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Carlos Checa has regained ground in the fight for the 2012 World Superbike Championship with a commanding third victory of the season at Miller Motorsports Park.
Demonstrating his undoubted prowess around the twisting American circuit, Checa bided his time during the early stages, moving to the front for the first time on lap eight before controlling his advantage to the chequered flag.
Marking his fifth victory in nine starts at Miller Motorsports Park, the full 25 points go a long way to making up for the ground he lost with a crash last time out at Donington Park.
Starting from second position on the grid behind pole sitter Jakub Smrz, Checa got away well to hold his place through the opening turns.
However, while the fast-starting Tom Sykes rose from third to assume the early lead, Smrz went in the other direction down to fifth place, behind Marco Melandri – up from ninth – and Jonathan Rea. Still, Smrz fared better than Effenbert Liberty Ducati team-mate Sylvain Guintoli, who plummeted from sixth to 15th after running wide at turn two, while Davide Giugliano wasted his maiden front row start as he completed the opening lap in just tenth.
Punching well above his grid position, Melandri set about making his charge early on, passing Checa on lap two for second position before nosing his BMW into the lead ahead of Sykes on lap five.
With Checa quickly following through, a flustered Sykes would promptly get swallowed up by the close chasing pack, the Kawasaki rider dropping from first to fifth by the end of lap five.
With just five seconds covering the top ten, Melandri attempted to stretch his advantage but he was shadowed at every turn by Checa, the Spaniard coming good on his intentions with a decisive move on lap eight.
Quickly stamping his mark with a new fastest lap, Checa proceeded to pull away into what looked as though would be an unassailable lead. As it happens, Melandri would find speed in the closing laps as he attempted to unsettle his rival, but Checa never looked anything less than in complete control.
Crossing the line for his third victory of the season, Checa has now closed the gap to Biaggi at the top of the standings to 14 points, with Sykes in second position just a single digit ahead.
Though unable to resist Checa, Melandri's second place still marks a positive turnaround for BMW on what has been a tough weekend so far and improves his title credentials.
While he was unable to prevent Checa scything to victory, Max Biaggi has nonetheless increased his lead in the overall standings with a run to third position, the Italian getting the better of Honda's Jonathan Rea after a race-long battle. Donington Park winner Rea had held down third for most of the race before Biaggi pushed ahead with five laps to go, the 2010 champion subsequently keeping the Ulsterman at bay to the chequered flag.
By successfully spurning the attentions of Smrz, Eugene Laverty was rewarded with a solid run to fifth position ahead of the Czech rider, who will no doubt hope a better start from pole position improves his fortunes in race two.
Struggling for pace during the second-half, Sykes would cross the line more than 20 seconds off Checa in a race he led for the first five laps, the title contender even demoted to eighth place in the closing stages by countryman Chaz Davies on the ParkinGO MTC Aprilia.
Behind them, a feisty mid-pack battle for ninth was 'won' by Michel Fabrizio, the BMW Italia rider getting the better of factory counterpart Leon Haslam, who couldn't progress far beyond his lowly 13th place start.
Giugliano and Guintoli counted the cost of their poor opening laps down in 11th and 12th, while Leon Camier subsequently had his 20th place on the grid to blame for being unable to get any higher than 13th place. Ayrton Badovini and Loris Baz completed the points' paying positions.
Elsewhere, there was disappointment for local favourite John Hopkins, the FIXI Crescent Suzuki rider running outside the points before crashing on lap eight, while Lorenzo Zanetti and Niccolo Canepa suffered similar fates on their respective Ducatis.