Biaggi benefits after Checa crash
26 February 2012
Max Biaggi has won the opening round of the 2012 World Superbike Championship at Phillip Island after reigning champion Carlos Checa dramatically crashed out of an early lead.
The runaway 2011 champion looked to be in control after assuming the lead of the race on lap three, but was coming under pressure from Biaggi when he suffered a spectacular high-side out of the final bend on lap five.
The accident would see Checa ejected at least 15 feet off the bike, though the Spaniard was able to walk away from the incident without any noticeable injury.
Prior to that, Checa appeared to be in good form as he snatched the early advantage from Tom Sykes, the Kawasaki rider supplementing his run to the first pole position of 2012 by leading the opening lap of the season too.
However, his joy lasted until lap three when Checa slid up the inside at Honda, while Biaggi followed him through into second place on the way to a new lap record on the fourth revolution, which in turn broke Troy Corser's long-standing 2007 marker.
Swiftly onto the tail of Checa, just as Biaggi was looking poised to slipstream past the Ducati down the home straight as they entered lap six, the reigning champion's race came to an end.
Promoting Biaggi into a comfortable lead having already broken the tow to Sykes, who was now back to second place, the Italian had little trouble maintaining his advantage over the remaining 17 laps.
The victory marks his first WSBK triumph at Phillip Island and his first win at the circuit since his success in the 2000 500GP World Championship race.
His cause was aided further by an entertaining scrap for second position that emerged between Sykes, Sylvain Guintoli and Marco Melandri, the new BMW rider making exceptional early gains to lift himself up to fourth place from a lowly 13th on the grid.
With Melandri maintaining a watching brief behind the Kawasaki and Ducati ahead, Guintoli worked hard to get the better of Sykes, but while he would slip by on lap eight, the ZX-10R's superior straight line speed would see Sykes back through almost straight away. Nonetheless, Guintoli kept up the pressure and, despite persistently losing ground under braking, eventually made a move stick on lap 14.
Melandri subsequently followed past on lap 15 and immediately set about wresting second from Guintoli, a quest he completed on lap 18 when he drafted by on the home straight. Though the Frenchman remained on his rival's tail, Melandri was able to resist him to complete a fine second place finish on his BMW debut, a result that also doubles up as the manufacturer's best-ever WSBK result.
Despite losing out on second position, Guintoli can be satisfied with the podium to put the memories of his high-speed accident at the circuit twelve months ago firmly behind him.
Sykes completed a positive start to the 2012 season for Kawasaki in fourth place, fending off the attentions of Jakub Smrz, who complemented Guintoli to make it two Effenbert Liberty Ducatis in the top five.
A late charge would see Michel Fabrizio snatch sixth position off Jonathan Rea in the run to the line, the Italian getting his BMW Motorrad Italia career off to the strong start. Rea, however, couldn't build on the promise of his qualifying times as he fought a rear guard action for much of the race, even if a feisty battle with Maxime Berger ended when the Frenchman ran off course on lap 12.
As well as Berger, there was disappointment for Leon Camier after being forced off circuit by Davide Guigliano as they disputed eighth position, the Italian leaning on his rival after struggling to get his bike stopped into turn ten.
Giugliano continued on but was demoted to ninth by Hiroshi Aoyama, who overcame a disappointing qualification to secure a fine top eight finish on his WSBK debut for Honda.
Also defying their lowly grid positions with impressive race results were Bryan Staring and Lorenzo Zanetti, who progressed from 16th and 20th respectively to finish line astern in tenth and 11th.
Meanwhile, the injured Leon Haslam's dogged determination was rewarded with four respectable points in 12th, ahead of the recovering Berger, David Salom – also nursing injuries this weekend – and Joan Lascorz.
Eugene Laverty, who is racing with a broken hand this weekend, had been battling in the lower half of the top ten when he went off the circuit on lap 16 and eventually retired.
Behind them, Crescent Fixi Suzuki were denied a points' finish on their full-time WSBK debut following Camier's off, while Josh Brookes just missed out in 16th position.