, but he is his own worst enemy sometimes.
Those tuning in the hope of seeing a catfight should at least be comforted with some great racing. Carlos Checa looks like dominating again, but there are a lot of British riders determined to get in his way. Sykes and Haslam will be close from the start, while Leon Camier and Johnny Rea are not far behind, starting from the second row.
Things look promising in World Supersport as well. The Yamahas are fast once gain, with Luca Scassa and Chaz Davies taking the top two spots ahead of Parkalgar's Sam Lowes. In reality, any one of five or six riders could win it on Sunday, though Scassa and Lowes have been the class of the field so far.
The big winner of the meeting so far has been the Donington Park circuit. Despite the chill of an English spring day, the fans and followers are delighted to see international road racing at Donington once again. There is little to match bike flowing down the Craner Curves at speed, with the risk of major crash all the way down. Despite so many things - the weather, the nasty, tacked-on feel of the Melbourne Loop, the run-down facilities, then 1940s buildings - Donington is a very special place for motorcycle racing.