Checa seizes series lead with Imola double
1 April 2012
Reigning champion Carlos Checa has moved into the lead of the 2012 World Superbike Championship standings after completing a resounding double victory at Imola.
Recovering from a fraught first-half of the race after becoming embroiled in a lively battle with Max Biaggi and Leon Haslam, which duly allowed Tom Sykes to establish a three second lead at one stage, Checa's ability to nurse his Pirelli tyres nonetheless ensured he was never out of victory contention.
Shaking off the attentions of his rivals as the race entered its second-half, Checa duly caught and passed Sykes on lap 15 before proceeding to a fairly comfortable third win in four races.
The result means Checa has inched ahead of Biaggi in the overall standings by four points after the local favourite was unable to get onto the podium in either race.
Starting from pole position for the fourth race in succession, Sykes got off the line well and though Biaggi would out-brake him into the opening turn, the Aprilia's wider line allowed the Kawasaki back ahead to lead the first lap of the race.
With the top three proceeding to break away, lap times tumbled as Sykes, Checa and Biaggi jostled for position, the trio each dipping beneath the lap record at one stage. The leading group of three soon became four when Haslam, buoyed by two consecutive record laps himself, attached the increasingly competitive S1000RR onto the tail of the front runners to get into the hunt for a win.
However, with Checa and Biaggi tripping over one another as they swapped positions four times in two laps, Sykes was able to stretch his advantage into a fairly commanding lead.
Indeed, a new lap record of 1min 47.552secs – three tenths under the existing marker – allowed him to move three seconds up the road and into a potential winning position as the second-half of the race loomed.
As substantial as the margin appeared, however, Checa remained a clear threat and once he had dispatched of the chasing pack, which now had Haslam ahead of Biaggi, he quickly set about reeling in Sykes.
With Checa's lap times stabilising and Sykes's beginning to dwindle, the Althea Ducati was able to make remarkably fast inroads into the British rider's lead, taking just four laps to catch and pass Sykes.
Proceeding to pull away over the remaining six laps, Checa crossed the line with a winning margin of almost two seconds to complete a third win in four races, as well as secure a popular success for Ducati on home soil.
Despite slipping into the clutches of Haslam once Checa was through, Sykes was able to hold on for a third consecutive podium finish, a result that means he has accumulated almost half of his entire 2011 points' tally in just two race weekends.
Mirroring the results sheet of the opening race, Haslam claimed BMW's first-ever WSBK double podium in third place, the Briton moving ahead of team-mate Marco Melandri in the overall standings to fourth, while Biaggi followed up just behind in what was a fairly anonymous weekend for the erstwhile series leader
Further back, an entertaining battle for fifth raged throughout the race and was eventually determined by those that made fewest errors. Indeed, Melandri, Sylvain Guintoli and Joan Lascorz all looked in contention for the position before making mistakes that dropped them back, while Davide Giugliano looked on course for an excellent top five finish before his Althea Ducati cried enough on the penultimate lap.
In the end, Honda's Jonathan Rea would prevail, despite a dramatic high-speed trip across the gravel trap at Villeneuve in the closing stages when he tagged the back of Eugene Laverty's Aprilia. Nonetheless, the Ulsterman fought back and was rewarded with a fine finish given the extent of his mammoth accident in qualifying a day earlier.
Laverty came home a fairly quiet sixth, the Irishman no doubt concerned to have finished well behind team-mate Biaggi in both races.
Jakub Smrz crossed the line seventh on what was an otherwise disappointing race day for the Effenbert Liberty Ducati team, ahead of Leon Camier, who hauled himself up to eighth place on the Crescent Fixi Suzuki for his and the team's first top ten finish of the season.
Lascorz, Melandri and Guintoli paid for their errors to finish down in ninth, tenth and eleventh respectively, ahead of Maxime Berger and Lorenzo Zanetti.
Despite an early off, Chaz Davies has broken his WSBK's points' duck with a run to 14th place, while Ayrton Badovini snatched the 15th and final point for BMW Italia.
As well as the unfortunate Giugliano, Niccolo Canepa was also denied a potential run at the top five when he crashed from seventh with three laps to go, while Hiroshi Aoyama and John Hopkins were sidelined by mechanical problems.