Carlos Checa has taken a potentially crucial step towards the 2011 World Superbike Championship title after his comfortable lights-to-flag victory at the Nurburgring was complemented by the pre-race withdrawal of key rival Max Biaggi.

Having smashed the lap record during practice and topped most timed sessions prior to race day, the Althea Ducati rider had been a comfortable favourite for victory around the German circuit.

However, he was offered the opportunity to relax before the race even started after Biaggi, who began the weekend 62 points behind Checa, opted against starting due to the foot injury sustained on Friday.

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With no Aprilia lining up alongside him, Checa dived into the tight opening bend with the lead, while Noriyuki Haga, Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty slotted in behind him.

Inspired by the memories of his wins around the German circuit in 2008 and 2010, Haga set about causing an upset, nosing ahead of Checa twice, first down the home straight at the start of lap two - to which Checa responded with a calm re-pass into turn one -, before the Japanese rider dived beneath his rival at the final bend.

Nonetheless, Checa would simply cruise back past the satellite Aprilia rider on lap three, the Spaniard proceeding to gap his rivals with a series of good, consistent lap times.

Haga gave chase until lap six when Melandri swept past into second position, while Laverty kept a watching brief in fourth until he ran off the circuit at RTL and dropped almost three seconds behind. Bizarrely, Melandri would commit an almost identical error on the following lap, allowing Haga back up to second, while Laverty used his momentum to pass his Yamaha team-mate on the run to the NGK chicane.

Undeterred, Melandri snatched back third on lap ten and set about closing the gap to Haga ahead of him, an endeavour he successfully completed when he catapulted past on the home-straight at the start of lap sixteen.

It was as high as Melandri could go, however, with Checa affording himself the chance to back off in the closing stages to allow his rivals to get to within two seconds off him at the chequered flag.

With Biaggi unable to score, Melandri has moved up to second in the standings, but the 76 point deficit marks Checa's largest margin over his rivals since the season began, while the Spaniard has a further opportunity to extend his advantage in race two.

Behind Melandri, Haga flew the flag for the beleaguered Aprilia brand in third position, the Japanese rider scoring a second podium of the season for a delighted PATA Racing team. Unable to keep up with Melandri, Laverty was forced to settle for fourth place.

If the race for the win proved predictable, then the fight behind them remained anything but as an intense battle for fifth all the way down to eleventh provided continuous entertainment.

In the end, Leon Haslam prevailed, but only after an extraordinary fight back on the BMW from 14th position midway through the race. The Briton had been running a fairly lonely fifth in the opening stages, but a trip across the gravel on lap seven would see him plummet down the order.

Nonetheless, a series of impressive moves - including a last lap pass on Sylvain Guintoli - would see him regain the position at the chequered flag, no doubt delighting his local manufacturer.

Behind Guintoli, Joan Lascorz was another to launch his decisive bid on the final lap as he snatched seventh on the very final corner from Leon Camier, the Aprilia rider yo-yoing through the order as he attempted to recover from a lowly 13th on the grid.

Ayrton Badovini continued his impressive run of top ten finishes - now up to twelve in a row - in ninth after making two important passes in the final two laps, the Italian heading up Jonathan Rea, who finished his comeback race in tenth. Tom Sykes valiantly held fifth for much of the race, but would eventually be swamped as his pace dropped in the closing stages, the Kawasaki rider left a somewhat unsatisfying 11th.

Mark Aitchison scored more solid points for Pedercini Kawasaki in 12th, with James Toseland 13th in his 200th WSBK race, Roberto Rolfo in 14th and Troy Corser in 15th.