Sykes wins after Haga heartbreak
4 September 2011
Tom Sykes has taken a controversial first World Superbike Championship victory after keeping it upright in atrocious conditions at the Nurburgring.
In a race defined by terrible weather conditions, Noriyuki Haga looked destined for an impressive lights-to-flag win for PATA Aprilia, but having pulled out a lead of more than ten seconds, an intense shower on lap thirteen would eliminate many of the front runners, including Haga.
His cruel retirement duly promoted a stunned Sykes up to first position, the Briton holding on for two more laps before the race was halted and the result declared. The victory marks his first win at WSBK level and Kawasaki's first success since Chris Walker won in strikingly similar conditions at Assen back in 2006.
It was a dramatic end to what promised to be an eventful race after a sharp shower, as often occurs thanks to the Nurburgring's position in the Eiffel Mountains, saturated the circuit shortly before the start.
Declared a wet race and prompting treaded tyres all round, the field tiptoed into the first corner hairpin with remarkably little incident, though Jonathan Rea did himself few favours when his move up the inside saw him run wide, while Sykes was lucky not to be sent off by the Castrol Honda rider when the Ulsterman scythed back onto track into the side of the Kawasaki.
Nonetheless, everyone remained upright, with Haga slipping into the lead, ahead of the recovered Rea, Sykes, Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri.
Steadily, the order began to fragment between those feeling more confident in the awful conditions, with Haga lapping consistently faster than those behind. As a reference point, pole sitter Carlos Checa ended the first lap in 14th, the Spaniard keen to keep out of trouble.
Haga's cause was aided on lap two as Rea run wide at turn one again, promoting Sykes – whose two Kawasaki pole positions had come in wet conditions - up to second position, but the Aprilia rider remained the fastest man on circuit and steadily built his lead up as he took advantage of the clearer conditions ahead.
With the rain easing somewhat, several riders began to push on, including Leon Haslam, though the BMW rider would become the first to succumb on lap three with a crash at the NGK chicane.
In the meantime, another trip across the run off area at turn one would drop Rea down to fourth behind Sylvain Guintoli, who was making swift progress up the order as the only rider capable of challenging Haga's lap times.
With the weather seemingly stabilising, Guintoli gradually caught Sykes ahead of him to be on his tail by lap twelve, the Kawasaki rider now more than ten seconds behind a relentless Haga.
However, Guintoli's charge would coincide with a sudden deterioration in the weather conditions over the first, third and fourth sectors of the lap, prompting a chaotic spell as the unassuming riders struggled to adapt to the changes.
Guintoli was the first to make a mistake, running wide at the first corner as he attempted to overtake Sykes, but he fared better than Rea just behind them, the Ulsterman dropping the Honda at high-speed, sending both man and machine skating down the track and into the barriers.
Leon Camier and Makoto Tamada were also victims of the shower before the weather claimed its highest-profile victim in Haga, who fell at the high-speed Schumacher –S. Though unharmed, it was a bitter retirement for both himself and the satellite PATA team.
With Haga out and Guintoli losing four seconds in his trip off the circuit, Sykes suddenly found himself in the lead, the Kawasaki man gesticulating over the finish line to suggest the race should have been stopped.
He got his wish on lap 14 when, as the race reached the two-thirds marker – thus enabling organisers to declare the result -, the red flag was dropped.
With the result counted back to the 13th lap, it meant Sykes would be declared a stunned winner, a result that sees Kawasaki make a welcome return to the top step of the podium after five years. Indeed, it even marks Kawasaki's first WSBK podium since 2007, as well as Sykes's first victory.
The chaotic final two laps had done its job of shaking up the order behind, with Guintoli and Jakub Smrz completing the podium for the Effenbert-Liberty Ducati team.
A new personal best for Guintoli, it is the second time the Czech team has gotten both of its riders on the podium having previously achieved the feat at Miller Motorsports Park.
Despite his spectacular fall, Rea's advantage over the chasing pack meant he was able to remount – having dropped almost 25 seconds – to claim a hard-fought and very well deserved fourth on his return to action.
Having spent several laps dicing very closely with Yamaha team-mate Marco Melandri, Eugene Laverty eventually prevailed to claim fifth, though only after repeatedly pleading with officials to stop the race as they crossed the finish line.
Melandri's sixth means he has pulled back some points on Checa, whose strategy of being very cautious paid off as he slowly worked his way up to eighth place, just behind top BMW rider Ayrton Badovini.
Despite his fall, Haslam also scored a top ten finish in ninth, ahead of Maxime Berger, Troy Corser and Roberto Rolfo as only 13 riders were classified at the finish.
As well as Camier – who was running with Smrz when he crashed -, James Toseland fell early on and is feared to have damaged his troublesome wrist once more, while Mark Aitchison was an unlucky faller having been dicing with the Yamahas when he tumbled.