The WSBK circus reconvened last weekend at the Automotodrom Brno, in the rolling hills of the southeast part of the Czech Republic. The nearby city of of the same name is located on the confluence of ancient trade routes, which is fitting, because the Roman Emperor, Max Biaggi, erstwhile buccaneer and master of all he surveys, certainly did the business at the hilly circuit, taking a second place and and a win on the day to boost his points lead to 68 over his nearest challenger, Alstare Suzuki's Leon Haslam.
Race 1 -- Rea of Hope
After a frankly terrifying start where Jakob Smrz lost the front on his new-to-him Aprilia RSV4 into turn 1, skittling a hapless Max Neukirchner and Chris Vermuelen off track and out of the race, Ten Kate Honda's Jonny Rea took the lead with a pass on at turn 11 and settled into a fairly boring groove with Rea leading all 20 laps en route to his first victory since his double win at Assen more than two months ago. After a miserable outing at Misano, where he finished 13th and 12th, the win was a much-needed boost to both Rea's and the Dutch team's morale. The on-again off-again chattering problem that has plagued the Honda was held in abeyance, at least temporarily at Brno, enabling Rea do no wrong
Max Biaggi, who got shuffled back in the pack behind Rea, Cal Crutchlow and a newly resurgent Ruben Xaus, clawed his way up the order to catch Crutchlow with about 5 laps to go and the two had a tussle for the final steps on the podium, swapping the lead to and fro until Biaggi got the better of the Englishman and cruised to a second place finish. Crutchlow cited grip issues with the new Pirelli spec tires as the reason for his decaying performance in the race.
Series runner-up Leon Haslam also blamed tire woes for his eighth place finish (and tenth in race two), claiming that while the new tire had more grip the team was unable to find a set-up to work with the new rubber compound. The situation was reportedly so dire that teammate and 4th place finisher Sylvain Guintoli's settings were transferred to Haslam's bike in an effort to find a base. Alstare intends to go back to using the old tires at the next round in an attempt to keep Haslam's foundering title hopes from taking on anymore water.
Race 2 -- The Emperor Strikes Back
The second race started out much like the first, with Jonny Rea going to the front in short order. Unlike race one, however, Max Biaggi was able to slot into second position and begin to run down Rea fairly early. On lap seven Biaggi manged to get by Rea and set fast lap after fast lap en route to a 5 second gap at the finish that earned the ageless pirate his tenth win at the Czech circuit.
Xerox Ducati's Michel Fabrizio inherited third after a determined Ruben Xaus crashed out late in the race. Sterilgarda Yamah's James Toseland, who was battling a debilitating respiratory infection, overcame a horrible start that saw him drop back to 15th to pass Noriyuki Haga 2 laps from the end to take fourth position.
The crash in race one that aggravated the knee injury that Chris Vermeulen has been nursing since the opening round caused the Austrailian to retire after two laps in on the second race. Prior to the race it was reported that Vermeulen was going to consult with a Spanish doctor and would determine whether further surgery on the injured joint would be necessary that would put the former MotoGP pilot out for the rest of the season. That decision has been mooted, however, with yesterday's announcement that Vermuelen will sit out the remainder of the season.
FIM SBK Technical Direction further reduced the minimum weight of twin cylinder motorcycles (Mr. Subliminal: Ducati) another 3 kg after the Brno race to bring the minimum weight to 162 kg, the same as the four cylinder machines. One has to wonder how long this trend will continue or if the FIM will give serious thought to a modification of the twin's fuel delivery restrictor plates to restore competitiveness.