The weekend in the US opened with the resurgence of the weather. Rain was back in the forecasts and it looked like being another of those weekends. Saturday's opening free practice, a day later than usual due to the race taking part on Memorial Day, started in an unholy downpour that dampened everyone's enthusiasm. This rain was swapped for wind in the afternoon, but the climate returned to slightly colder than usual dry weather for Sunday. The Monday weather was not even a factor, with less wind than before and no rain.
Miller Motorsports Park is a high-altitude track that saps roughly 10bhp off the bikes races in World Superbikes. The track features the longest straight in the US and so many short dashes between corners that overtaking anywhere other than the end of the start/finish straight is nigh on impossible. The straight is such a feature, the race organisers offered a bounty on the first rider to break the 200mph barrier. Unfortunately, this prize would be unclaimed after the weekend was over, even though the Aprilias and BMWs got very close.
While Miller is traditionally considered to be a Ducati track (or, as some suggest, a Carlos Checa track), the reality is that Ducatis can only be fast if they either have Carlos Checa sat on them, or they are unhindered by other bikes. The lack of passing opportunity in slower corners meant the four cylinder powerhouses would always have their measure on the long straight and hold them up in the corners.
Without World Supersport, or any of the Stock classes, racing here, we just had a bevvy of AMA races to keep the crowds happy between the WSBK action. The crowds didn't seem to complain about this.
Jakub Smrz finished at the top of almost every qualifying session and even managed what was shockingly, for a man of his qualifying ability, only his second ever pole position. In spite of this track favouring the Ducatis on paper, the difficulty in passing anyone at this track meant Kuba could only manage a 6th and a 9th in race conditions.
The King of Miller, Carlos Checa, looked likely to take another double victory at Miller, but losing the front, crashing out in the lead of race two, even after winning race one, his dreams were dashed. A double win here would have launched him into second place in the championship standings, but instead, he's languishing back in 5th place. Checa's style through the corners at Miller was so fast, it made up for being 20kmh slower down the straight than the quick Aprilias and BMWs.
Championship leader, Max Biaggi, somehow sneaked up to the podium twice, keeping his championship challenge very much alive and kicking. This is how Biaggi will win this championship; not with wins, but with podiums.
Marco Melandri has also done his challenge no harm by taking second place off Tom Sykes and showing the BMW can win more than one race, even on a track that on paper suited the Ducati. Chasing settings all throughout qualifying, Melandri found stability that his team mate, Leon Haslam, couldn't. Haslam only managed a 10th and an 8th, keeping him in 6th place.
With second to fourth places within 1.5 points, Tom Sykes only lost second to Melandri by dint of the fact Melandri has two wins. Sykes needs to get a win to keep his championship hopes active. He's fast, but he's the only man in the top five not to have won a race so far. He tried a strategy at Miller that didn't bear fruit, and he will most likely try something else next time. He needs to find a way to keep his Kawasaki consistent all throughout a race, instead of just being able to dominate early on, when his tyres are fresh.
Jonathan Rea looked like he was going to win another race on his under-performing Honda once again. In qualifying, he bursts from the gates, eager to record the first lap, but in the race, he's exceedingly cautious in the first few laps, conserving his tyres more than other riders because of the way he ends up spending them at the end. Running out of tyres, but not fight, cost him the top step in race two, even though the race was three laps shorter.
Chaz Davies, a name we don't often focus on, was tantalisingly close to his first ever podium in World Superbikes, and he fought against Max Biaggi, a man on the proper version of what he's riding, to the bitter end. The Welshman, a winner at the Daytona 200, learned Miller racing for three years in varoius AMA classes.
Unfortunately, the news for Suzuki wasn't as exciting. John Hopkins only finished one race, and that was just out of the points, and Leon Camier didn't get the top ten finish team boss Jack Valentine was seeking, even after a promising final practice session showing he may have had the speed.
Man of the match this weekend was going to be Jakub Smrz for his stunning pole position lap, sliding through corners on the limit of adhesion, but in the end, it goes to Marco Melandri for keeping a cool head and walking away with 45 points. Honourable mention goes to Chaz Davies for finally getting stuck in.