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Melandri leaves it late for Brno victory

22 July 2012

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Marco Melandri has closed the gap to Max Biaggi in World Superbike Championship standings after biding his time to snatch victory from Tom Sykes in tricky conditions at Brno.

A race that began in damp-dry conditions, Melandri barely featured during the opening half as he felt his way into proceedings, but steadily worked his way to the front of a six-strong leading pack to decisively grab the lead with three laps remaining.

Prior to that, the race was proving unpredictable, particularly during the opening laps as the circuit steadily dried from its original damp state. Indeed, with some riders – including pole sitter Tom Sykes - diving to the very outside of some corners in an effort to seek the dry line, the first few bends would shake up the order immediately.

As such, while Sykes, Davide Giugliano and Carlos Checa held station in first, second and third at the end of the opening lap, Maxime Berger had scythed his way from 19th to fourth, while Loris Baz was also up to fifth having started down in 15th, just ahead of a tentative Melandri.

As it turns out, Berger had begun the race with a cut front tyre, the extra grip helping him forge his way right to the front of the field to snatch the lead of a WSBK race for the first time in his career on lap three.

Giugliano swiftly followed through into second place, but the Italian rider – who has been in fine form at Brno this weekend – would see his race come to an abrupt halt when he crashed out on lap four. With Baz also through on team-mate Sykes, it was an unexpected sight at the front of the field by lap five.

Even so, with the circuit beginning to dry entirely, Berger would inevitably begin to see his pace fall, the Effenbert Liberty Ducati rider eventually ceding the lead on lap seven and steadily slipping down the order thereafter.

By this stage Sykes was back ahead of Baz, while Jonathan Rea would also get the better of the young Frenchman on lap eight.

With half of the race completed, Sykes led a busy front group of Rea, Baz, Checa, Eugene Laverty, Leon Haslam and Melandri, while Biaggi had made fairly minimal headway from his 14th place starting position in 11th.

Keen to make a break, Rea attempted to wrest the lead from Sykes on lap 15 with a pass through turn one, but the Kawasaki rider kept it cool to simply re-pass at turn two.

With the group whittled down to six riders, Melandri only began to make his move with five laps remaining, overtaking Laverty, Baz, Checa and Rea in consecutive laps to be running second with three laps to go.

With momentum on his side, Melandri simply nosed his BMW ahead for the first time on lap 19, demoting Sykes into the clutches of Rea. However, their battle would come to a sudden halt shortly afterwards when Sykes ran wide at turn 11, prompting Rea to attempt to capitalise by diving inside.

However, Sykes would simply cut back onto the racing line, making solid contact with Rea that would send the Honda rider into a dramatic high-side and out of the race.

While Sykes was able to stay upright, it was the end of his victory challenge, with Melandri taking advantage of the breathing space to cross the line almost two seconds ahead of the Kawasaki rider.

With Rea out and Checa delayed by the Honda somersaulting in front of him, Baz grabbed his moment to complete the podium in only his fifth WSBK event, the result in turn marking a successful double rostrum result for the Kawasaki team.

Checa recovered to fourth by setting the fastest lap on the final revolution, while Laverty settled for fifth having never been able to get stuck into the lead battle.

A flurry of quick laps mid-race would see Biaggi come through into sixth place to limit the damage to his championship lead, ahead of Haslam and Michel Fabrizio.

Berger held on for a still respectable ninth place finish, ahead of team-mate Jakub Smrz, while Chaz Davies completed a fairly lonely race in 11th position.

More than a minute behind the leaders, Alex Polita and Norino Brignola finished ahead of better fancied rivals for 12th and 13th, while Leon Camier and John Hopkins picked up the final points for FIXI Crescent Suzuki.


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