2012 Philip Island WSBK Round Up - Biaggi and Checa Can't Be Stopped

If the opening round of the 2012 World Superbike Championship taught us anything, it's that this looks to be a two-horse race. Assuming no major wrenches are thrown in the works. Aprilia's Max Biaggi and Althea Ducati's Carlos Checa had the pace of everyone else in the field covered. Handily. And each of the early championship-protagonists cruised to victory without having to worry about the other after a couple of off-track excursions.

Checa pitched his 1098R into the scenery in spectacular fashion in the first race with a highside exiting the final corner at 110mph just as the rains began to spit. The result was some heavy bruising to his elbow and back. The medical examiners were amazed that was the extend of his injuries. His 1098R, on the other hand, was essentially totaled. Although the newly-adopted single-bike rule doesn't allow for a spare bike to be ready and waiting in the pit box, it does allow for teams to supply their riders with a rolling chassis to be stored in the transporter. The Althea boys spent their lunch break rolling said chassis from the transporter to the pit box and turning it into Checa's second Ducati.
In race two, Biaggi ran off the track at turn one at roughly 140mph after the chaos of a standing start resulted in the Kawasaki of Tom Sykes clipping Biaggi's brake lever. Biaggi would recover from dead last and fight his way up to second place. Their split wins and Checa's race one DNF gives Biaggi a 20-point lead over Checa in fourth, and 15 and 16-point leads over BMW's Marco Melandri and Sykes respectively.
Melandri had a pretty admirable weekend considering he finished each practice and qualifying session in 11th, 9th, 13th, 3rd, and 13th. Melandri's second place in race one is BMW's best-ever finish in World Superbikes, but he could only manage sixth in the second, citing tire troubles. A Sunday to match the rest of his weekend, then. Teammate Leon Haslam, who beat Melandri to fifth in the second race, said he struggled with pain in the first race. Although he said the pain was not coming from the recently fractured tibia, but rather his feet. Likely a result of the body's compensating for a lack of strength and or mobility in his leg.
As had been expected, the tires did play a part in the racing today. Track temperatures were in the 40s for the cool and cloudy race one, and touched 55 in race two. Ten Kate Honda seemed to be relatively happy with the performance of the softer option tire in race one, despite Jonathan Rea's claim that his rear went away before half-distance. Melandri also complained about rear grip. But it didn't take a laundry list of rider quotes to see the absurd track temperatures were wreaking havoc on tire life. The evidence was in the set of lefts that complete the lap played out over the final half-dozed laps by Biaggi, Sykes, and Rea. Black lines laid down, smoke pouring off tires, and motorcycles unable to keep consistent shapes upon corner exit. Despite the inadvertent show put on by the chasing pack, Checa's rear shockingly looked in good shape. It says quite a lot about the 1098R's power delivery and Checa's right hand to see a tire in such reasonable shape while smoke pours off a Max Biaggi rear.
In Supersport, two-time World Supersport Champion Kenan Sofuoglu marked his return to the series with a win in the 15-lap race, shortened for fears over tire life in the excessive heat. Even then, Sam Lowes, who finished fifth, said his tires ran out of life prematurely.
Regardless of the tires or the temperatures, the competition in the Supersport class looks to be as strong and deep as it's been in quite some time. Lowes, Foret, and Sofuoglu all held the lead for a chunk of the race, while Parkes and Jules Cluzel threatened in podium places. All five showed seriously strong race pace all weekend. If Philip Island is any sort of an indicator, we should be in for a great season of Supersport action.
And so, the World Superbike paddock takes its traditional March break. The circus will reconvene in Imola on April Fool's Day, where we will hopefully be treated to an on-track battle between Biaggi and Checa and track temperatures that don't cause rubber to instantaneously melt.

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Quote: "Ten Kate Honda seemed to be relatively happy with the performance of the softer option tire in race one, despite Jonathan Rea's claim that his rear went away before half-distance."

Fact: Rea was on the harder rear in both races.

but both WSBK races were pretty good. Hopefully Biaggi's much better start to the season will allow him to keep a cool head and bring the fight to Checa race in race out. Those two definitely are THE title favourites, but I still believe Melandri just needs a fractionally more competitive bike to become a contender as well.

I don't like the extended break thought. Makes me wonder what it would be like if WSBK took a full 180 turn and ran through the winter exactly while MotoGP is on its break. It's not that hard to build a calendar from September to May.

Why on earth do they need a long break after just one race? (OK, Laverty and co would currently disagree :-) I only just looked at their calendar to notice they don't run anything in Asia at all, not even Japan! They should capitalise on the lazy start to the year for MotoGP and aim to follow PI with at least two rounds in Asia during March.

The trouble with racing over the "off season" is that Europe (where the majority of the rounds still reside) is really not a place you can race in the winter, especially North of the alps. Interesting idea if they could get enough non-euro rounds going, and run early/late enough in Europe to get decent weather at the classic tracks.

Broke his wrist in the beginning of the weekend. He has had surgery on it, and believes he'll be ready for Imola.

Broke his wrist in the beginning of the weekend. He has had surgery on it, and believes he'll be ready for Imola.

There will be more players to come that are potential championship contenders. I wouldn't take any bets yet... 1 race doesn't decide the entire season. Melandri was not happy at all after the 2nd race. He will have many talks with his team to get his bike right, especially the front-end. Laverty and Haslam are still injured... they will have a say. And Sykes? He will be a thorn in riders' sides too. However, when that RSV4 is set-up right... it does look unstoppable! Biaggi's 2nd race was impressive!

I don't mind this early ninja strike of bike racing from WSBK. It gets them in the news and in our hearts before the MotoGP guys finally get around to Qatar.

I was disappointed that we didn't get to see the Checa vs Biaggi battle. After the start of race 1 it looked like an awesome battle in the making until Checa chucked it. Then Max's start in race 2 was heart breaking until his (if i can use this word yet again) awesome ride back up the field with that bullet hole in his screen. Can you imagine if that hit his helmet visor instead?

Sykes and Rae at the end of race two was a real thriller. Rae's bike looks like it needs a bit of work to stay at the front. I was happy to see the green bike earn some respect in the hands of Sykes. I would love to see MotoGP use the same spec tire.

BMW made a more then respectable showing considering they had a new rider and a damaged rider. Effenberg Ducati were also very impressive.

I can only hope the rest of the season produces such good racing.