Tuesday, May 29

BIAGGI STRETCHES HIS LEAD

Marco Melandri, Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi on the
podium at Miller but who was the real winner? 
By MICHAEL ESDAILE

Reigning Eni Superbike World Champion Carlos Checa won his fourth race of the season for the Althea Ducati team, Marco Melandri took his second win for BMW but that wily old fox Max Biaggi was the big winner at Miller Motorsport Park in Utah on May 29, departing for the seventh round at home in Italy with an 18 point lead in the 2012 title chase.

Biaggi had gone to Miller holding a slim five point lead over Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes and after qualifying seventh fastest after a tough two days of practice, the 2010 champ was looking for a little extra.

“I'm still not where I'd like to be,” Biaggi said after Superpole. “In spite of the amount of testing we've done, something is missing that would give us a consistent and fast pace. Superpole went well enough, although at the end of the day we weren't at the same level as the top riders. Tomorrow I expect to make more progress and move in the right direction to be able to push with greater confidence and aim for a good result”.

As it turned out, he did just that on race day, run on the USA’s Memorial Day, 24 hours after the Indianapolis 500.

The weekend started with Czech Jakub Smrz snatching pole position right at the end of Superpole 3 after being fastest in three of the four timed practice sessions despite early wind and rain. But any hopes the Effenbert Liberty Racing Ducati team had of seeing Smrz score a long overdue win were dashed with poor starts in both races. In the end, Smrz returned 6-9 results in the two 22 lap races and team-mate Sylvain Guintoli had a 12-10 score card.


On the other hand, Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes scored his best ever results at the 4.9 kilometre circuit outside Salt Lake City with 8-5 finishes and Marco Melandri gave BMW its best results since the German company joined the series in 2009, the Italian coming up with a 2-1 score.


CHECA SHINES
Checa leads Rea, Biaggi and Smrz
The first 22 lap race was led early by Tom Sykes but after four laps Marco Melandri took the lead off the Kawasaki man with Carlos Checa and Honda’s Johnny Rea following him through. Seven laps in, Checa dived intside Melandri to hit the front, where he stayed to the end despite a strong challenge from the BMW-mounted Italian.

The two of them pulled out a gap on the chasing pack, led by Rea with Biaggi working his way through to challenge the Irishman. Lap after lap he ranged up on the Honda on the straight but Rea was able t hold him out on the brakes until six laps fro the end when the ‘Corsair’ made a pass stick. From there Biaggi held Rea out to the flag, while behind them Eugene Laverty on the second factory Aprilia and Smrz got the better of Sykes. Then, on the last lap, Welshman Chaz Davies (ParkinGO MTC Racing Aprilia) also nipped past the Kawasaki man.

The win was Checa’s fifth at the Utah circuit since he opened his account with a double win in 2008 on the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR, and it was the 600th race in the 25 years history of the Superbike World Championship.

“I had a great time and I always enjoy coming to America, spending time around here, and I always feel really well at this track,” Checa said. “It is a fantastic moment for me to win again, get on the podium, to take a victory, so some great feelings come back. It is a really special day for all the Americans here as it is Memorial Day so I want to dedicate this victory to you,” he added.

“I’ve always had a great relationship with this track and to win here again is just fantastic, especially after some difficult recent rounds. The race wasn’t an easy one and Melandri pushed right until the end, I couldn’t relax for a second! But I was feeling confident with the tyre that we had chosen and was able to make a great race. I had to work hard through the corners as we seemed to be losing a lot on the straights but I am very happy with the result, and happy for the entire team that has worked so hard this weekend.”

For his part, Melandri , despite being unable to find a way to pass Checa notwithstanding a more than 20 km/h top speed advantage over the heavy, slow twin cylinder Ducati, was delighted with his second placing.

“I was struggling a lot last year so to get such a good race was amazing for me,” he said. “I tried to make life not easy for Carlos but when I came back in the end, I tried to come back to him a few times but I made a mistake. So, for the last lap I chose not to try too much because it was easy to make another mistake. Second place was good for me after such a tough qualifying.”


“It is good to be on the podium and I appreciate the third position,” a rather calm Biaggi said. “I had a long fight with Rea and his Honda and we got good points for the championship. In the end I could not go faster than that. On the first lap with so many riders there was a battle and I am happy now because we had a good race and finally we got some California-style weather.”


For full results, click here


DETERMINED MELANDRI

Marco Melandri's 2-1 score was BMW's best ever Superbike result. 

The pundits were booking Carlos Checa in for top spot on the podium before the second race got underway, but there were a few more twists in the Miller Motorsports Park yet to be seen.

The race got underway with Sykes again putting the ZX10R Kawasaki into the lead but this time Checa was much keener to get to the front and away from the chasing pack. Despite having Melandri whistle past down the straight, Checa took the place back, dived inside Sykes to take the lead and immediately started opening an advantage. Just as it seemed he was about to pull a similar disappearing act to his 2010 and 2011 efforts, Rea’s Honda team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama crashed. His FireBlade went end over end, flattening both Pirellis in the process. Despite the belly-pan oil containment, the crash was so violent some of Castrol’s finest lubricant was spilled on a critical part of the track.

In an instant the red flags were hung out and it was to be an hour and a half until the track was water-blasted clean.

For the third time it was the green streak of Sykes’ Kawasaki that shot into the lead, with Checa tucking straight into the slip-stream. Before the first of the re-scheduled 18 laps was complete, Checa was in the lead and pulling away.

Behind him, Melandri had dispatched Sykes who had Chaz Davies, Davide Giugliano (Althea Ducati), Johnny Rea, Eugene Laverty and a determined Biaggi in tow.

Davies was the next to get by Sykes, but it wasn’t until be the sixth lap that Rea found a way past the Kawasaki man and by that time Biaggi was up to fifth and looking all business.

By that time Melandri had inherited the lead after Checa crashed. He had perhaps pushed too deep into one of the many corners and lost front tyre traction.

“I was pushing, I was feeling confident with the setting but clearly I pushed a bit too hard and lost the front,” Checa said later. “I went back on track but there was nothing I could do, I’d lost too much ground.”

Melandri had a short period when he had a small buffer over his pursuers, then Rea attacked Davies for second and the pair of them caught the BMW man so they were virtually nose-to-tail with Biaggi coming in like a shark at the back.

Halfway through the 18 laps the BMW crew was watching nervously as Rea probed for an opening. The BMW had the legs on the Honda but Rea was pulling plenty back under brakes and through the corners.

After five laps of this, Rea found a way through but if he thought Melandri was done, he was mistaken. Now the Italian reversed the roles, probing for an opening for the next seven laps.

Behind him, Davies’ podium aspirations took a hammering when Biaggi showed that a works Aprilia has a bit more mumbo than a privateer version, blasting past on the straight and pulling a gap. Davies did a good job to stay with him.

Going onto the final lap, Melandri used the BMW’s superior speed to shot past Rea and hold him out, the BMW crew looking on the verge of collective heart attacks with visions of a replay of the second race at Donington coming to mind.

However, Melandri kept the door firmly shut on Rea and shot home to win by just 0.195 of a second!

It had been an absorbing contest but Melandri was up to the challenge to take BMW’s second win of the season which is also BMW’s second win since it started its Superbike campaign in 2009.

Davies missed out on the podium by just two seconds with Sykes a further five seconds back, pipping Laverty by a whisker while Checa’s team-mate Giugliano was sixth just ahead of Leon Haslam on the second works BMW.

“My team and BMW did an awesome job,” said Melandri. “Here in Miller it was my worst weekend last year, and it was the worst for BMW, too. So going home with two podiums, a win and a second place, is like a dream. In race one, I was pushing like in qualifying from the first lap until the end. The tyre was working very well until the end. Yesterday we were struggling a bit too much, but today fortunately the weather was better for us. And I was feeling even more comfortable on the bike with less fuel in the tank.

“In race two, for sure I had a little bit of luck with Carlo crashing. I was struggling a bit in the beginning, and when Johnny (Rea) passed me I lost the concentration. It took me some time to catch him. But again, when the fuel level dropped down I felt so much better on the bike and fortunately I could pass Johnny on the straight because my BMW engine was so strong. Otherwise it would have been very difficult for me to try to make a pass. I am happy because the bike is working well on different types of tracks. But now we have to be focused, we cannot think that we are going to be on the top every Sunday so we have to keep working. But my team did a great job, thanks to everyone, to all the guys back in Germany. I am so happy and proud to be with BMW. This is the best team I ever worked with,” a still grinning Melandri said.

But perhaps the last word belongs to the man who has extended his championship lead.

After four year's hard work, naturally the BMW team was delighted with Melandri's results. 
It was the first time a BMW has won a Superbike race in  the USA snce Harry Klinzmann won at Louden, New Hampshire on the ex-Butler & Smith R90S in 1978...

“Two good races,” commented Biaggi, “even if the hectic initial phases made us lose a lot of ground. I was able to recover well and make it to the third step of the podium, but unfortunately overtaking and battling for positions means that you can't lap the way you could on an open track. We are leaving the United States ahead in the standings, but the last few races have shown how BMW and Honda have been improving. We need to improve our bike as well, because our rivals' progress is clear”.

Race two results here