Monday, May 7


Tom Sykes celebrates Kawasaki's first win of the 2012 season at a rain-affected Monza.

FOR ZX10R IN 2012


Englishman Tom Sykes gave Kawasaki its first win of the season at round four of the Eni Superbike World Championship at Monza on May 6 in one of the most unconventional events in the 25 year history of the series.

In the end, just eight laps of a scheduled total of 36 were run as changeable weather conditions kept riders and teams guessing on tyre choice and led to a group of riders delaying re-starts of both races and eventually stopping the second race at half distance.

While race fans were ultimately short-changed, they were treated to the sight of the defending champion Carlos Checa assisting points leader Max Biaggi back to the pits for the first re-start with a dead engine in his Aprilia V4. Under the one bike rule, Biaggi could not simply jump on a back-up machine for the re-start – his team had to fit a fresh engine.

Despite Biaggi’s engine concern, the big loser from the weekend was Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli, a noted wet weather rider who had scored 1-2 finishes in tricky conditions at the previous round, Assen in Holland and had put his Team Effenbert Liberty Racing 1198 Ducati on pole position after a rain affected Superpole. As at Assen, the wet Superpole regulation was brought into play, meaning that instead of three sessions for the fastest 16 riders, there were two longer ones. However, before the only race start that counted, Guintoli’s Ducati conked out and he was unable to re-fire it during the warm-up lap so the pole-sitter missed the start.

The weekend had got underway on Friday looking to be a record-breaker with seven riders going under Cal Crutchlow’s 2010 lap record of 1m 42.937s in that afternoon’s qualifying session. A re-surfaced Parabolica curve was the major reason for that although the Pirelli tyres were working well with the 43° C track temperature. At that Stage BMW was looking good, with Michel Fabrizio (BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet S1000RR) setting fastest time, followed by the factory BMWs of Marco Melandri and Leon Haslam with Ayrton Badovini on the second Italian BMW just behind Aprilia’s Eugene Laverty. At that stage, Sykes was sixth fastest and Guintoli tenth.

Track conditions were less conducive to fast times on Saturday morning with the result that no one went faster in the second qualifying session than they had Friday afternoon. However, in Saturday afternoon’s free practice, Sykes was the only rider under the 1m 43s barrier, posting a 1:42.766 – a fraction faster than he’d done on the hot tarmac on Friday. Rather than 43°C, the track temperature was down to 19°C, so the Kawasaki was getting good traction from its Pirellis hot or cold.

In Superpole 1, Melandri pipped Sykes for fastest time, the wet conditions seeing lap times in the 1m 57s range, at best. In the second Superpole, Guintoli slashed into the 1:53, as did Sykes, so these two noted wet weather runners were first and second on the grid for the first scheduled 18 lap race.

Guintoli was elated to have bagged the Tissot watch from his first ever Superpole at a track where usually the slow, heavy, under-powered Ducatis are at a massive disadvantage.

"I’m very proud of the result,“ Guintoli said. “It is my first ever Superpole win, and get it here at Monza with a Ducati has a greater value! I thank the team, engineers and mechanics, who supported me and with whom we have been able to study and make the most of our strategy. We consciously took risks but the end result has fully repaid our efforts. I have a great feeling with my the bike, we're working hard and this is the right direction”.

But at the start Sykes streaked away to head Guintoli and in just two laps they had gapped the field and were swapping the lead. Melandri had worked up to third place but lost the front and crashed at speed on the entrance to the Parabolica on the first lap. His BMW was badly damaged but he was unhurt. Then at the end of the third lap, John Hopkins crashed his Crescent Suzuki in the Parabolica, breaking bones in his right foot. The race was then red-flagged.

As the riders trundled back to the grid, Max Biaggi signalled that he needed a push – his factory Aprilia had stopped. Showing the sportsmanship that has won him a lot of fans, Spaniard Carlso Checa slowed, put his right boot on the Aprilia’s swing-arm and pushed Biaggi back around to the start with Max propping with his left hand on the Althea Ducati’s noses.

The Aprilia team sprang into action to put a new engine in Biaggi’s bike while over at BMW Melandri’s team was flat out building him a new bike.

The conditions indicated intermediate tyres but most riders were opting for full wets, despite the fact that on Monza’s high speed straights, the wet weather Pirellis had started to delaminate in three laps on a drying track.

The riders held an impromptu meeting on the grid, although Sykes and Guintoli did not take part, clearly prepared to go out and race. In the end, the rest decided to send several repreantatives, including Biaggi, out in the Alfa Romeo safety cars. As they exited the Ascari chicane, rain dumped on the Parabolica and with deep puddles, it was decided to call the race off altogether.

The winner here was Biaggi as it is doubtful the Aprilia team could have made the engine change in time for the re-start.

In the interval before the second scheduled Superebike race, the Supersport machines took to the track and raced – but only after track workers swept standing water away from several corners and a tractor with a hot air blower on the back tried to dry the surface. Thirty-five bikes faced the starter, all fitted with wet weather tyres, and although there were nine crashes, including Australian Broc Parkes, former GP rider Jules Cluzel held out a strong challenge from Sam Lowes to steal the win by just three tenths of a second.

So even on a wet track, Monza could deliver exciting racing.

Although the track had dried off significantly by the time the Superbikes came out again, there were still damp patches, especially where the track was shaded by trees. The high-speed entry to the Parabolica was still damp although there was a dry line through the corner itself.

After the sighting lap, the riders sat on the grid and again there was discussion among some of them, although once again Sykes and Guintoli just wanted to get on with it. Most riders had opted for slicks front and rear although TV commentator and World Endurance Championshipo racer Steve Martin suggested an intermediate front tyre and a cut click at the rear may have been the wise choice, something later backed up by Giorgio Barbier, Racing Director at Pirelli Moto (see separate story).

After the delay, the riders went out on two warm-up laps to get a better look at the track. They gridded up but just as the 10 second board was displayed, Melandri raised his arm as a signal he did not think the race should start and was joined by Jonathan Rea, Checa and several others. The notable abstainers were Guintoli and Sykes.

There was another delay, then another warm-up lap, and during this, the fire in Guintoli’s Ducati went out and he was unable to get it re-started. The same thing happened to the Italian BMW of Michel Fabrizio.

From the start, Sykes holeshot and shot into an immediate lead while Checa got away well to head Biaggi briefly before the faster four cylinder machines came streaking past headed by Melandri on the works BMW. However, all they were going to do was scrap for second place as Sykes simply cleared out at more than a second a lap.

Tom Sykes was in a class of his own on the Provec Kawasaki ZX-10R at Monza,
and in practice he was clocked at an astounding 339.6 km/h... 

Laverty was the next rider to take up the battle for second place honoours, nipping past Biaggi, then Melandri with Haslam on the move further back. Sykes was out of sight within just a few laps so the attention was focussed on a five rider joust for the runner-up spot with Haslam and Laverty heading it. With the four cylinder brigade - with the glaring exception of Sykes – taking things relatively easy, Checa was able to hang in their slip-stream and with Biaggi just two places ahead of him the damage to his championship aspirations was not as significant as it would have been if it were dry.

With eight of the 16 laps run, white flags were displayed to indicate light rain was falling but Sykes kept his head down and was now nine seconds in front. Behind him the riders in the chasing pack all raised their left arms and brought out the red-flags.

With only half the race distance run and time running out for yet another re-start, the race was declared, with half the usual number of championship points awarded. Thus, Sykes got 12.5 points, Haslam picked up 10 for second spot and third-placed Laverty got eight. Melandri was fourth from Biaggi and Honda’s Jonathan Rea while Checa was seventh, just over one second covering second to seventh places.

"It has been a great weekend,” said Sykes, recovering his composure after indicating frustration at the race being red-flagged so early. “Right from practice we were on top and in the race we have double checked our competitiveness. It is a pity race was cancelled. I was very comfortable on the bike, everything have worked out perfect. The track was dry enough to keep riding. I wouldn't have stopped the race, maybe because I am used to British races... anyway too bad I only got twelve and a half points - let's see how we manage at the Donington round. I want to thank all our team members, Kawasaki, Motocard and the rest of the sponsors of this project."

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