The last weekend of World Superbikes in 2012 gave us tense action throughout the day, as the championship resisted all efforts of being straight-forward. In Supersport, a pantomime villain twirled his waxed moustache while in Superbike, a lantern jawed Englishman stood for victory and fair play in the field of sports while duelling with a skull and crossbones pirate.
With a morning of the Marseillaise, Tom Sykes fought hard to ensure God Save The Queen rung out to close the season, and many will be discussing the fact that he lost the title by only half a point. The blame will be placed at the feet of team orders, earlier races being only half points and other riders interfering in the title, but the real reason Max Biaggi beat Tom Sykes is that the Italian simply scored more points than him. To pick a single instance when either rider was robbed of a tiny handful of points does both riders an injustice. Biaggi won by the tightest of margins possible, barring an actual points draw, and he showed that his spirited ride for only three points at the Nurburgring was indeed the mark of a champion. It may not have been the popular result, but it's the right result. Tom Sykes in the podium press conference, demonstrated he still held a grudge against Ayrton Badovini for skittling him out of a certain podium at Aragon earlier in the year, but this year has been packed full of riders coming together. Sykes was aiming for a top five result at the beginning of the year and showed that he could get within a heartbeat of the title, so maybe the time for grudges is over.
On the subject of team orders, there are no rules against them in World Superbikes, and the sport can be thought of as a team sport, with riders helping their team mates by exchanging both data and occasionally places on the track. If rules against team orders were introduced, it would be a very difficult rule to police, and a dangerous rule to riders, as you would have to convincingly lose a place to your team mate in ways less safe than obviously waving them past with a shaken leg. With no way to safely ban team orders, it's unlikely the issue will ever be raised. They were used sparingly this year, and as unpopular as they are with fans of the sport, they will most likely be used next year as well.
Marco Melandri entered the weekend with an outside chance at the title, a chance that survived until his crash in race two, and his determination to fight on in spite of injury, like his team mate Leon Haslam, is a testament to his determination. A podium in race one kept his chances alive, but a wet piece of track ended his season, consigning him to a respectable third place finish in the championship, even if it was two places lower than he expected a few weeks ago.
When World Superbikes went to Assen earlier in the year, Carlos Checa was leading the championship, having won the three previous races. In the last year of the 1098R, so called for homologation reasons in spite of the 1198cc engine, the extra weight the bike carried as a reward for winning the year before meant that the Ducati would never be the fastest bike in a straight line, by some margin. As the slower of the four-cylinder bikes got faster as the year went by, the V-twin was eternally doomed. Sylvain Guintoli will likely be the last World Superbike rider to win on the 1098R, and to close the chapter with a 45-point weekend will do nicely. As Guintoli is likely off to Suzuki next year, he won't be rewarded for his efforts by the Italian marque.
One rider who will be rewarded is Jonathan Rea, who is getting both a faster bike and a faster team mate for next year. Hiroshi Aoyama's transfer to World Superbikes can safely be described as disastrous. Rea didn't want him as his team mate and he didn't bring any speed with him. Rea wanted a team mate that would spur him and development of the bike along. With Rea's good results on a bike that's considered not as good as he made it look, which undoubtedly contributed to Aoyama's fortunes, he has been rewarded by more Honda involvement next year, and promises of more power, assisted by Cosworth.
With racing this close and diverse, with five different marques in the top five places, the series obviously works. While the arrival of the Ducati Panigale will change the dynamic a little, along with the 17" wheels and headlight stickers, we hope that next year brings us as much actiuon and entertainment as this one did. Here's hoping that the excitement isn't sapped out of a winning formula in the name of progress and cross-series unification.
In World Supersport, Kenan Sofuoglu's 2012 will be remembered as fast, aggressive and unfortunately dangerous. Twice penalised for his one-track actions and missing out on a deserved penalty for a 170mph head butt at Aragon, there's no kind way to look at the man's actions. While many riders made aggressive passes throughout the year, Jules Cluzel on Sam Lowes for instance, none could be considered worthy of a penalty, yet Sofuoglu crossed the line from aggressive to dangerous a few times too often. As much as we have to acknowledge racing is a dangerous and aggressive sport, and that penalties for close hard racing damage the entertainment, there is a line that when crossed lives are put at risk. Sofuoglu crossed that line three times this year.