There's just something odd about having a race on Monday. Perhaps it's just habit formed from over thirty years of following motorcycle racing, but Sunday just seems to this commentator like the natural day to worship the gods (small G) of speed. Not that there weren't excellent rationalizations for having this year's US round of the World Superbike series on a Monday. May 31st is Memorial Day in the US -- a "Monday holiday", which is a peculiarly American way of making sure that we have a long weekend every now and then. The race is held in Utah, which has a high percentage of "religiously active" (PC speak for Mormon) folks and the promoters thought that having the race on a Monday would boost attendance (rightly so, apparently, attendance was the highest ever in the event's 3 year history). Infront, the organization that holds the rights to the series, supported the Monday running because they thought that European telecast viewership might increase due to the lack of competition by other sporting events.
Still, the phrase "race Monday" feels a little strange rolling off the tongue. Max Biaggi, double winner on the day, would probably love to have all the other races rescheduled if they would have the same outcome. Heavy favorite Carlos Checa and the series leader going into this round, Leon Haslam, however, left Utah with a bad case of the Mondays.
Race 1 -- Die By Wire
Max Biaggi got the holeshot, using the Alitalia Aprilia's superior power to out-drag Carlos Checa to the first corner. Biaggi's lead was short-lived, however, and Checa soon passed him, using his Althea Ducati's stability on the brakes to select his line with surgical precision. Biaggi harried Checa but the Spaniard was able to pull a tenth of a second on Biaggi nearly every lap until about two-thirds through, when he gained nearly a second over the space of two laps. It looked like that was the way the race would play out when Checa lost power, his 1098 dying a sudden death three laps shy of victory.
Checa slowly rolled to a stop and the pole-sitter leaned the Ducati against the Armco with a beseeching look rather like an old west cowboy whose favorite quarter horse had come to the end of the trail. Speculation abounded that a revised electronics package furnished to the team prior to Miller had failed but team sources indicate that a connection for the "fly-by wire" throttle had come awry. Biaggi, suddenly gifted with the lead, eventually crossed the line nearly 6 seconds in front of the second place finisher.
Series leader Leon Haslam had gotten a horrid start because 4th place qualifier Jacob Smrz' PATA Ducati started spewing smoke and fluids in it's wake nearly from the start, causing Haslam to have to hold up to avoid crashing. Haslam eventually worked his way up through the field via series of deft passes on the brakes, Xerox Ducati's Noriyuki Haga in tow, until he got to the other Leon, Camier. Camier kept Haslam behind his Aprilia for 6 laps, but the Alstare Suzuki rider was able to eventually get by, followed shortly by Haga.
Race 2 -- Gift Horses
Race 2 saw Checa jump out to a lead from the flag, gapping Biaggi by .7 seconds in the first lap. It looked like Checa, or rather his Ducati, would atone for for his first race misfortune, when he again sputtered to a stop on lap 7. Checa said that the DNF was caused by a mysterious mechanical problem that "felt different" than the first race, but with the same result.
Leon Haslam got another miserable start and was putting on another braking clinic when he high-sided out of the race, his first DNF of the year. Birthday boy Haslam left Utah with a rather unwelcome gift; 17 stitches in his elbow and a chipped bone. Biaggi cruised to his second lonely win of the day ahead of teammate Camier and Sterilgarda Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow. Aprilia's 1-2 finish was their first double podium in World Superbikes.
Biaggi's double win puts him 15 points ahead of Haslam in the title chase, the first time that the Alstare rider has relinquished the points lead this season. Haslam expects to be able to ride at the upcoming Misano test and should be nearly fully healed by the time of the Misano round at the end of June. Half-way through the season, the points battle looks to be a two rider race with third place man, Jonny Rea, who had truly miserable weekend at Miller, lying 106 points adrift of Biaggi.
Max Biaggi is riding as well as he ever has and is in peak physical condition (this commentator saw him effortlessly vault over a three and a half foot tall gate at Miller, even after crashing in practice that morning). The Italian fans will be out in force at Misano, eager to see the Emperor ride like the pirate whose flag he displays on the podium. Max will be happy to oblige, even if it's on a Sunday.