Monday, May 9


Laverty Springs a Surprise
By Michael Esdaile

In day of high stakes Superbike racing there was drama aplenty at the fourth round of the 2011 Superbike World Championship, held at Italy’s historic and high speed Monza circuit near Milan on Sunday.

First surprise was the fact Ireland’s Eugene Laverty not only won the first race, but backed up to win the second. The first race win was the first time the Yamaha man had stood on a Superbike podium in his career. Not a bad way to make the podium.

Other surprises were defending champion Max Biaggi’s mistakes in the first race, then a ride through penalty in the second race that cost the Italian a clear shot at his first race win of the year.

Other drama came at the start of the second race when Jakub Smrz (Ducati), Leon Haslam (BMW) and Jonathan Rea (Honda) all came down in a tangle just as the field was heading for the first corner. They were unable to continue.

But that was not the end of it: after working through to second place and giving Aprilia hope for a 1-2, Leon Camier crashed; then there was Biaggi’s ride through penalty that took him from a comfortable lead to 11th place; and just when he was looking like a mid-field man, Michel Fabrizio turned in a strong ride on the Alstare Suzuki to nett the team its first podium of the year. And finally, with three laps to go, championship points leader Carlos Checa’s Ducati suffered an engine problem that dropped him from sixth to tenth. In fact, with two corners to go to the finish, the Ducati started smoking badly and the Spaniard had to coax the bike across the line.

The result was that Checa’s 43 point lead in the championship was slashed to 27 points, with Melandri taking over the number two place in the title chase, abeit by just one point from Biaggi, who really wanted to win both races at Monza to get his title defence onto a firm footing.

Biaggi leads the Yamaha of 
Eugene Laverty early in the first race.
Biaggi had emerged from the three round Superpole session with a new pole record for the ultra-fast 5.77 km circuit, blasting the Alitalia Aprilia around in 1m 41.745s, well under the 1m 42.121s lap he used to take pole last year.

At that stage, he was focused on winning both races at a track where the 1000cc four cylinder machines can clearly use their superior top speed to good effect over the 1200cc twins. What was the difference? Well, Biaggi and Laverty were clocked
at 332 km/h while Checa managed 329 km/h hanging in the draft in the first race, but running without the advantage of a slip-stream the Ducati could manage ‘only’ 318 km/h. That’s still wickedly fast for a two cylinder engine, but giving away a big speed advantage at a track with two long straights was always going to make Monza a tough nut for Checa to crack.

In the end his Ducati almost threw in the towel entirely in the second race.

Carlos Checa rode hard all day but the two cylinder
Ducati was out-gunned by the four cylinder bikes.
However, none of this detracts from the superb job Laverty did to emerge victorious with a double win on the Yamaha World Superbike Team’s YZF-R1. Laverty said later that he would have been happy to have just made it to the podium at Monza, but to take a double victory was something he had not considered likely beforehand.

His first race win came after a tough battle with defending world champion and pole sitter Max Biaggi who was showing plenty of determination by taking the lead off the Irishman several times in the first few laps. But each time they crossed the finish line, it was the Yamaha man in front. Laverty then got some respite from the relentless attacks from Biaggi when the Italian ran wide on three occasions and dropped placings so that he had to fight his way back toward the front, engaging in titanic scraps with Marco Melandri (Yamaha) and Leon Haslam (BMW) in the process.

In the end though, Laverty made no mistakes, apart from a big slide in the Parabolica on the last lap, and won by 1.5 seconds from Biaggi with Haslam grabbing the final podium spot from Melandri.

Michel Fabrizio had worked up from tenth on the first lap to get the Alstare Suzuki into sixth after five laps then got past holeshot man Troy Corser’s BMW to run in fifth to the finish.

With three laps to go, Assen first race winner Jonathan Rea also got past Corser, who had actually led for the whole of the first lap before dropping back due to some big slides from the German machine.

Biaggi’s team-mate Leon Camier helped the Aprilia cause by stalking Checa – who had started from 13th and got as high as eighth – passing the Spaniard on the last lap, bumping the Althea Ducati man to ninth.

Jakub Smrz got his Team Effenbert-Liberty Racing Ducati home tenth, less than a second behind Checa, with Ayrton Badovina (BMW Motorrad Italia SBK Team) and Sylvain Guintoli (Team Effenbert-Liberty Racing Ducati) 11th and 12th, more than six seconds ahead of Tom Sykes on the Kawasaki Racing Team’s ZX-10R, with Maxime Berger (Supersonic Racing Team Ducati) and Rueben Xaus (Castrol Honda) rounding out the final points scorers.


The second race saw Corser holeshot once again to lead almost to the end of the first lap, when Biaggi whistled past to take over out front. The Italian was in determined mood, clicking off a series of blazingly fast laps to pad his lead.

Behind him, Camier got the second factory Aprilia into second after diving inside the PATA Racing Aprilia of Noriyuki Haga into one of the chicanes then a lap later blasted past Corser.

By then Biaggi was 1.5 seconds clear and pulling away. Over the next three laps he stretched the gap to his Aprilia team-mate to 4.1 seconds while Corser slipped back to sixth after being passed by Melandri, Fabrizio and Haga.

At that point Laverty had made his way steadily toward the front from ninth at the end of the first lap and was right on Corser’s tail.

On the eighth of 18 laps Camier went down in a cloud of dust and flying debris after the front tyre of the Aprilia suffered an abrupt loss of traction in a terrifying front-end tuck. That left Biaggi leading by 5.2 seconds from Melandri with Fabrizio third from Haga, Laverty and Corser, with Checa seventh.

With a five second cushion over the scrap for second place between Melandri, Laverty, Fabrizio and Haga, Biaggi eased the pace to hold the gap steady at a little over five and a half seconds. He was looking well on target for his first win of the year, vital if he was to pull back a bigger bunch of points off Checa.

Then, on the tenth lap, he arrived at one of the chicanes way to hot and rather than trying to take the bend, he ran on through the slip road, rejoining the track on the other side of the chicane. He sat up then got his head down once more, with the gap to second placed Melandri 5.4 seconds. Laverty had by now passed Fabrizio to tail his Yamaha team-mate but any mistakes would see the Suzuki man back past, with Haga hot on his heels. It was very close.

Then the race officials announced Biaggi would have to take a ride through penalty for running on at the chicane.

Biaggi shook his head in disbelief but knew better than to ignore an official instruction so with just five laps to go he dived into the pit lane for his ride through, re-joining in 11th place behind the Kawasakis of Tom Sykes and Joan Lascorz.

From there he worked his way forward, passing the Kawasakis on successive laps, then nailing Checa after the latter ran into engine problems.

Out front Melandri had inherited the lead but had team-mate Laverty virtually glued to him, pulling alongside on occasion, the Yamaha men almost three seconds ahead of Fabrizio’s Suzuki, with Haga right up the GSX-R1000’s tail pipes.

In the last two laps, the huge Monza crowd was treated to a tense battle between Melandri and Laverty, decided on the final lap by Laverty getting the better of his team-mate. Behind the two Yamahas, Fabrizio held out Haga’s PATA Racing Aprilia ato give Suzuki its first podium of the year after a real cut-and-thrust final two laps between the former Xerox Ducati team-mates.

So after it appeared early on that Aprilia was going to score a 1-2, the first Italian V4 home was Haga in fourth, almost two seconds clear of Corser who was having a much better time on the BMW. Badovini brought the Italian team’s BMW home sixth ahead of Guintoli, Lascorz and Checa.

If Laverty’s first race win was a thriller, his second was epic: he’d come from ninth at the end of the first lap and had to engage some serious hard men in his race to the front. Two wins was just reward for his big effort.

For Biaggi it was a case of what might have been. But for the mistake at the chicane and the subsequent ride-through penalty, he almost assuredly would have narrowed Checa’s lead in the title chase to just 11 points. Still, with another nine rounds (18 races) to go, Biaggi has time on his side.

However, with the next three rounds – Miller Motorsport Park, Misano and Aragon – being places where Checa and the Althea Ducati can be counted in the hunt for race wins, not to mention the new-found competitiveness of the Yamahas, it’s looking like a torrid next few weeks for Biaggi.

For full results from Monza, click on this link:

World Superbike Championship points (after four of 13 rounds):
Carlos Checa (Althea Ducati 1198R) 145
Marco Melandri (Yamaha World Superbike Team YZF-R1) 118
Max Biaggi (Alitalila Aprilia RSV4 Factory) 117
Jonathan Rea (Castrol Honda CBR1000RR) 89
Eugene Laverty (Yamaha World Superbike Team YZF-R1) 85
Leon Haslam (BMW Motorrad Motorsport S1000 RR) 84
Michael Fabrizio (Alstare Suzuki GSX-R1000) 74
Leon Camier (Alitalila Aprilia RSV4 Factory) 58
Jakub Smrz (Team Effenbert-Liberty Racing Ducati 1198R) 55
Noriyuki Haga (PATA Racing Aprilia RSV4 Factory) 47
Troy Corser (BMW Motorrad Motorsport S1000 RR) 46
Ayrton Badovini (BMW Motorrad Italia SBK Team S1000 RR) 35
Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team Superbike ZX-10R) 34
Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki Racing Team Superbike ZX-10R) 33
Rueben Xaus (Castrol Honda CBR1000RR) 31