Sunday, April 1



SPANIARD Carlos Checa helped Ducati celebrate its most important race success by taking victory in the first Superbike race at Imola on Sunday, 40 years after Ducati took a 1-2 finish in the inaugural Imola 200 in 1972.

The Imola 200 was the first 200 mile race for Formula 750 machines run in Europe and Ducati was very much the unfancied brand with its then un-proven 750cc V-twin.

Indeed, American-domiciled Englishman Paul Smart wondered what on earth he had let himself in for when he saw that first 750cc Ducati racer a few days before the Imola 200. He still was underwhelmed by its performance, until he and Ducati team-mate Bruno Spaggiari qualified the V-twins first and second fastest for the 200 miler, and went on to take a 1-2 finish ahead of Triumph, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha, Moto-Guzzi, Norton, MV Agusta and BSA.

Checa may have missed out on pole for this year’s Superbike World Championship race to the flying Kawasaki of Tom Sykes but just as in 1972, the Ducati V-twin was easier on its tyres and steered beautifully through the fast sweeping turns of the historic Italian circuit to clinch the 12th win for Ducati in SWC competition at Imola.

Sykes shot off the start into the lead and stayed there for half the 21 laps. But Checa went right with him, keeping a watch on the Kawasaki while behind him Max Biaggi (Aprilia) made a dynamite start from the second row of the grid to settle into third.

But Biaggi lost time in a chicane incident on the second lap that saw Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli (Team Effenbert Liberty Racing Ducati) forced onto the gravel by an over-eager Leon Haslam (BMW). Guintoli went down, his Ducati spun across the track and took out Chaz Davies (ParkinGO MTC Racing Aprilia).

The drama had started on the opening lap with Leon Camier (Crescent Fixi Suzuki) and Lorenzo Alfonsi both crashing.

After losing touch with Sykes and Checa, Biaggi settled into third place but was relegated to fourth by Haslam after a back and forth dice that saw them change positions three times in half a lap with five laps to go.

Haslam went on to take the final podium spot and in relegating Biaggi to fourth, helped Checa close the gap on his Aprilia-mounted Italian rival in the championship chase. He went to Imola 20 points behind Biaggi and had closed the gap to just eight points after that first race.

Checa, who as at Phillip Island had been consistently the fastest rider in practice and qualifying, stalked pole man Sykes for half the race. The Kawasaki clearly had a power advantage and would streak away on the straighter sections but Checa could brake deeper into the chicanes and get on the throttle earlier on their exits to keep the Kawasaki in sight.

Eventually the Kawasaki started to lose rear tyre traction and Checa was right there watching it. When the time was right he pounced, diving up the inside on the brakes to hit the lead about half way through the race.

When he did he rode at lap record pace and took his second win of the year in some style. Sykes had his best ever dry race performance on the Kawasaki in second place, with Leon Haslam (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) and Max Biaggi (Aprilia Racing) disputing the final podium place. It went to Haslam, by a second from his Italian rival.

Checa ran consistent laps in the low 1m 48s range until he got by Sykes, then went for it to gap the Kawasaki man and give him no hope of coming back, turning a lap record 1m 47.877s lap at an average of 164.721 km/h on lap 13. That broke his own year-old lap record of 1m 47.934s instantly gaining a big advantage over Sykes who decided that 20 points for second was a while lot better than crashing and getting nothing.

Sykes had recorded a best of 1m 48.01s on the six go-round but that was by no means enough to shake Checa.

Behind Haslam and Biaggi was Eugene Laverty (Aprilia Racing) in fifth but just behind Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad Motorsport) and Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki Racing Team) finally passed long-time fifth place runner, Lorenzo Zanetti (Pata Racing Team Ducati). Zanetti was a still-impressive eighth.

Melandri had run ahead at one of the chicanes and came from well back to snare his sixth place finish.

But had Guintoli not been forced off, it may have been a Ducati 1-2, just like in 1972.

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