Checa benefits to put one hand on crown
25 September 2011
Carlos Checa has moved to within three points of the 2011 World Superbike Championship title after benefitting from Jonathan Rea's cruel misfortune to claim a 12th win of the season.
Rea had looked on course for a superb second win of the day having led from the opening bend, only for technical issues to intervene with four laps of the race remaining.
Fortuitously for Checa, who had snatched second place from Noriyuki Haga moments before Rea began slowing, that pass was effectively for the lead, a margin he maintained to the finish to claim a definitive 12th victory of the year.
Even so, Checa's title dreams remain on pause for the moment after Marco Melandri turned around a mid-race off – which briefly put the Spaniard in a position to win the title – to grab sixth position. As such, 97 points split the pair, meaning Checa needs just three points from the final four races to seal the 2011 title.
Fresh from an emotional victory in the first race around the Italian circuit, during which he was forced to resist the attentions of Noriyuki Haga, Rea set himself up for a lights-to-flag victory, the Ulsterman diving into the lead at the first bend, fending off Eugene Laverty and the fast-starting Leon Camier from 13th on the grid.
By contrast, Checa and Haga suffered in the opening corners, getting shuffled down to fifth and seventh respectively as they rounded the first lap.
With Rea pulling away up front, a feisty pass on Laverty moved Camier up to second, the Briton – debuting at Imola this weekend - showing a remarkable turn of pace on a weekend in which he has struggled to make much of an impression.
He headed up a tight chasing group, with a series of bold passes shaking up the order over the ensuring laps. This was particularly evident from Haga, who refused to believe his victory hopes had been dashed by his poor start, the Japanese rider showing the form that has made him a 43-time race winner over the years to climb from sixth to second in just two laps.
With Rea already three seconds up the road, Haga set about trying to get the gap down, the PATA Aprilia rider setting a new fastest lap to show his interest. However, Rea was controlling the pace and negating Haga's advances, to the point that the Japanese rider began to fade into the second-half of the race.
This was allowing Checa, who was also working his way up the order after a quiet start, to get onto his tail, the Spaniard slipping through into second on lap 16.
What followed shortly afterwards would turn the race on its head, with Rea beginning to slow, the Honda seemingly struggling with an intermittent issue that was causing the bike to cut out,. Despite Rea's best efforts, it was a terminal problem, the Ulsterman forced to park up to ruin what had promised to be the best day of his career.
Checa's unexpected rise to the head of the field coincided with Melandri struggling in the mid-pack, creating a mathematical headache over the final laps. Indeed, Melandri had been running fifth when he ran wide at Acque Minerale, dropping to 13th.briefly.
By the time Checa was in the lead, Melandri was up to tenth, meaning the provisional gap between them was 101 points – enough for the Spaniard to be crowned champion today.
However, retirements for Rea and Alessandro Polita ahead, coupled to late passes on Joan Lascorz and Sylvain Guintoli would see Melandri cross the line in sixth, bringing the gap down again to 97 points – keeping his slim hopes alive for at least another weekend.
Behind Checa, Haga completed his third podium in four races, results that bring into sharper focus his retirement from the lead at the Nurburgring. Nonetheless, two second place finishes mark his best combined results on the PATA Aprilia.
More than ten seconds further back, Camier completed a surprise podium finish in third – his first since Motorland Aragon -, the Briton shrugging off a run on at the chicane to turn around what had been a dismal weekend to that point.
He held off the attentions of Eugene Laverty, who is now just 25 points behind the absent Max Biaggi in the fight for third in the standings. Leon Haslam completed his day with a solid run to fifth position, consolidating the same position in the overall standings.
Behind Melandri, Guintoli and Lascorz were seventh and eighth, while Mark Aitchison scored his best WSBK finish with a run to ninth on the Pedercini Kawasaki. Ayrton Badovini sneaked into tenth to maintain his unbroken run of top ten finishes that now stretches 16 races.
Just 14 riders would make it to the finish line, with Ruben Xaus, Federico Sandi, Maxime Berger and WSBK debutant Javier Fores taking the remainder of the points.
Joining Rea on the sidelines was Tom Sykes, who hit technical problems on his Kawasaki, Michel Fabrizio, Jakub Smrz and Troy Corser, while Polita was left to rue an engine failure on his Ducati having been heading for a top ten finish.