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.