Checa out-lasts Sykes for Imola win
1 April 2012
Carlos Checa has won his second World Superbike Championship race of the season after perfectly biding his time to head off pole sitter Tom Sykes at Imola.
Starting from third position on the grid, Checa rose to second at the start behind Sykes, the Kawasaki man managing another impressive getaway from the front to lead the field into the tight opening bend.
Though drama was avoided through Tamburello, bikes were scattered at the following Variante Villeneuve bend when Leon Camier and Joan Lascorz tangled, the Suzuki rider crashing out of the race, while the Spaniard and Davide Giugliano were both heavily delayed.
Sykes proceeded to round the opening lap with the advantage, ahead of Checa, while Sylvain Guintoli scythed into third position ahead of Max Biaggi at the final bend.
Unfortunately for Guintoli, disaster would strike just seconds later when, having been swallowed up Biaggi on the run down to Tamburello, he was caught out by Haslam on the outside of the bend, sending both across the grass. Though Haslam recovered unscathed, Guintoli lost the rear-end of his Ducati, sending him into a high-side across the circuit and into the path of the hapless Chaz Davies, who had nowhere to go but into stricken bike.
The incident, which put both out of the race, duly split up the leading group, with Sykes and Checa establishing a gap over third place Biaggi, while his Aprilia team-mate Eugene Laverty was now a fairly distant fourth place.
Indeed, with Biaggi unable to maintain the pace of the leaders, it was evident that victory would likely come from either Sykes or Checa, the former raising hopes of a Kawasaki win as he held Checa at bay.
However, with an advantage of four seconds over Biaggi, Checa duly began to up the pressure as the race tipped into the second-half and having moved onto the tail of the ZX-10R on lap 12, duly slipped past at Acqua Minerale to assume the lead.
Promptly smashing the lap record as Sykes's tyres began to wane, Checa quickly established an advantage that he would go on to hold until the chequered flag, the reigning champion completing a fairly comfortable win for both Althea Racing and Ducati on home soil.
Consolidating his excellent start to the new season, Sykes held on for second position, signalling a second straight podium for the rejuvenated Kawasaki team and keeping him well amongst the upper echelon of the standings.
With Checa and Sykes dominating out front, the battle for the remainder of the positions was comparitively fraught throughout, with attention focusing on Biaggi and Haslam's tussle for the final rostrum spot in the closing stages.
An impressive fight back from Haslam, the Briton bridged a three second margin to his 2010 title-rival to catch the Aprilia with four laps remaining. Though a first attempt to pass at Tamburello almost sent him across the gravel, Haslam swiftly collected himself to complete the manoeuvre just one corner later and snatch only his fourth podium result with BMW.
Biaggi had to settle for fourth, much to the chagrin of the Italian fans, while Laverty recovered to a very distant fifth after losing ground with an off at the final corner chicane on lap three.
Indeed, the last corner chicane proved troublesome for several riders over the course of the race, including Marco Melandri, who dropped well outside the points when he over-ran on lap two. Nonetheless, the Italian battled back to grab sixth on the final lap, just edging out Lascorz, who was another man recovering from early problems.
WSBK rookie Lorenzo Zanetti ran as high as fifth place on the PATA Ducati following a mid-race charge, but a drop in pace over the final laps would see him slip to eighth at the chequered flag.
Battered and bruised after his mammoth qualifying crash, Jonathan Rea soldiered on to run fourth initially, but would understandably fade to ninth as the lengthy race took its toll.
Behind him, Niccolo Canepa rounded out the top ten, while Jakub Smrz overcame two offs to finish in 11th, ahead of Effenbert Liberty Ducati team-mate Maxime Berger, while John Hopkins ended his first race of the season a fairly distant 13th place on the sole remaining Crescent Fixi Suzuki.
Completing the points' paying positions, Pedercini Kawasaki's Leandro Mercado marked his WSBK debut with a battling run to 14th place, ahead of Ayrton Badovini in 15th, while another newcomer, Brett McCormick, was on course for digits having run inside the top 15 throughout the race, only to drop to 16th on the very final lap.