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Guintoli survives chaos for first WSBK win

22 April 2012

Sylvain Guintoli has taken an astonishing maiden World Superbike Championship victory after a hugely eventful and unpredictable opening race of the day at Assen.

A race that was halted at 14 laps after a deluge of rain curtailed what was shaping up to be an immense victory fight, the restart in treacherous conditions proved equally dramatic as several came down in the heavy rain.

In the end, it was Guintoli who would prevail, but only after Leon Haslam fell from a lead of more than nine seconds, Carlos Checa dropped back with an error and Ayrton Badovini crashed out having just nosed ahead for the first time in his career.

In fact, a Guintoli victory looked very unlikely when the race got underway in dry conditions, the Frenchman getting a terrible start from the front row that dropped him onto the fringes of the top initially.

Instead, it was Sykes who got away from his third Superpole of the season best, the Kawasaki rider assuming the early advantage from Jonathan Rea, a fast-starting Marco Melandri, Carlos Checa and Jakub Smrz.

Quickly attempting to get a gap on his rivals, Sykes forged an early lead as the chasing pack jostled behind him, with several overtaking manoeuvres mixing things up behind him. Indeed, Melandri was past Rea for second by lap four, but the latter's attempts to respond would see him almost flicked into a high-side on the exit of Strebben, Rea being sucked into the busy pack as a result.

Together with Sykes slowing the pace down in an effort to preserve his tyres, the sight of up to ten riders battling as the lead group was a remarkable one.

As such, by lap ten, Sykes was leading a train of Melandri, Leon Haslam, who had picked up his pace after running off at turn one on lap four, Checa, Eugene Laverty, Smrz, Rea, Chaz Davies, Guintoli and John Hopkins, all ten riders line astern.

Indeed, when Rea made his error on lap ten, his slow exit served to mix the order up, but more chaos would ensue on lap eleven when 'steam' began pouring from the rear of Sykes's Kawasaki, the Briton suffering with a broken water hose it would later turn out.

With Sykes continuing and other riders assuming he had potentially blown an engine, some gesticulation took place between riders as they picked their line around the stricken Sykes. Eventually, Sykes would pull off track, but his lingering presence had served to split the pack between the leaders of what was now Haslam, Smrz, Melandri, Guintoli and Checa, while Davies, Badovini – who was making stealthy progress up the order -, Rea, Hopkins and Giugliano, followed up in the chasing pack.

Amidst the melee, Melandri quickly moved in front of his BMW team-mate, but his 'reward' for the pass into the lead meant he was first into the De Bult as the heavens opened, the Italian coming down immediately, followed promptly by Smrz and Hopkins.

Forcing the red flags to be deployed, the riders returned to the pit lane ready for a restart to be held in very wet conditions.

Declared as a nine lap sprint, the results of the previous lap determined the grid positions for the 'new' race, with Melandri on pole position and Guintoli up to second having come up the order fast in the closing stages of the first phase. Smrz was classified third, but the damage from his fall meant he would begin from the pit lane, while Haslam rounded out the front row. Checa, Davies, Badovini and Rea made up the new second row.

Restarting in horrendously wet conditions, the riders tiptoed their way around the opening bends, with Haslam and Rea emerging as the most confident initially as they moved their way to the front. However, Rea's hopes would be swiftly dashed when he crashed at Dulkersloot, allowing Haslam into a lead that by lap two he had extended to nine seconds.

Looking strong for a first BMW win, the German team could only watch in despair as Haslam slid out of the race from his comfortable position on lap three.

Handing over the lead to Checa, the reigning champion was looking every inch his experienced self as he resisted the attentions of Badovini, who was enjoying a remarkable ride having only started 16th, while Max Biaggi was also making the most of the worsening conditions, the Aprilia rider having struggled in the dry to be a mere 13th when the race was stopped.

Guintoli, meanwhile, having had a second chance to get a good start from the front row, was again towards the back of the top ten and seemingly out of contention. Nonetheless, as the rain began to ease, Guintoli's confidence grew and he quickly moved into the lead group, passing Biaggi with a particularly impressive move around the outside of Ruskenhoek.

His chances of victory were aided further when on lap seven, Checa made an error into Strebben, wiping out his fairly comfortable advantage and being passed by both Badovini and Guintoli.

Having seen Haslam crash out and Melandri go backwards from pole position, BMW still seemingly had a chance to celebrate its first-ever WSBK victory, albeit from the unexpected source of Badovini.

However, heartbreak would promptly follow for Badovini when, with just two laps remaining, he slid out of the lead at Hoge Heide, his elimination compounding a race of missed opportunities for BMW.

His misfortune duly handed the lead straight to Guintoli, who needed no second invitation to assume the advantage and pull away from the pack. Keeping it neat and tidy over the final two laps, Guintoli would cross the line to take a hard fought and well deserved first win for himself and Effenbert Liberty Ducati in tricky conditions.

Heading up a Ducati 1-2-3, Giugliano put in a superb ride for second, the Italian having started down in 19th position originally. Indeed, the Althea rider even had the distinction of keeping his champion team-mate behind him with a surprisingly determined overtake at the final corner.

After their disappointing qualifying, Biaggi and Laverty were a satisfied fourth and fifth for Aprilia, ahead of Michel Fabrizio, who flew the flag for BMW at the end of an otherwise frustrating race for the manufacturer.

Having started from the pit lane, Smrz battled his way back up to seventh place, ahead of Niccolo Canepa and Melandri, the Italian really struggling for pace in the slippery conditions having looked a threat in the dry.

Young Argentine Leandro Mercado rounded out the top ten for Pedercini Kawasaki, ahead of the remaining finishers Maxime Berger, Hiroshi Aoyama, David Salom, Lorenzo Zanetti (who fell and remounted) and Mark Aitchison.

Together with Badovini, Haslam and Rea, Leon Camier crashed out on the warm-up lap, while John Hopkins followed suit on lap two to complete a disappointing race for Crescent Fixi Suzuki. Similarly, Davies, who was starring in the dry conditions having gotten as high as sixth, saw no return on his performance after crashing out on lap three.


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