Tuesday, June 1


By Michael Esdaile
MASAMILIANO 'Max' Biaggi goes by the sobriquet 'Roman Emperor', but apart from a few flashes of brilliance since he joined the Superbike World Championship in 2007, he has not looked very imperious at all.

Then last year he signed up with Aprilia, the company with which he won his first World 250GP Championship in 1994. So keen was Aprilia to make sure the often temperamental Biaggi was happy in the team, his old 250GP crew was brought in to look after the bikes.

Last year Biaggi showed some of the Aprilia V4's potential with nine podium finishes, including the RSV4's maiden win in the first race at Brno.

This year Biaggi started the season stronger, the team had made some changes to the bike and for the first time in years, the normally tightly-wound Biaggi looked somewhat relaxed. He struggled a little at Phillip Island then scored a pair of wins at round two in Portimao, Portugal, another brace of wins at Monza and now he has finished the visit to North America with a second win at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah.

As in the first race, Biaggi had to deal with pole sitter Carlos Checa setting the pace out front on the Althea Ducati 1198R. The Spaniard had been untouchable since setting his astounding Superpole lap but his bike stopped with the chequered flag almost in sight in the first race.

In the re-match, Checa's Ducati led but his race was over at the start of the eighth lap, gifting Biaggi the lead. And to give the Roman a further boost, Alstare Suzuki's Leon Haslam crashed on the eighth lap, handing his world championship points lead to Biaggi on a platter.

Haslam had made a poor start by his standards and was tenth after a lap but he got his head down and charged up to sixth before crashing.

With the pressure on Biaggi eased somewhat after two major rivals were sidelined, he still kept the V4 Aprilia on the gas, trimming another 2.4 seconds off the race record he had established in the first race, with a race average of 161.442 km/h.

Troy Corser held down the second spot for a while on the BMW, but was overtaken first by Leon Camier on the second Alitalia Aprilia, then Cal Crutchlow (Sterilgarda Yamaha) and finally, three laps from the end, by his old Yamaha team-mate Noriyuki Haga.

With Checa and Haslam out of it, the Alitalia Aprilia team-mates ran comfortably out front, with Biaggi stretching his advantage over Camier. Once in third, Crutchlow put on a late charge but he wasn’t able to overtake Camier.

Max’s winning advantage was 5.899 seconds, the biggest in World Superbike so far this year and Crutchlow more than a second behind Camier. It was Aprilia’s first Superbike World Championship double-podium.

Haga was fourth, with Corser completing the top five. Not far behind Corser, Sylvain Guintoli on the second Alstare Suzuki held of Checa's team-mate Shane Bryne, bringing the Suzuki home sixth to make it five manufacturers represented by the first six placegetters.

For Checa, the weekend started so promisingly but ended with heartbreak. From the pace he was setting, he had every chance of repeating the double win he scored at Miller in 2008, then racing the Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR. Had his Ducati not stopped in both races, the outcome could have been very different, not just for the results on the day, but in terms of the championship points table...

Heading to round eight at Misano, Biaggi heads the championship for the first time, 257 points to Haslam's 242. Both of them are well clear of Ten Kate Honda's Jonathan Rea (151) who had a bad weekend by his standards, scoring 14th and eighth in the two races. Despite failing to score a single point at Miller,
Carlos Checa is still fourth on the points ladder, with 141, while Haga has moved up to fifth on 135.

With five rounds and 10 races remaining, the title is still wide open, with a potential 250 points still up for grabs.

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