On the weekend where the Misano World Circuit was formally renamed in honour of Marco Simoncelli, the World Superbike championship gave us the kind of racing of which Simoncelli would be proud; close, aggressive and with just a hint of over-exuberance.
Rain threw qualifying into disarray and made for a mixed-up grid formation, with top riders missing out on front-row places. Temperatures played potential havoc with tyre choice as riders were made to give serious consideration to tyre choices and strategy. Poor qualifying from the front-running ex-MotoGP contingent also gave the first laps of both Superbike races a sense of urgency not normally seen, and hot tempers would push the envelope of risk-taking.
“Like a little mouse, we try to climb the mountain.” - Max Biaggi
Of the three ex-MotoGP riders, one would leave the weekend on a high while the other two would have wished for a different weekend. At the halfway mark of the championship, Max Biaggi has a clear lead. Before Misano, his championship lead was hanging by a thread. He needed a change of fortune and Saturday's qualifying didn't give any indication that this was on the cards, but Il Corsaro, Italy's Dick Dastardly, the Jolly Roger, Max Biaggi made intelligent tyre choices and, unlike his usual style, forced through to the front pack fairly quickly in race one and, as if his confidence were resurgent, very quickly in race two. Biaggi has more race wins than any other rider this year, apart from Carlos Checa.
Checa could have had almost as fairy-tale a weekend as Biaggi if it weren't for Marco Melandri trying too hard in race two and, as Checa noted, not as carefully as he normally would, punting Checa at the scenery. Checa seemed to have both the tyre and the desire for a second podium, but instead, he leaves Misano still in 5th place.
Marco Melandri was in quite a few on-track battles, most notably the one that cost Checa adhesion, but he met his match in aggression and determination in race two with Ayrton Badovini. The pair swapped places on a track with only one fast line and managed to both stay on. Melandri seemed to be trying a little too hard in places, probably trying to make up for his poor qualifying and late DNF in the first race. From second in the championship to fourth in one weekend shows just how close it is at the top.
Jonathan Rea did his title chances no end of good this weekend, shuffling off memories of last year's crash that ended his 2011 season. A fifth in race one on a rapidly dying tyre and a hard-fought second in race two, with Leon Haslam waiting for a mistake that never came, he leaves Misano second in the title chase.
A surprising package, and another rider that seemed to be more aggressive than usual, was Davide Giugliano who qualified very well and raced even better, even though he rode just a little too hard in the second race and DNFed out of third place, pushing the front five laps in. With two excellent results this year, and far too many DNFs, it's clear that he is a talent that just needs to learn to stop crashing; an easier prospect than learning how to go faster.
While Tom Sykes just keeps qualifying well, his Kawasaki is terrifying to its tyres. Hampered by his only win this season being a half-points wet win, if Sykes wants to get more than a cupboard full of Tissot watches, his team, Tom included, needs to learn how to make the tyres stay sticky for a whole race. When that happens, though, Sykes is capable of wins.
With Ayrton Badovini and Michel Fabrizio benefitting from the advances BMW are making, we should see more of their blue and yellow bikes near the front, unlike the Suzukis of Leon Camier and John Hopkins who continue to have terrible weekends. Camier showed that he had the pace in qualifying, but didn't have the bike to get anywhere near the front, and with Chaz Davies appearing to have turned a corner in developing his Aprilia, his 12th place in the championship is at serious risk.
The Effenbert Ducatis were unremarkable too, for once. Sylvain Guintoli crashed in Superpole and race two, Jakub Smrz could only manage a brace of 9th place finishes.
Eugene Laverty, a contender last year, has had another weekend of only one finish, only this time he left with nine points to his team mate's 50.
When we look back at the 2012 season, rain and all, I would not be surprised if we were able to pinpoint this weekend as the deciding round of the championship, but, as has been shown so often, racers will always try their best to make us, and our predictions, look daft. Three weeks until Aragon, and I'm not making any predictions yet.
In World Supersport, with Sam Lowes and Fabien Foret giving Kenan Sofuoglu and Jules Cluzel breathing room at the sharp end, this is too soon to call yet, but Turkey's Sofuoglu is a hard man to bet against.