4 October 2012
Biaggi leads Sykes, Melandri in title battle
Max Biaggi can afford to race by numbers at Magny-Cours as he inches towards a second World Superbike title, but Tom Sykes and Marco Melandri are not out of it just yet...
For the first time in five years, three riders will head into the final round of the World Superbike Championship with a mathematical chance of wrapping up the 2012 title.
Not since James Toseland led Max Biaggi and Noriyuki Haga into the 2007 season finale at Magny-Cours have more than two riders been in with a shot of the championship, but much like then, one rider above all remains favourite to walk away with one of motorsport's top titles.
Indeed, while he may have assumed the role of title chaser back then some 29 points behind eventual champion Toseland, it is Biaggi who heads into the 2012 season finale – also at Magny-Cours – on the other end of a healthy 30.5 point margin.
A measure of just how competitive the 2012 season has been, Biaggi has strung together a title run despite having managed just three podiums in the last 11 races, while his five wins will be classified as the lowest achieved by a champion since 2004 (the statistic will still stand even if Biaggi wins both races in France).
However, despite the relative lack of podiums and wins, Biaggi has certainly been the most consistent in a season that has seen nine different race winners - the most in more than a decade -, the Aprilia rider failing to finish inside the top five on just five occasions.
Sykes, meanwhile, comes into the final event as a surprise contender, his relative consistency in making the chequered flag (he has failed to finish just three times this year) tempered by the odd lacklustre race performance, particularly when measured against his superb tally of eight pole positions.
Even so, given Sykes is just 30.5 points behind Biaggi, he will rue the fact that two of his DNFs were technical issues from excellent positions (leading in Assen and third in Portimao), while the third was a last lap crash caused by an errant Ayrton Badovini at Motorland Aragon. Coupled to the 12.5 points he lost when his Monza win was halved, Sykes has reason to feel slightly aggrieved, particularly as Biaggi's two comparable DNFs were both self-inflicted accidents.
By contrast, Melandri has himself to blame for his faltering title challenge, a campaign that at one time looked strong enough to take him all the way to the title having overturned a sizeable points' deficit to Biaggi and even nosed ahead with only three rounds remaining.
However, his accidents at the Nurburgring and Portimao have seen him fall 38.5 points in arrears of Biaggi with just two races and a maximum of 50 points available. A big ask for him to make a final push for the title, Melandri's run of poor form is also likely to have cost BMW a shot at the manufacturers' crown.
Indeed, both Sykes and Melandri will likely require some poor fortune to go the way of Biaggi if they are to have any chance of overhauling him, not to mention two race wins.
Biaggi, on the other hand, can afford to race by numbers knowing that two sixth place finishes will be enough for him to be crowned champion, regardless of where his rivals finish.
Provided he can do just that, he will be crowned the World Superbike Champion for the second time in his career.
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