Cool Checa heads Ducati podium sweep
30 May 2011
Carlos Checa has stretched his advantage at the top of the World Superbike standings after claiming a comfortable fifth victory of the season at a chilly Miller Motorsports Park.
The Spaniard played it cool during the opening laps of the race after a tardy start from pole position left him in fourth position initially, Checa proceeding to steadily work his way back up the order to relieve early leader Troy Corser on lap six and never looking back.
A peerless performance from the Althea rider – save for a slightly embarrassing fall on the mud during his lap of honour -, he led a Ducati 1-2-3 after an excellent performance from WSBK rookies Effenbert-Liberty saw Jakub Smrz and Sylvain Guintoli flank Checa on the podium.
Not unsurprisingly, the long drag down the to the first corner did not play to the advantages of Ducati front row starters Checa and Smrz, with Troy Corser on the BMW and all three Aprilias making notable gains during the opening turns.
A few position swaps later and Corser had emerged out front, ahead of fellow WSBK veteran Noriyuki Haga, Guintoli, Checa and Max Biaggi.
However, Biaggi's race would come to a dramatic conclusion before the opening lap had been completed after tangling with Jonathan Rea and barrelling out of the race. Some rather furious gesticulation from Rea, who had gotten up to sixth from 13th on the grid, made his feelings clear, but a first crash-related DNF for Biaggi since Portimao 2008 will prove a substantial blow to his title hopes.
Their collision cut a gap in the field, with the top four of Corser, Haga, Guintoli and Checa now comfortably ahead of Leon Camier, Marco Melandri and Smrz, who ran off the circuit on the opening lap and dropped back.
While proceedings certainly weren't being helped by a stream of water cascading across a corner of the circuit, the race settled down with Checa making steady gains, moving ahead Guintoli on lap three and eventually passing Haga on lap five after a few quick-fire position swaps.
Setting his sights on Corser, Checa wasted no time in pushing past the BMW, claiming the lead on lap six and swiftly proceeding to gap the opposition.
Having steadily held his ground during the opening portion of the race, Corser's pace dropped markedly as he was overtaken by Haga, Guintoli and Camier in just a few corners, leaving him fifth by the end of lap eight having led going into lap six.
Haga would fare little better, watching as Guintoli, Camier and Eugene Laverty – recovering from a slow start – came through on him on lap nine.
Indeed, of the front runners, Camier was looking most poised, the Briton pressuring Guintoli when an error on lap ten saw him run wide off the circuit. The subsequent time lost would leave him down in sixth position at the half-way stage.
Camier's mistake lifted Laverty up to third place, whereby he began pressuring Guintoli for second himself, the Irishman pulling off a successful pass on lap 11. However, the Frenchman quickly regrouped and regained the position on lap 13 before proceeding to pull away.
Indeed, the pace of the Effenbert-Liberty Ducati's defined the second-half of the race as both Guintoli and Smrz began lapping faster than their closest rivals.
Smrz was particularly flying, the Czech rider scything his way back up the order to snatch third position with only a handful of laps remaining. Quickly catching Guintoli, Smrz shadowed his team-mate for a few laps before eventually planting his move with three to go.
Checa, meanwhile, was cruising to his fifth victory of the season – and his third at the Utah venue -, one that goes some way to avenging his agonising retirement twelve months ago.
Crucially for the championship standings, Checa's win comes after closest rival Marco Melandri could only manage a low-profile tenth place, while Biaggi retirement means he has now extended his advantage to 46 points.
Smrz came home for a satisfying second place finish – his second of the season -, while Guintoli completed a fantastic race for the Czech team in third, also his maiden WSBK podium in 36 attempts.
Camier fought his way back to what remains a strong fourth place finish, ahead of Laverty, who faded late on but scored some good points to move up to fourth in the overall standings.
With Haga and Corser dropping down the order – to ninth and 13th respectively – the tussle for sixth went down to the wire, with Tom Sykes putting in a determined late charge to claim his best finish of Kawasaki this season.
Ayrton Badovini scored another impressive race performance in seventh, the BMW Italia rider finishing ahead of the factory S1000RR of Leon Haslam after passing him in the closing stages of the race.
Behind Haga and Melandri, Maxime Berger claimed his best finish for Supersonic Ducati in 11th, ahead of wild-card Josh Waters, Corser, Joan Lascorz and James Toseland, the returning Englishman securing the final point in only his third race outing of the year.
As well as Rea and Biaggi, Ruben Xaus capped off Castrol Honda's dismal race with an ill-judged passing attempt on Michel Fabrizio, the former losing the front end on the white line and collecting the Suzuki rider.