Checa top as Bayliss tumbles
1 June 2008
Carlos Checa has scored his first world championship race victory in ten years after charging to glory in the first World Superbike Championship race of the weekend at Miller Motorsports Park.
Although he has shown significant pace since his switch from MotoGP to currently lie second in the overall standings, he was yet to experience the winner's champagne until now. It has been a long time too, the Spaniard last standing atop a world championship podium when he won the Madrid Grand Prix in 1998, also on a Honda.
In addition, with Troy Bayliss failing to score after a fall, Checa has reinvigorated his title campaign by getting the points gap down to a more reasonable 53 points.
He was made to work for it though, Checa being punished for a poor start from pole position to get swamped heading into the first turn. Although he got it back to fifth place, he was still staring at the back of Bayliss, Max Neukirchner, Max Biaggi and Noriyuki Haga.
Indeed, Biaggi and Haga were the big winners off the start line, the pair using the track's wide surface to jump up from ninth and tenth to run third and fourth.
Checa wasn't wasting time though and quickly found his way past a hobbled Haga, before passing Biaggi on lap three. Biaggi, meanwhile, would ruin his hopes of a good result when he ran wide at turn one and tumbled down the order.
Up at the front, the fast starting Bayliss found himself vulnerable down the long home straight when Neukirchner drafted past him at the start of lap two, the German rider initially pulling away from the Aussie.
However, with Checa now up to second place, Neukirchner posed little resistance for the Ten Kate rider when he swept up the inside at Black Rock Hairpin, reassuming the lead of the race.
Checa's race was about to get even better on lap five when Bayliss, who had just got himself back up to second place, suffered a dramatic fall coming out of the final turn. After losing the back end, Bayliss tried to correct it but instead high-sided off his Ducati. Narrowly avoiding being collected by Neukirchner, Bayliss then had to play dodgems as the unsighted pack came towards him. Nonetheless, with innocuous damage to both himself and his bike, it was only Bayliss' championship lead that was hurt.
That is more than what could be said for Haga, who was also off his Yamaha. The Japanese rider was performing heroics up in fourth place with his injured collarbone but was down and out on lap six. Still, having fallen on his left side, Haga seemed to show no ill effects from the fracture he sustained earlier in the weekend as he walked away.
With several riders having to perform acrobats to avoid Haga, the order was shaken up as the field headed into the second half of the race. Indeed, Troy Corser was now third, ahead of Jakub Smrz, Karl Muggeridge, Michel Fabrizio and Lorenzo Lanzi.
Having shown potential race winning pace this weekend, Corser didn't take long to catch up with Neukirchner, the Suzuki rider's pace beginning to drop off at a three-quarter distance. After harassing him for several laps, Corser finally made a move stick on lap 16 coming into the Attitude chicane.
Neukirchner's rear guard action wasn't over yet though as he came under attack from an inspired Fabrizio, the Italian having suffered an awful start to drop from fourth on the grid to 14th by the end of the first lap, However, a series of scintillating laps managed to haul him right back into contention to plant a pass on Neukirchner for third on lap 18.
The move would prove to be the final significant act of the race, with Checa crossing the line a comfortable four seconds up on Corser, and riding into the arms of a delighted Ten Kate team.
Fabrizio produced his ride of the season to claim his second podium this year in third, ahead of a slightly disappointed Neukirchner.
Fonsi Nieto was prolific in his overtaking moves as he fought his way up from 13th on the grid to finish fifth, while a fading Smrz held off Muggeridge, Yukio Kagayama, Biaggi and Ryuichi Kiyonari for sixth down to tenth.
Elsewhere, Lorenzo Lanzi, Kenan Sofuoglu, Gregorio Lavilla, Ruben Xaus and Russell Holland rounded out the points positions.