Monday, May 14

REA SCORES SECOND WIN OF SEASON

Tom Sykes led 17 laps in the second race at Donington.
Here he is chased by Max Biaggi, Marco Melandri, 
Leon Haslam and eventual race winner Johnny Rea.


BMW’s HOPES OF A DOUBLE SKITTLED IN LAST CORNER

By MICHAEL ESDAILE

If the first race of the 2012 Eni Superbike World Championship at England’s Donington was exciting, race two could only be described as riveting, with the action starting in the first corner of the first lap and ending on the last corner of the last lap.

In between, there was more late braking, fairing rubbing and heart-in-the-mouth moments than a season of MotoGP; talking of which, the Superbikes were not far away from the pace of the premier class, with pole-sitter Tom Sykes’ just four one hundredths of a second outside Dani Pedrosa’s MotoGP pole record.

The action started when Carlos Checa tagged the rear wheel of Eugene Laverty’s Aprilia in the first corner, sending the Spaniard down and out. As his Althea Ducati was exiting stage left, it collected the Team Effenbert Liberty Racing Ducati 1198 of Czech Jakub Smrz. In a heart-beat the men who had finished 2-3 on the podium in last year’s opening race at Donington were in the gravel and before the chequered flag greeted the winner, the final podium man from that race in 2011 was also on the sideline.

If that wasn’t enough, the man who had stunned fans with his erratic behaviour last year, leading to his being black-flagged out of the second race, was in impeccable form at Donington this year, ending the day with a 23 point lead over defending champion Checa in this year’s title chase.

He may be called the ‘Corsair’ these days but Max Biaggi was looking more like the ‘Roman Emperor’ of old this time around with 5-2 finishes, the latter result after he had been in the leading pack throughout.

From the moment the red lights went out, Biaggi stormed into the lead before Tom Sykes got by on the Provec Kawasaki. By then Checa and Smrz were out, while Checa’s young team-mate David Giugliano ran into the gravel avoiding the mele√©. So that was two Ducati V-twins out of action in the first corner and later Giugliano pitted and retired, thinning the Ducati ranks further.

Although the records will show Sykes led laps one through 16 with Biaggi in second place for the first 12 of those laps, what they don’t convey is the position swapping that went behind as BMW team-mates Marco Melandri and Leon Haslam worked desperately for a repeat of the first race result with Irishman Johnny Rea ducking and diving with his Honda right in the heart of the action.

Although Sykes led 17 laps, with just one second covering the first five at two third distance, it was clearly a race any one of them could win. Before the halfway point, Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli appeared to be making some ground on the five men in front, giving Ducati fans the hope that he could spring an upset. It wasn’t to be, Guintoli eventually losing out through a late charge from Leon Camier on the Fixi Crescent Suzuki GSX-R1000.

An early clash between Rea and Melandri when Rea had dived up the inside in the Melbourne Loop and gave the Italian a solid bump gave Sykes, Biaggi and Haslam a break with Sykes and Biaggi’s battle for positions also the battle for the world championship lead.

After the fairing-bash with Rea, Melandri took several laps to get close to the leading trio again, helped by his team-mate challenging Biaggi for second. Just before the halfway point, Laverty crashed out of eighth place in the Craner Curves and from then on the action came thick and fast. Melandri dived inside Haslam at the Melbourne Loop to take third then a lap later tried the move on Biaggi - but failed to make it stick. Next time around Melandri tried again and got Biaggi, but Max was back to second before the lap was over.

All this gave Sykes a bit of breathing room but he was about to discover the Kawasaki had used the best of its rear Pirelli and he would soon be reduced to spectator status – albeit with the best seat in the house, just a few bike lengths behind the leaders.

Sykes’ moment of truth came when he got the ZX10R standing on its front wheel at the entrance to Goddard’s and both BMWs shot past inside him. With four laps to go, Rea was right back in the lead bunch having run wide and losing more than a second a little earlier. He passed Sykes while Melandri and Haslam were at it in the lead with Biaggi probing as well.

The positions changed constantly from then on but going into the final lap Haslam led from Biaggi, Melandri and Rea. Melandri then got inside Biaggi then got past Haslam at the Melbourne Loop before running wide. While Biaggi was watching that, Rea sneaked through to third.

Going into the final corner, Melandri again had a go at Haslam, but ran wide. Haslam held a tighter line but Rea was inside both BMWs. Haslam’s line meant he was wider and starting to accelerate out of the turn while Rea was running in deeper. Their lines intersected, Rea’s Honda’s front wheel clipped Haslam’s left knee, the BMW man slid down and his sliding bike took out his team-mate.

So Rea scored Honda its second race win of the season, Biaggi took second with Sykes a surprised third before pointing out that “three into one doesn’t go.”

“Two thrilling races,” said a tired but smiling Max Biaggi afterwards.

“In the first race I had a bit more difficulty. We were losing ground to BMW and Kawasaki coming out of the curves even though we were fast in the straight stretches. In race two things went better. I rode well and was fighting for the podium. The last few laps were just mad. With tyres worn everyone was trying to gain positions, shooting through at every braking zone. The last curve gave us second place which is an important result: now we'll go to Miller to confirm our performance, but we need to improve on acceleration”.


The bigger picture is that Biaggi has extended his title lead to five points over Sykes while Rea moved past the luckless Checa to take third, the order thus:
  1. Biaggi 128.5 points 
  2. Sykes 123.5 
  3. Rea 108 
  4. Checa 105.5 
  5. Melandri 97.5 
  6. Haslam 88 
  7. Guintoli 85 

For the full race results, click here:

Leon Haslam (91) and Marco Melandri (33) battle for the lead in race two at Donington with Tomy Sykes (66) and Max Biaggi (3) close behind.  At this point race winner Rea was making up ground after running wide.