2011 Imola World Superbike Sunday Round Up: Anything Can Happen In Racing, And It Usually Does

Days like Sunday at Imola always remind me of what Nicky Hayden says after particularly poor qualifying sessions: "That's why we line up on Sunday; you never know what's gonna happen." Two championships were up for grabs at Imola on Sunday; one looked a dead cert to be wrapped up by Sunday night, while the most likely scenario for the other is that the race would still be open after the second World Superbike race.

It didn't quite work out that way. Sure, Carlos Checa and Chaz Davies are still the hot favorites for the World Superbike and World Supersport titles, but the dreaded "events" got in the way of seeing a double coronation in Italy. Every Sunday brings a surprise, and this Sunday was no exception.

Chaz Davies was the worst casualty of the weekend. The Welshman came into Imola leading by 59 points, and all that was required was for Davies to put it on the podium to bring home the title. But Davies was doing more than that: after a decent qualifying practice, he seized the race by the scruff of the neck and was dominating, as he has done so often this year. Leading the race by over 10 seconds, with less than 5 laps left to go, his engine let go in a big way, thick white smoke pouring from behind the fairing, a sure sign that something very major has failed. Davies cruised to a halt, any chance of securing the championship gone, and "completely gutted" as he described it himself.

Davies wasn't the only Yamaha rider to suffer, though, his teammate Luca Scassa suffering a similar fate. Imola was not meant to be for the Yamahas, but Davies heads to France still with a healthy 35 point lead. One more 6th place finish should be enough to wrap it all up.

Even though he still has a mathematical chance of taking the title, French veteran Fabien Foret has more or less given up on the championship. Interviewed after the Imola race, he said he had banished any thoughts of the title, and was content just to enjoy the victory. It was well-deserved after a strong charge through the field, but realistically, without both Yamahas being forced out with mechanical problems, 3rd place would have been the best he could hope for. But that's racing, as the saying goes.

In the World Superbike class, Marco Melandri also still has a mathematical shot at the championship. After a podium and a win, Carlos Checa leads the title race by 97 points with two rounds (and four races) left to go. If Melandri wins all four races, and if Carlos Checa cannot score more than 2 points in four races, then the Italian can prevent Checa from becoming the 2011 World Superbike champ. Given that Checa is averaging nearly 19 points a race, the likelihood of that happening is vanishingly close to zero.

Even if Checa should be ruled out of the next two rounds - as happened to the luckless Max Biaggi when he broke a foot at the Nurburgring, effectively ending his title defense - the competition in the World Superbike class is ferocious, with any one of three or four different riders capable of winning. Biaggi will return next week at Magny-Cours, and certainly be competitive enough in three weeks' time at Portimao. Eugene Laverty had a double at Monza, and can fly when things gel. Johnny Rea is back on the pace, the new ride-by-wire system giving him the confidence he lacked in the previous races; only a loose battery connector prevented him from taking a double at Imola, and the Castrol Honda rider is very strong at Portimao. If Checa scoring fewer than 3 points in four races is unlikely, Melandri winning the remaining four, at two tracks he has never raced at before, is equally improbable. Could it happen? Yes it could. That, as Nicky Hayden likes to say, is why they line up on Sunday. Unfortunately, though, for 23 of the 24 guys who line up on Sunday, it doesn't happen. You've got to get lucky.

Johnny Rea can tell you an awful lot about luck after race 2, and most of the things he would have to say would have to wait until after the watershed to go out on air. Race 1 was a stunning victory for the Castrol Honda rider, after having battled the setup of his CBR1000RR all year. Race 2 looked like being a repeat, Rea cruising home with the situation in hand, until a battery connector worked itself loose and killed his chances of a double, the bike cutting out intermittently, forcing Rea into the pits. Yet Rea was optimistic at the end of the day: for the first time in a long time, he was competitive again.

Rea's loss was Checa's gain, the Althea Ducati rider taking victory in the second race of the day. He celebrated that win as if he had actually won the title, the Spaniard elated as he rolled into Parc Ferme. But it was just the boost that Ducati - and its diehard Italian fans - needed, taking a win so close to home. After the disaster of Rossi aboard the Ducati - last year at Imola, the track was hung with banners protesting at the withdrawal of the factory Ducati team from the World Superbike series, the fans accusing the Bologna factory of pulling out of its core series to help fund the signing of the Italian legend to Ducati - some good news was badly needed, and the win and near-clinching of the WSBK title at what is essentially Ducati's home round went a long way towards pouring oil on troubled waters.

With rumors that Ducati's 1199 Panigale superbike - the replacement for the 1198 being raced this year and probably next by Carlos Checa - is suffering the same kind of corner entry problems that Ducati's MotoGP machine also suffers, both bikes using the monocoque subframe that is the brainchild of Ducati's chief designer Filippo Preziosi, the future is not looking as bright as it should for the Bologna factory. Ducati can afford to lose in MotoGP, prototype racing being a notorious money pit with no guarantee of success. But Ducati and World Superbikes are synonymous, and failing there would impact Ducati's image enormously. They need all the wins they can get.

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I think I read somewhere that the 1199 will be used only for Superstock next year, with the 1198 carrying on for another year in SBK.

Did I hallucinate? Could be a good risk-avoidance strategy...

According to a Michael Guy piece in the MCN rag last week the 1199 is fast but has similar corner entry issues to the GP bike. Althea boss, Bevilaqua, has said it is unclear whether Checa will use the bike next year and that it would be bad for sales if the bike isn't race ready on release.
Guy goes onto report that some paddock insiders claim disappointing testing and lack of expected results have forced Ducati to halt the homologation process needed to allow the bike to compete next year.

The GP bike is flawed and at present is good for 7th at best, if everyone else stays on..with Valentino Rossi aboard. Casey Stoners results on the bike went backwards and he finished 4th last year in a depleted, weaker field than the present grid.
It seems people at Ducati have embraced Preziosis design on the back of Stoners dwindling consistency and ignored every thing else.

It will be a mistake to launch the bike with a failed, defunct GP inspired chassis if, as it seems, an Aluminium Beam frame is the way forward.
Preziosis days could be numbered.

I think it was Leon Haslam who followed the 1199 around Mugello during testing and said it appeared to have corner entry issues. In the wonderful rumour driven world we live in, all the reports may come back to that. If there are other sources it would be good to know.

My own prejudices make me inclined to believe the rumours, but it has to be said that as a rider for BMW, Haslam (if it was him) was never likely to come out and say "wow, it looks like the best bike ever!" :)

On my mad scientist side, it will be fun to see if the problems of the D16 chassis design persist on Pirellis. We've already seen from Aragon that they seem to be independent of whether it's made from aluminium or CF.

If the coming Duc actually carries corner entry issues, that would make it the best race replica ever marketed.

I can already see the promo slogans

- Feel like VR...
- R u a Stoner?
- Ducati 1199, born through MotoGP incompetence...


''With rumors that Ducati's 1199 Panigale superbike is suffering the same kind of corner entry problems that Ducati's MotoGP machine also suffers....''

Please do tell more David. This little factoid deserves an article all to itself!!!

I can see why they are holding off on a WSBK entry till 2013. Seems it's, um, not ready yet...

Either way, it looks like Mr. Preziosi is acting like a typical engineer by refusing to admit that his concept is just plain flawed and instead throwing everything in his power to just make it work. Whether it's because of application, or just Ducati's inability to fully understand it, the continued use of this concept is only holding them back. The fact that they can't get the same results with all this technology than they can get with a chassis made of a bunch of steel tubes welded together should say something.

All respect to Preziosi and his team. I know they are working very hard to solve this problem. But before they even have a handle on the concept in GP they already decide it's the future and revamp the entire Ducati sportbike line-up around it?!?! How does that make sense?!?

Looks like this one might not have been "born well" as they say in Italy...

to winning ways with the new system... too bad he had a Colin Edwards moment while pushing for the podium (win) in race 2. Castrol Honda has solved a small problem for Rea and has given him something he can battle with. But what happened to Ruben? He may be looking for a rider next year. Old #17 needs to go back to Honda since his Kawasaki ride is coming to an end.

It 'appears' that the engineers at Duc are looking at the computer models/info, which says that they CF 'frame' should work as well as the twin spar alum ones, but the feedback/race data/speed is saying otherwise and they (engineers) can't, or won't, believe its the design. We'll never know what Stoner told the team engineers, or for that matter Nicky, but w/Rossi there, the engineers are now having to look in the mirror and realize their design 'sucks'! And if their 'new' 1199 has the same issues as the GP bike . . . . . . .

Great performance yet again by Carlos on the Ducati trellis L-twin. Surely he will secure his first ever major title in France,but what a boring place to do it at.
On to next year and defending the title. He cannot be relishing the prospect of using the Panigale. The new 1199 mill,yes. The extra ponies are always welcome and the old trellis still handles the power delivery with aplomb and feel.
I hope Preziosi's attendance at Imola was inspirational for him. If it works,always has worked and still works...don't fix it !!! If Superstock this year has not opened a few eyes,nothing will. The trellis and the L layout have been for decades and still are synergistic for whatever reason. Radical change for the sake of change is not necessarily a good thing as evidenced by Ducati's incrementally sliding GP results year on year. Merely appearing to be at the cutting edge of technology does not necessarily translate into results and sales.
The Japanese run with the tried and true. Ducati should do likewise within their domain. Difficult times ahead into 2012 for Ducati,I fear. They have comitted hook,line and sinker to CF/Alloy,quasi monocoque ideology. Preziosi should stick to the engine. I wonder what Pierre Terblanche is doing ? His 999 design was ugly as sin,but it certainly worked with the L - Layout as a stressed member.
All the Ducati riders were fast on the 999. Even Ruben Xaus had to invent a way to bin it !!!

Noriyuki Haga was riding a Factory Aprillia? (Max Biaggi's I presume?). I was wondering where those results came from...

Here's to hoping he gets another shot at the title with a good package.

That's a good sign. I really think Haga still has it as much as Checa and Biaggi, but good equipment can be synergistic in working with the other performance parts between the ears.

Chaz Davies. A stellar year he has had. Yamaha glitch will no doubt be rectified come Magny Cour, and Champion he will be.
Ducati twin and Triumph triple. SBK and SS.
Hopelessly outgunned on the straights in their respective classes. Chaz was great on the Triumph, but I can fully understand his switch to Yamaha. Hard work dissapated as soon as the straightaway is hit.
My personal opinion,I believe the formula was right way back then. 750cc 4's vs 1000cc twins and 900 triples. Triumph need a a 750 ruling to be competitive as a triple format in SS.

Remember the 998.5 that Chili raced when the 999 first came out? It was suffering, wait for it, from front end feel woes at the start of it's first season and Chili decided to stick the engine in the 998 and was faster. That is, until Ducati told him he'd get no more engines if he kept it up.

Will Althea be allowed to do the same for next year seeing as there's no factory Ducati squad now? Would it be technically possible given the 1199 chassis is completely different and so is the engine? Maybe not, unless Corse built an 1199 engine with different casings, probably...

I think it was eventually worked out that on the 999 you had to "forget" to bolt on the brace that ran from the top suspension mount forward past the rear head.
It seems that on later versions they left the mounts off at the factory:

Otoh, maybe it illustrates that "no feel" might mean "not the feel I'm used to from my old bike". Maybe.