Melandri denies Smrz for maiden WSBK win
27 March 2011
Marco Melandri has taken a stunning first World Superbike Championship victory in only his third race after hunting down and passing Jakub Smrz in the closing stages at Donington Park.
The Italian put in an aggressive performance as he fought his way up the field, the Yamaha man defying his fairly lowly ninth position on the grid to systematically claw his way up the order.
However, it still took a late charge to deny Jakub Smrz, the Czech rider getting to within a lap of winning his first World Superbike race after leading for 17 of the 23 laps.
Far from making up ground at the start of the race, Melandri crossed the line still in ninth position at the end of the opening lap.
Instead, it was Leon Haslam that led into the opening bend, followed by Leon Camier, who pushed his way up to second position in the shuffle down the Craner Curves. By the end of the lap, the pair were being chased by Noriyuki Haga, Smrz, Jonathan Rea, Troy Corser, Max Biaggi and Melandri.
Pole sitter Carlos Checa's hopes of maintaining his winning streak were scuppered into the Old Hairpin as a wide entry dropped him down to ninth position. He was then forced to sit up by Biaggi into the last corner, leaving the Spaniard down to 11th by the end of the opening lap.
Up front, Haslam was attempting to stretch away, but was unable to shake Camier and Haga with him, the Japanese rider putting in his most convincing performance yet on the PATA Racing Aprilia.
Indeed, while the BMW rider was confident of leading from the front, it became evident that he did not have the pace of those directly behind. As such, Smrz and Sykes were soon on the back of the lead group and poised to take advantage.
That came on lap five when Haga dived up the inside of Camier into the final corner, the pair making brief contact as Camier leaned in. The momentary loss of balance allowed Smrz to drag his way past down the home straight and into second position, while Camier was able to hold firm in what was now third.
Quickly stalking Haslam, Smrz waited just one lap before pouncing under Starkey's Bridge to nose his Effenbert-Liberty Ducati to the front of a WSBK race for the first time in his career.
Far from intimated, Smrz proceeded to pull away, proving the only rider to lap in the 1min 29secs as he left Haslam to robustly defend second position from an increasing number of riders.
Further back, following their rather public spat after Superpole yesterday, Biaggi and Melandri appropriately found themselves alongside one another on the circuit, the pair proceeding to embark on an enjoyable – if at times tense – tête-à-tête. Repeat passes on one another raised some gasps, though it would take a failed lunge by Biaggi on Haga for fifth at Redgate for Melandri to move ahead decisively.
Immediately pouncing on Haga to claim fifth, with Biaggi unable to follow his rival through, Melandri was given the breathing space to begin attacking the lead group.
Biaggi, meanwhile, was getting caught up in battles with riders behind him, Rea announcing his presence with a block pass at Melbourne, allowing Checa also through, the trio running seventh, eighth and ninth now.
Melandri, on the other hand, was picking off those ahead of him steadily, taking Sykes for fourth on lap 11, Camier for third on lap 15 and Haslam for second on lap 16.
Leaving him with just seven laps to reel in Smrz, Melandri faced a tough challenge after the 27-year-old had put a good 2.4secs gap between himself and those behind.
However, fading tyres had left Smrz vulnerable and as Melandri took tenths off his margin with every lap, it was little surprise to see him cruise past on the penultimate on the run to the Esses.
It meant Melandri led just a single lap of the race, but it would be the decisive one, the Italian scoring his first world championship win in five years. It also marks Yamaha's fifth straight win on UK soil.
Though disappointed to be denied a first WSBK win in 110 starts, Smrz was pleased with second position, not least because it marks only his second podium finish in more than four seasons of trying.
Further back, the battle for the final podium position went to the chequered flag, the myriad of competing riders having been broken up by an accident for Tom Sykes at the Esses on lap 17. The Kawasaki man low-sided into the corner whilst running in fourth position, forcing those following to back off.
Allowing Haslam – whose pace dropped markedly in the closing stages - a gap, it wasn't enough to hold off Checa, who stalked his way back into contention to steal the position with just two corners remaining.
The battle between Rea, Haga and Biaggi went down to the wire, with the Ulsterman coming out top in front of the two Aprilia riders. An uncharacteristically erratic performance by the reigning champion, he was even off the circuit at one stage and fell victim to a series of errors.
Having battled for the lead initially, Camier dropped back to eighth at the chequered flag with waning tyres, ahead of Troy Corser and Joan Lascorz, the latter scoring his first WSBK finish in tenth.
All 15 finishers scored points, with Sylvain Guintoli, Ruben Xaus, Ayrton Badovini, Roberto Rolfo and Mark Aitchison rewarded for reaching the chequered flag.
Elsewhere, Eugene Laverty suffered a nasty accident at Coppice on lap four and was admitted to the medical centre, while Maxime Berger suffered an unusual exit after his rear wheel came off the Supersonic Ducati, thankfully at low speed.
In the overall standings, Checa continues to lead the way, extending his margin to 14 points, this time over Melandri. Biaggi is third, Haslam fourth and Smrz fifth.