Not only is Carlos Checa one of the most experienced riders on the World Superbike Championship grid, he is also one of the most experienced motorcycle riders to be competing today.
When he lines up on the WSBK grid for 2011, his world championship career will have spanned 18 years, during which time has won races at 500cc and is now a World Superbike Champion.
The man from Sant Fruitos in Catalonia began his career in the 125cc class in 1993 but would complete just a single race for the Petrocat Honda team before immediately progressing to the 250cc category aboard a Pit Lane Honda.
Despite a slow start to his six-race tenure, a top ten result at the season ending FIM Grand Prix at Jarama would help him secure a full-time berth in 1994, once again on Honda machinery. A modestly successful season would see Checa score regularly, although a best result of just seventh at Laguna Seca would leave him 12th in the overall standings.
Nonetheless, his efforts did catch the eye of the leading Fortuna Pons Honda team and he was duly snapped up to front its 1995 250cc effort. Two fourth place finishes in the first seven races lifted Checa into the higher reaches of the standings which meant he was ideally placed to receive the call-up to Pons’ premier class 500cc team to replace the injured Alberto Puig.
Checa made the most of his golden opportunity, displaying greater affinity with quicker machinery to prove instantly rapid on the NSR500, most notably at the season finale in Barcelona when he qualified on the front row, set the fastest lap and challenged for victory before retiring.
Unsurprisingly, Checa was retained for a full season in 1996, continuing to stamp his mark on the paddock by finishing third at the Malaysia curtain raiser. Although his results tailed off as the season progressed, Checa saved his reputation with a classy maiden victory on home soil, once again in Barcelona.
A further podium helped Checa finish the season in eighth position overall, raising hopes that Spain now had a man who could perhaps secure the ultimate prize in motorcycle racing for this motorcycle-crazy nation.
Sticking with the same formula in 1997, although Checa failed to increase his victory tally, he was a more consistent frontrunner, finishing second on three occasions. However, a brace of retirements meant he couldn’t progress beyond eighth position in the standings for the second consecutive year.
A third full season with the Pons Honda team would see Checa enjoy his best, but also most painful, season to date. Returning to the winners’ circle with another home turf triumph, this time at Jarama, Checa’s season was ruined by a serious accident during the British Grand Prix at Donington Park.
Crashing heavily, Checa was initially diagnosed with cuts and bruises. However, after complaining of pain later in the day, he temporarily lost his vision. Listed as critical initially, Checa missed just two rounds and would bounce back in time to secure a career best fourth in the end of season classification.
Opting for a change of scenery in 1999, Checa severed his ties with Honda in favour of a move to Yamaha, a relationship that would last seven years, but yield no further wins.
The decision to move was initially a successful one, Checa proving competitive enough to record a ninth 500cc podium on his debut with the manufacturer in Malaysia. Five retirements, however, would see him down to seventh at the year’s conclusion, behind fourth place team-mate Max Biaggi.
Checa began the 2000 season well with four second place finishes in the first six races, but his form dipped as the year wore on, leaving him sixth in the standings, a result he would repeat in 2001 when he was once again just one position from victory on three occasions.
A revival of sorts occurred in 2002 when a total of nine top five finishes rewarded Checa with fifth in the standings, but he was once again winless and out paced by team-mate Biaggi.
Checa finally turned the tables in 2003 by comfortably out-performing every other Yamaha competitor to finish the season seventh, earning him a stay of execution when joined by world champion Valentino Rossi. However, the Italian duly out classed Checa, Rossi going on to win the title at his first attempt, while Checa couldn’t get on the podium.
Signalling the end of his relationship with the factory Yamaha team, Checa nonetheless landed a high-profile deal with Ducati for the 2005 season.
However, while Checa lasted just one year at Ducati, it didn't reflect his performances - with his two podiums generally considered above expectations. For comparison, his replacement - countryman and former MotoGP World Championship runner-up Sete Gibernau - failed to take a single podium during 2006.
Exiled from a factory-backed team, Checa rejoined the Yamaha fold in 2006, albeit with its satellite Tech 3 concern this time. While it was his least competitive season since joining the top flight, Checa was praised for his gutsy rides on what was considered relatively average machinery. Hampered by having to contend with unfancied Dunlop rubber, Checa was still comfortably quicker than team-mate James Ellison to finish all but one race and end the season classified 15th.
His determined efforts earned him an offer of a satellite Honda, run by the LCR team, for 2007. It should have been an excellent opportunity, but Honda's first attempt at building an 800cc motorcycle was a disappointment and - while HRC threw its resources behind the factory team to try and catch up - the satellite teams were left to make the most of a bad situation.
Checa took a best result of sixth on his way to 14th but it was becoming clear that his MotoGP options were beginning to dry up.
Nonetheless, Checa was still well regarded in the Honda fold and, having made an impression by winning the Suzuka 8 Hours Superbike race earlier in the season, was offered the chance to re-launch his career in the World Superbike Championship.
Replacing reigning champion James Toseland in the Ten Kate team, Checa was the latest big name signing for the WSBK series having already lured his former team-mate Biaggi the previous year. His transition was seamless, Checa standing on the podium in only his second event, while a victory was in the offing on home soil at Valencia had he not bungled his last corner pass on Max Neukirchner.
Victory did eventually come at Miller Motorsports Park, Checa securing the double there to briefly launch himself into the title fight. As it happens, Checa could quite sustain that form to the end of the season and would eventually slip behind the Yamahas to complete his rookie year fourth.
Retained for 2009, Checa was tipped to mount a title challenge, but a pre-season injury saw him struggle to make an impression early on. With the ’09-specification CBR1000RR proving a handful at times, Checa didn’t get onto the podium until the series’ return to Miller midway through the year.
Three more podiums followed, but Checa couldn’t lift himself any higher than seventh in the final standings – behind rookie team-mate Jonathan Rea - a result that wasn’t enough to keep Honda funding his ride.
Though many predicted retirement for one of motorcycling’s more experienced riders, Checa continued on into 2010 with a switch to privateer outfit Althea Racing. Though Checa’s decision to join a satellite outfit that had made fairly minimal impact over the last two seasons with a single Honda entry barely made the headlines at the time, he quickly turned it around with impressive testing times aboard a Ducati.
Heading into the season as something of a dark horse, Checa’s remarkable win at the Phillip Island season opener silenced the cynics and prompted suggestions of a title challenge. Though his hopes stalled as the season progressed, with Checa struggling around the faster circuits in particular, he still emerged as the highest-placed Ducati rider, an embarrassment that would contribute to the manufacturer withdrawing its factory support from the Xerox outfit at the end of the year.
Two more wins followed at Imola later in the season – though a double at Miller Motorsports Park was cruelly denied by curious technical issues -, lifting Checa to third overall, earmarking him as an early favourite for 2011.
Despite Ducati’s decision to withdraw, it was still very much ‘in contact’ with Althea as the 2011 season started, providing some ‘behind-the-scenes’ experience to ensure the preservation of the good Ducati name.
Ducati needn’t have worried as Checa went on to dominate proceedings throughout the season, winning on 15 occasions for the highest single-season victory total in two decades. Sealing the title by 110 points, the result signalled Checa’s first-ever world championship title, 20 years after making his international debut.
Quite the turnaround for a man that was being written off as recently as two years ago, Checa became hot property, so much so that Ducati, with its tighter purse-strings, very nearly lost its champion to BMW, who swooped in with a tempting offer. In the end, Ducati intervened to retain Checa in the hope that he would become the first rider to win back-to-back WSBK titles since Carl Fogarty in 1999.
It was a quest that began well when Checa reeled off three wins in the opening four races of 2012, but his early dominance flattered to deceive, so when costly errors at Assen (tyre choice), Donington, Miller and Misano (falls) set in, he was already out of title contention by the middle of the season.
Citing the drop in competitiveness on the 6kg weight increase incurred during the off season, which Checa said was forcing him to compensate by pushing the 1098R to the limit (and occasionally beyond), no further wins occurred during the second-half of the season, though podiums would help him recover to fourth overall.
With the ultra-successful, but ageing, 1098R pensioned off for the new season, Checa’s Ducati contract means he will line up on the much vaunted 1199 Panigale for 2013, albeit under the stewardship of Alstare, who will take over from Althea after the latter couldn’t agree new terms. Career Highlights:2013:
Stays under contract with Ducati to ride the new 1199 Panigale, but switches from Althea to Alstare2012:
World Superbike Championship, Althea Ducati, 4th (4 wins)2011:
World Superbike Championship, Althea Ducati, 1st (15 wins)2010:
World Superbike Championship, Althea Ducati, 3rd (3 wins)2009:
World Superbike Championship, Ten Kate Honda, 7th2008:
World Superbike Championship, Ten Kate Honda, 4th (2 wins) 2007:
MotoGP World Championship, LCR Honda, 15th2006:
MotoGP World Championship, Tech 3 Yamaha, 14th2005:
MotoGP World Championship, Marlboro Ducati, 9th2004:
MotoGP World Championship, Fortuna Yamaha, 7th2003:
MotoGP World Championship, Fortuna Yamaha, 7th2002:
MotoGP World Championship, Marlboro Yamaha, 5th2001:
500cc World Championship, Marlboro Yamaha, 6th2000:
500cc World Championship, Marlboro Yamaha, 6th1999:
500cc World Championship, Marlboro Yamaha, 7th1998:
500cc World Championship, Movistar Pons Honda, 4th (1 win) 1997:
500cc World Championship, Movistar Pons Honda, 8th1996:
500cc World Championship, Fortuna Pons Honda, 8th (1 win) 1995:
500cc World Championship (5 races), Fortuna Pons Honda, 16th
250cc World Championship (7 races), Fortuna Pons Honda, 13th1994:
250cc World Championship, Givi Honda, 12th1993:
250cc World Championship (6 races), Pit Lane Honda, 23rd
125cc World Championship (1 race), Petrocat Honda, 27th