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Luck ‘rains’ as Sykes slides into title fight

23 September 2012

CLICK HERE to view WSBK Race 1 Results.

Tom Sykes has launched himself back into the World Superbike Championship title fight after claiming a marvellous third victory of the season at Portimao, while Max Biaggi could only manage fourth and Marco Melandri retired.

A race of drama for all three title rivals, the first encounter of the day got underway in treacherously wet conditions with Eugene Laverty, Jonathan Rea and Carlos Checa establishing the early top three, ahead of Biaggi and Melandri.

However, it would take just a handful of corners for the first act to play out when Melandri came down whilst battling with key championship rival Biaggi, the pair making contact at turn 11 when Melandri attempted to get beneath the Aprilia rider on the exit of the bend.

Misjudging the size of the gap between the two, Melandri would lose the front-end of his bike to slide across the circuit into retirement.

Furthermore, Melandri's stricken bike would collect Davide Giugliano, while Chaz Davies bumped into Melandri himself as he attempted to stop in time. Though he was able to get himself off the track, Melandri has since been taken to the medical centre for further checks.

Despite the contact with Melandri, Biaggi was able to stay upright, the accident serving to break up the pack to allow Laverty, Rea, Checa and Biaggi to establish a large margin over the likes of Sykes – at this stage showing average pace -, Sylvain Guintoli and Brett McCormick, the Canadian flying in the difficult conditions.

With the top four favouring caution on the slippery surface, Biaggi eased past Laverty into the lead at the start of lap seven, but the pass would prove futile as the red flag would be deployed due to oil being deposited on the circuit by Norino Brignola's crashing Grillini BMW.

A blow for Biaggi given he stood to greatly increase his margin over the retired Melandri and the struggling Sykes, he was nonetheless able to start from the front row for the shortened 16 lap restart.

Held on a drier circuit than before, but still too wet for the riders to choose anything other than grooved Pirelli tyres, Biaggi signalled his intentions early to move into the lead, but it was a position he could only hold until lap three when a revitalised Sykes came charging through.

Taking advantage of the red flag pause, Sykes's tweaked Kawasaki was thriving on this occasion as he scythed his way to the front of the field, the Briton quickly building a margin over the field.

Biaggi, meanwhile, was struggling to maintain the pace of his rivals, allowing both Sylvain Guintoli and Carlos Checa to come past into second and third positions too.

Now three seconds ahead of Guintoli and Checa, Sykes was looking well on course for his third win, but with the circuit continuing to dry, he found himself coming under late pressure from Checa, who was flourishing in the evolving conditions.

Indeed, the rate at which Checa was able to catch Sykes suggested he would swallow the Kawasaki rider up with just three laps remaining, but once on the tail of the ZX-10R, he couldn't find a way past.

Utilising his superior straight line speed, Sykes proceeded to keep his lines tidy through the twistier infield, before pulling out some breathing space down the long home straight.

It was all the advantage he needed, Sykes rebuffing Checa to reel off his third win of the season, one that catapults him back into the title hunt.

With Checa and Guintoli completing the podium on their respective Ducatis, attention turned to whether Biaggi could soften the blow by holding onto fourth position.

Indeed, Biaggi found himself in an unusual situation as he diced with little-known McCormick, the Canadian – starting only his sixth WSBK race - sustaining his early pace to deliver an inspired ride on the Effenbert Liberty Ducati.

Never anything less than a shadow for Biaggi, McCormick would have likely beaten Biaggi had he been able to resist the faster Aprilia in a straight line.

As it happens, Biaggi remained fourth for 13 points, but while his lead is now up from 9.5 points to 14.5 points, it is Sykes on his tail now in second place. Melandri, meanwhile, is now 22.5 points adrift in third.

Behind McCormick, Rea finished sixth, the Ulsterman enduring an odd race that saw him up front at the very beginning before dropping back, only to get into the fourth place fight during the closing laps.

Fresh from the announcement he will remain a Kawasaki rider in 2013, Loris Baz celebrated with a solid run to seventh, ahead of Hiroshi Aoyama, who equalled his best result of the season in eighth position.

BMW Italia duo Ayrton Badovini and Michel Fabrizio completed the top ten, while Leon Camier – who was eighth at the restart – slipped to 11th.

His Suzuki team-mate John Hopkins finished 12th, ahead of a bemused Laverty, the Irishman having begun the restarted race from pole position, only to drop back quickly in the early stages. He eventually crossed the line in 13th, just ahead of Alexander Lundh and Matteo Baiocco.

Compounding BMW's awful start to the day, Leon Haslam endured a terrible race after running off track on the first lap of race one, leaving him at the back of the field. He was then handed a ride-thru penalty for jumping the restart.


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