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Charging Checa denies Haslam the double

28 February 2010

A stunning move for the lead on the penultimate corner of the race has seen Carlos Checa take a shock maiden victory for the privateer Althea Racing team at Phillip Island

In a hugely entertaining race that went down to the wire, Checa stalked his way back into contention after a poor start to launch his bid for victory on the run down to MG at the final time of asking to deny Leon Haslam a double victory for Suzuki.

A remarkable performance by the Spaniard, who was only eighth after the opening lap, the result marks his third career World Superbike win, but perhaps more significantly, the first triumph for the Althea Racing team on its debut with Ducati machinery.

Haslam had looked on course for a second win of the day after moving ahead during the latter stages, the Briton seemingly pulling a decisive move on team-mate Sylvain Guintoli after the Frenchman had snatched the lead on lap six.

Nonetheless, despite the disappointment of losing out to Checa, Haslam still takes an early lead in the standings with a weekend points haul of 45 points.

Even though he had qualified fourth on the grid, there was little indication that Checa was going to be a race win contender from the lights as a tardy getaway saw him shuffled down to 11th initially before he hauled himself back into the top ten by the close of the opening lap.

Up at the front there was a repeat of the first race with Michel Fabrizio out-dragging Haslam into turn one, only for the Suzuki rider to maintain his outside line and snatch back the position into turn two. Noriyuki Haga made it an identical top three as he once again rocketed up from tenth position.

Just behind, Jonathan Rea ruined his chances to challenging at the sharp end when he out-braked himself into, appropriately enough, Honda and dropped to the back of the field. It was an error Cal Crutchlow, Max Biaggi and Leon Camier would go on to mirror over the next few laps.

Trailing the top three, Chris Vermeulen found himself in fourth position after a mighty getaway from 14th on the grid, followed by Guintoli and James Tosleand.

With a poor start consigning him to the chasing pack in race one, Guintoli was making swift amends on this occasion, dispatching Vermeulen at the start of lap two before pulling off a stunning pass on both Haga and Fabrizio through turns one and two on lap three.

A sight not seen in World Superbikes for some time, Suzuki were now in a provisional 1-2, but any expectations that Guintoli would simply shadow his team-mate were dismissed on lap six when he snatched the lead from Haslam down the home straight.

Checa, meanwhile, continued to make progress, picking off Camier for sixth and Toseland for fifth by lap eight. Even so, he was still left with a deficit to make up on the top four, which had now pulled out a two second gap to the chasing pack that he now led.

Checa's cause, however, was aided by the scrapping up front, with Guintoli and Haslam battling away for the lead, the pair swapping positions on a number of occasions while Fabrizio and Haga kept a close watching brief in third and fourth.

Guintoli's hopes of a first World Superbike win appeared to improve on lap sixteen when an aggressive move for the lead saw Haslam drift wide and allow Fabrizio between them. However, Haslam composed himself to resume second position just a lap later before proceeding to move back past Guintoli at Honda with three laps remaining.

During this time Checa had worked his way into the lead group, the former MotoGP rider signalling his intent by dismissing Haga for fourth almost straight away. Shadowing Haslam's pass on Guintoli, Checa went on to move into third ahead of Fabrizio to assume the Ducati challenge.

As Guintoli began to fade, Checa was quickly up to second with a neat pass at MG, leaving just Haslam between himself and victory as they entered the final lap.

Having rebuffed Fabrizio's last lap attentions during race one, Haslam looked confident as he held off Checa's first overtaking attempt through Honda. However, the charging Spaniard would not be denied, launching a second attack over Lukey Heights and down into MG, Checa forcing the bike up the inside of the Haslam and hanging him out long enough to prevent a response through the ensuing left-hander.

Breaking any potential tow as he exited the last bend, Checa crossed the line to jubilation from his stunned Althea team. Indeed, Checa himself was visibly emotional when he stepped off the bike as his first win since Miller Motorsports Park in 2008 sunk in.

Haslam was a philosophical second, while Fabrizio secured the final podium position at the expense of Guintoli, whose feisty performance was rewarded with a fine fourth place finish and the fastest lap of the race. Haga, meanwhile, slipped back to finish almost four seconds adrift in fifth.

Beyond the battle for the win, there was plenty to keep the spectators entertained just behind as several riders ducked and dived for positions in the chasing pack.

Toseland had led the way in sixth initially but appeared to struggle as the race wore on, losing spots to Troy Corser and Rea, the Northern Irishman going almost unnoticed as he scythed his way up from the back of the field to finish an impressive sixth.

Corser was seventh to complete a solid day for the one-man BMW team, while Biaggi sprinted to eighth place at the expense of Crutchlow and Toseland during the closing stages.

Outside the top ten, Camier's second recovery ride of the day was rewarded with another 11th position, ahead of Checa's team-mate Shane Byrne. Lorenzo Lanzi, Joshua Brookes and Andrew Pitt rounded out the top fifteen.

Elsewhere, there was huge disappointment for Kawasaki, with Tom Sykes hitting mechanical problems on the first lap, while Vermeulen was taken to the medical centre after crashing on the run up to Lukey Heights. The Australian had been running in and around the top ten when he fell, the former MotoGP rider appearing to hit the tyre wall before his bike followed suit.


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