Monday, April 2

CARLOS MAKES IT A DOUBLE


By MICHAEL ESDAILE

CARLOS Checa made it a brilliant double for Ducati at Imola on Sunday, April 1 clinching the second race with another well-judged ride to the chequered flag. Not only that, he took over the lead in the 2012 Superbike World Championship from Aprilia’s Max Biaggi, by four points - 75 to 71. Great consistency saw Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes maintain third in the title chase with 69 points.

The podium was the same as in the first race, Sykes again runner-up on the Kawasaki ZX-10R and Leon Haslam taking third for BMW. And again, Biaggi was fourth on the V4 Aprilia.

Biaggi bolted off the second row of the grid to lead the howling pack into the first corner but in a flash Sykes strafed around the outside to hit the front on the Kawasaki and it was not long before Checa dived inside the ‘Corsair’ for second.

But this time Sykes really got on with it, getting a bit of a buffer early on then taking that out to almost three seconds when Checa uncharacteristically made a hash of one of the slower corners, allowing Biaggi to shoot past, with Haslam in tow.

That made Checa get his head down and concentrate. He then steadily closed in on the two 1000cc fours and nailed the pair of them but while this had been going on, Sykes turned up the wick on the ZX-10R, setting a new track record in the process.

Sykes broke Checa’s two hour old record trying to stretch the gap over the field on the seventh lap, stopping the clocks at 1m 47.552s for an average of 165.219 km/h.

But once again, the fours were harder on their tyres than the Ducatis - particularly Checa's Althea machine - and the Spaniard got away from the scrapping Haslam and Biaggi to home in on Syke's green missile.

He took longer to get there but there was a sense of inevitability about it all and with eight laps to go, Checa slipped inside Sykes and stretched away to win comfortably. For a while Haslam, having dispatched Biaggi to fourth, closed on Sykes but when it appeared he was about to stake a claim for the runner-up spot, the Kawasaki man showed him the ZX-10R is a very potent force, accelerating away from the BMW in the final two laps.

Biaggi was close enough to see this and made a late charge at Haslam but came up short.

Fifth this time around was Jonathan Rea (Honda World Superbike Team) who did well to survive a trip across the gravel after tangling with sixth-placed Eugene Laverty (Aprilia Racing). Jakub Smrz (Liberty Racing Team Effenbert Ducati) was a very close seventh while Leon Camier (Crescent Fixi Suzuki) rode to eighth place ahead of Joan Lascorz on the second Kawasaki and Melandri on the second factory BMW.

Melandri's tenth place finish helped drop him from second to fifth in the title chase, a point behind his BMW team-mate Haslam.

Team Effenbert Liberty Racing’s Sylvain Guintoli just could not take a trick. After crashing in the first race (with a bit of assistance) he was running sixth early in the second race, but ran on at one of the chicances, losing a lot of time. After that, an eleventh place finish was not too bad. Without those dramas he may well have been a podium contender.

Haslam said he had a few big moments in the last few laps and the bike had chatter problems and was not hooking up its rear Pirelli as well as Sykes’ Kawasaki.

Sykes was happy enough with second: “A very good weekend, pole position and two seconds, but Carlos was hard to beat today,” Sykes admitted. “He had better grip at the end and that’s something we have to work on. We made a small change after the first race and that seemed to pay off.”

“This is a very special place to win,” said Checa.

In more ways than the 40th Anniversary of Ducati’s Imola 200 win in 1972 too, it turned out, as the Ducati Corse General and Technical Director Filippo Preziosi was on hand, along with company President Gabriele Del Torchio.

The Imola SWC weekend also marked the racing d├ębut of the 1199 Panigale in the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup races, and although the all-new V-twin finished third in that contest, behind the new BMW and a Kawasaki ZX-10R, no doubt the Ducati management was more than delighted to see that the four-year-old 1198R is still very much a winner.