2011 Imola World Superbike Friday Round Up: Titles On The Line

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.

In World Superbikes, the title is a bit more of an ask, but then there are still six races left including Sunday's double header at Imola. Carlos Checa, the man who has dominated the championship with a combination of consistency and speed, has an advantage of 74 points over Marco Melandri, but Melandri has shown incredible pace in his rookie year in the World Superbike series. Putting another 26 points on Melandri in the two races on Sunday will be a pretty major challenge for Checa, but given the strength of the Althea Ducati man at Imola, taking a double win here last year, the possibility is clearly there.

As for Max Biaggi's title defense, that ended at the Nurburgring during practice. A rock thrown up from the track broke several bones in his left foot, and he was forced to miss both races in Germany. Unfortunately for the reigning World Champion, the bones haven't healed sufficiently for him to be able to race at Imola either, the pressure of changing gears likely to cause the bones to break once again. With two more zero scores, Biaggi can forget about 2011 and start to think about 2012, and whether he wants to have another shot at the title, or retire gracefully to his home in Monaco.

Whether Checa secures the title or not, on the basis of the first day of practice at Imola, he will at least make his position virtually unassailable. The Spaniard topped the morning session of free practice, and looked like securing provisional pole, until a revived Johnny Rea put his Castrol Honda into top spot with just a few minutes in the session left. The Hondas are debuting a fly-by-wire system at Imola, finally allowed by the World Superbike regulations after the latest Superbike Commission meeting at the Nurburgring. That system - previously banned, as it was not fitted to the standard CBR1000RR as homologated to race in WSBK by the FIM - appears to have given a boost to the Hondas, making the bike easier to control and consequently easier to ride. With Rea now back to full fitness after a wrist injury, it will be interesting to see just how much more competitive he and the bike can be.

That will not concern Checa too much, as the challenge to his championship hopes now only really comes from Marco Melandri. The Yamaha was not far of Checa's pace during practice on Friday, but he was consistently slower than the Althea Ducati man. If Melandri is to have any hope of challenging for the title, he has to win as many races as possible, but though he looks like being pretty good odds for the podium, a win - especially a double - looks beyond the bounds of possibility at the moment for Melandri. With Checa looking this good, he will be a hard man to beat.

Editor's note: Due to personal commitments elsewhere (I have been invited to speak at Webfest.me, a conference in Macedonia on using the web to succeed in business) I will be unable to provide proper coverage of this weekend's WSBK race. I will provide whatever coverage I can, but results may be late and reporting may be limited. Normal service should be resumed next week. My sincere apologies for the situation, especially as WSBK has provided some outstanding racing this year, and because this round could be crucial to the championship. Normal service will be resumed again next round.

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Comments

The hyperbole is a bit over the top David. 'Incredible pace for a Rookie'. Yes he's done very well on a mature and sorted machine. But 'incredible pace for a rookie' those words would apply better to a season of the calibre of Spies' in 2009.

It's almost as if to reinforce that Melandri is still MotoGP winning worthy - if not on a Ducati.....

Good luck for the speaking gig. Got to know which side your breads buttered on.

I would say 3 wins, 12 podiums and 2nd in the WSBK championship for a rookie rider who raced production bikes for the very first time 6 months ago is an incredible pace indeed.

IMHO, saying that a rookie rider can't have "incredible pace" for anything less than Ben Spies' unique season in WSBK is a bit like saying that no one is a great MotoGP champion until they win 5 or 6 championships...rubbish!

A WSBK rookie he might be, but Melandri is far from rookie status as a world class racer. Proddie bikes? Well Marco has merely done what a number of other ex-GP men have done before him - proven that it's a far easier step down than it is up.

And for sure easier to go "down" from MotoGP to WSBK than going "up".
But he's still looking better than Checa or Biaggi during their WSBK rookie year, which is quite a feat! And very promising for the next seasons.

Anyway nice to see Chaz finally wrapping up a world championship, he never had it easy in his career but his time is finally coming.
Also Glad for Checa who deserves his first world championship, good on them, at opposite sides in the spectrum of their respective careers but both much worthy.

Unbelievable! Surely the WSB organizers can contract the broadcasting rights in North America to someone else who might actually take the WSB seriously.

Biaggi had always done well in WBS. Checa, Barros and now Melandri were also at the sharp end, but not all ex-GP riders have fared as well. Shinichi Itoh, McCoy, Abe and others have found it hard going. Barros was probably the best example because he did not come into factory equipment on his arrival. He still managed some good results. Of the newest group I'd say they have had the best equipment at their disposal. Itol had a factory RC51 and was horrible.

Correct me if I am wrong, but Hayden and Bayliss (5th & 6th rookie season) were the last gaggle of Superbike riders to get factory GP bikes. I didn't count Edwards and Haga because they were on the Aprilia. They were avarage. Hayden had raced zero tracks previously. Good riders are good rider. The do even better with strong teams and equipment behind them.

FWIW, so far only Biaggi has been able to win a title from that elite group. Spies is probably the best candidate to take a WSB & MotoGP title, but that will take 2-3 years if ever.

Rossi will get there before Spies.
He loves both statistical records and unique achievements. I'm sure Ducati would give him whatever he asked to race in WSBK, just as they have done in MotoGP.

As for Melandri, he isn't a true rookie. But he has done fine and give Yamaha their best post Spies results. OTOH, the depth of the WSBK field is particularly impressive this year.

Rossi said it would be interesting to go to WSB but would he actually do it? I could see him doing a few Italian rounds. maybe Assen. But to win a title in WSB he'd have to leave Europe. I say a little tongue in cheek. I actually don't believe him. He'll leave racing bikes once he starts winning again in GP.

Melandri's quite good for his first run on pirelli's, first on a semi production chassis, in a different paddock. ETC. To say remarkable maybe. But you also have to look at his competition. Eliminate Checa and he'd be ahead of Biaggi by a mile after the last 2 and the next 2 races. Also remember that spies was truly amazing, beyond any expectations, The Yam was a 1st yr run of a completely new design, and his teammate squandered, the following seasons his replacements stunk.

MM is doing a fine job except the CC has 3 yrs under his belt a little more WSBK craft IE better handle early on in superpole and under certain race circumstances.

Rossi I highly doubt he'll ever do a season in WSBK. just no point especially if he doesn't do increasingly well. would it be cool well yeah but its not worth it to himself.

SPEEDTV sucks, I pay 78.99USD for "premium" cable and the only thing I get is F1 and poor airtimes for MC racing. absolutely zero pre/post race coverage of any salt and the hosts are all Eurosport hosts except the US rounds. AMA is great except that they air them at 12:00 and 1:00AM

if GP, WSBK and AMA want to increase viewers give speed the boot. or we all need to mail bomb Speedtv to drop at least a few nascar shows. IE NAscar chef, Nascar lfe and the best races of the last 20 yrs. Then give some premium airtime to some real racing.

In the US we can't watch the race until Tuesday. Even if we pay for the official WSB website, which I have done in the past, there is a message which says something about restriction in your country prevent viewing until a certain date. I believe because SPEEDTV pays for the rights, they are even blocking a paid website. So much for land of the free. For some reason this doesn't apply to MotoGP.com.

That's because, at least in this regard, Dorna is smarter. I _gladly_ pay ~130USD/year to get live, streaming, commercial-free coverage of MotoGP through the MotoGP.com website. And would just as happily pay the same to InFront if they had a similar offering on the WorldSBK.com website.

But apparently, the braintrust at InFront gave away the exclusive US rights to SpeedTV. Which means we sometimes get same-day coverage of SuperBike races, albeit edited to death with all the good passes during commercial time. While sometimes (like this weekend) we have to wait until Tuesday. And we always have to wait until Tuesday to see SuperSport.

Wake up, InFront! My money is ready for a quality alternative to SpeedTV.