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Biaggi fall sets up three-way title showdown
7 October 2012 CLICK HERE
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The 2012 World Superbike Championship will come down to a final race shootout after Max Biaggi crashed out of contention in the Magny-Cours opener, while Tom Sykes and Marco Melandri slashed his advantage with their respective runs to third and second behind winner Sylvain Guintoli.
A race of high drama befitting of a final round showdown, while the smart money was on Biaggi to inch closer to a second career WSBK title, even from tenth position on the grid, the slippery conditions brought on by earlier rain and cool conditions created a tense setting for himself and rivals Tom Sykes and Marco Melandri.
Indeed, the Italian came into the race commanding a 30.5 point lead, a margin that Sykes understood would require a win to significantly reduce. As such, the pole sitter came out of the blocks fighting, nosing ahead of Jonathan Rea and Carlos Checa through the opening turns.
Biaggi, however, was already picking his way up the order, moving into fourth position when Eugene Laverty allowed him to overtake on lap two.
However, Biaggi's hopes of notching up the solid points he needed to seal the title would hit a hurdle on lap three when his Aprilia folded under braking for the Adelaide hairpin. A costly DNF at this crucial stage in the season, it prompted a flurry of calculations as the 25 points Sykes would gain for victory looked set to reduce the margin to just 5.5 points.
That said, Sykes was not having an easy time up front as Rea continued to harass him for the lead, the Ulsterman's perseverance being rewarded on lap five when he slithered to the front at turn one.
Taking five points off Sykes's precious tally, Rea didn't hang about for a response from the Kawasaki rider as he quickly established a comfortable lead over his countryman. Nonetheless, Sykes did get some fortune on lap eight when the closing Checa crashed out at the long turn three right-hander, the Spaniard joining a retirements' list that would grow steadily over the course of the race.
Indeed, with Chaz Davies and Leon Camier already out by lap ten – the latter taking a substantial hit when he came down heavily at turn one -, the race would claim another high profile victim in race leader Rea on lap twelve, the Honda rider losing the rear-end of his CBR1000RR on the exit of turn seven.
Despite some determined motocross style efforts to get back into the race – causing him to drop the bike again at one stage -, Rea would eventually concede defeat and retire into the pit lane.
Once again throwing the title race wide open, Sykes was promoted back into the lead with nine laps remaining, but it was clear he didn't have the pace to sustain his position for much longer as the threat of Melandri and Guintoli loomed.
Having broken away from a busy chasing pack, Melandri and Guintoli were embroiled in their own private fight as they quickly made gains on Sykes.
An impressive effort by Melandri considering his back injury, the BMW rider looked on course to overtake Sykes when he cruised onto his tail, only to be caught napping on the exit of turn 17 to allow Guintoli to jump ahead, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Taking just two more corners to nose ahead of Sykes, though Melandri would quickly follow suit, Guintoli was already away into the lead.
Buoyed on by the home support, Guintoli extended his margin over the remaining six laps to cross the line as a winner for the third time this season, yet again in tricky weather conditions. His second triumph with PATA Ducati, having also won a race with former employers Effenbert Liberty, Guintoli's victory signals a fitting final round success for the outgoing Ducati 1098R and PATA, who will revert from team owner to Honda's title sponsor in 2013.
Melandri held on for second place, in doing so improving chances of winning the title. Though he remains a fair 18.5 points off Biaggi, at worst he is also just four points behind Sykes for the runners-up spot.
Sykes, meanwhile, kept it neat and tidy for third position, but will still need yet more luck in the final race of the season if he is to overhaul Biaggi.
Already a depleted grid of just 19 riders following pre-race injuries for John Hopkins and Alexander Lundh, the race suffered high attrition with just ten riders reaching the chequered flag on the lead lap.
As such, there were some notable results off the podium with Maxime Berger providing more joy for the home crowd as he broke through for fourth place, his – and the team's - best-ever WSBK result coming on his first outing with the Red Devils Roma Ducati team.
Shrugging off his hand injury, Leon Haslam held on for a solid fifth place finish on the second of the factory BMWs, while Ayrton Badovini got the better of Laverty on the final lap to cross the line in sixth position.
Behind them, Davide Giugliano, Claudio Corti and Loris Baz all survived off-track moments to complete the top ten, Corti's run to ninth on the Pedercini Kawasaki proving particularly impressive given his debutant status this weekend.
Rewarded for reaching the chequered flag, Norino Brignola picked up Grillini BMW's best result of the season in 11th, while Michel Fabrizio's shrewd decision to return to the track after a period in the pit lane saw him gain four points for 12th.