If the opening round of the 2012 World Superbike Championship taught us anything, it's that this looks to be a two-horse race. Assuming no major wrenches are thrown in the works. Aprilia's Max Biaggi and Althea Ducati's Carlos Checa had the pace of everyone else in the field covered. Handily. And each of the early championship-protagonists cruised to victory without having to worry about the other after a couple of off-track excursions.
2012 Philip Island WSBK Round Up - Biaggi and Checa Can't Be Stopped
Checa pitched his 1098R into the scenery in spectacular fashion in the first race with a highside exiting the final corner at 110mph just as the rains began to spit. The result was some heavy bruising to his elbow and back. The medical examiners were amazed that was the extend of his injuries. His 1098R, on the other hand, was essentially totaled. Although the newly-adopted single-bike rule doesn't allow for a spare bike to be ready and waiting in the pit box, it does allow for teams to supply their riders with a rolling chassis to be stored in the transporter. The Althea boys spent their lunch break rolling said chassis from the transporter to the pit box and turning it into Checa's second Ducati.
In race two, Biaggi ran off the track at turn one at roughly 140mph after the chaos of a standing start resulted in the Kawasaki of Tom Sykes clipping Biaggi's brake lever. Biaggi would recover from dead last and fight his way up to second place. Their split wins and Checa's race one DNF gives Biaggi a 20-point lead over Checa in fourth, and 15 and 16-point leads over BMW's Marco Melandri and Sykes respectively.
Melandri had a pretty admirable weekend considering he finished each practice and qualifying session in 11th, 9th, 13th, 3rd, and 13th. Melandri's second place in race one is BMW's best-ever finish in World Superbikes, but he could only manage sixth in the second, citing tire troubles. A Sunday to match the rest of his weekend, then. Teammate Leon Haslam, who beat Melandri to fifth in the second race, said he struggled with pain in the first race. Although he said the pain was not coming from the recently fractured tibia, but rather his feet. Likely a result of the body's compensating for a lack of strength and or mobility in his leg.
As had been expected, the tires did play a part in the racing today. Track temperatures were in the 40s for the cool and cloudy race one, and touched 55 in race two. Ten Kate Honda seemed to be relatively happy with the performance of the softer option tire in race one, despite Jonathan Rea's claim that his rear went away before half-distance. Melandri also complained about rear grip. But it didn't take a laundry list of rider quotes to see the absurd track temperatures were wreaking havoc on tire life. The evidence was in the set of lefts that complete the lap played out over the final half-dozed laps by Biaggi, Sykes, and Rea. Black lines laid down, smoke pouring off tires, and motorcycles unable to keep consistent shapes upon corner exit. Despite the inadvertent show put on by the chasing pack, Checa's rear shockingly looked in good shape. It says quite a lot about the 1098R's power delivery and Checa's right hand to see a tire in such reasonable shape while smoke pours off a Max Biaggi rear.
In Supersport, two-time World Supersport Champion Kenan Sofuoglu marked his return to the series with a win in the 15-lap race, shortened for fears over tire life in the excessive heat. Even then, Sam Lowes, who finished fifth, said his tires ran out of life prematurely.
Regardless of the tires or the temperatures, the competition in the Supersport class looks to be as strong and deep as it's been in quite some time. Lowes, Foret, and Sofuoglu all held the lead for a chunk of the race, while Parkes and Jules Cluzel threatened in podium places. All five showed seriously strong race pace all weekend. If Philip Island is any sort of an indicator, we should be in for a great season of Supersport action.
And so, the World Superbike paddock takes its traditional March break. The circus will reconvene in Imola on April Fool's Day, where we will hopefully be treated to an on-track battle between Biaggi and Checa and track temperatures that don't cause rubber to instantaneously melt.