Haven't you heard? It's all changed . . .

SBK Miller Motorsporst Park, Salt lake City, USa. 31st May 2010

Words: Simon Bradley, Pics: as credited

Leon Haslam, for once, is secondary to the spectacular backdrop. It really is a very pretty place... (Pic: Suzuki)Miller Motorsports Park is just outside Salt Lake City in the state of Utah. It's hot and high, so surprisingly similar to the last round at Kyalami in that respect while being about as different as it's possible to be in others. It's a new, purpose built circuit which has only been in use for three years, and as such it is spectacularly safe. Safety, of course, is paramount, but it can detract rather from the viewing experience because the runoff areas are so vast that the action all takes place a terribly long way away. One thing I will say for the place, though, is that the backdrop is easily as spectacular as anywhere else in the world, rivalling Phillip Island for sheer natural grandeur. Which is nice.

Practice and the first qualifying sessions showed that Michel Fabrizio, who got two close second places here last year, hadn't forgotten his way around as he dominated the first two sessions, coming second behind the perennial good qualifier Jakub Smrz in the third. Cal Crutchlow, too, was doing well after his excellent Supersport ride here last year, as were the usual crowd of Biaggi, Rea, Checa and Haslam despite both Checa and Biaggi enjoying excursions into the gravel trap in different sessions. Toseland too, in his first visit here, found himself exploring the deep, soft gravel, happily without injury or severe bike damage. One thing that was rapidly becoming apparent was that the level of grip here is simply astronomical. Something which, though on a superficial level is a very good thing, can bring its fair share of problems. Accelerated tyre wear is just one of those problems, as we saw later. Another thing that showed was just how close competition was likely to be on race day. In the last qualifying session, the top thirteen riders were all inside a second of provisional pole sitter Max Biaggi.

Max Biaggi and the Aprilia are a devastatingly strong package, and are getting harder to beat each meeting... (Pic: Aprilia)But that's provisional pole. The real pole position is, of course, decided in Superpole. The diminished field saw everyone but last placed Matteo Baiocco through to the first session. And dropping out in that first session we lost local boy Roger Lee Hayden, Broc Parkes, Tom Sykes and, qualifying ahead of his team-mate for the first time, Chris Vermeulen. The second session was a little more surprising in some ways. Max Neukirchner dropped off the bottom, behind, unusually, Troy Corser and James Toseland. Luca Scassa ended up heading the fourth row. Ahead, Sylvain Guintoli trailed Shane Byrne, Michel Fabrizio and Ruben Xaus. I'd never have seen at least some of those coming - this was shaping up to be something very strange. So in the last session, deciding the front two rows, we ended up with Leon Camier following Johnny Rea, Nori Haga and Leon Haslam in a dangerously fast second row. And ahead of them, Jakub Smrz sat behind Cal Crutchlow, Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa. No doubt about it, the start and first couple of corners were going to be interesting.

Anyhow. Warmup, though staggeringly unimportant in the overall scheme of things, saw Nori Haga taking scalps as the fastest man on track from Checa, Haslam and Byrne while danger man Biaggi languished back in tenth. Leon Camier crashed but was able to rejoin the session unhurt and presumably with no significant damage to the Aprilia either.

So Race One, then, started with the normal dash to the first corner. And it's a mess at Miller, because there's a fair run into that corner and people have the chance to gain a lot of speed before having to lose it and get turned. So the fact that everyone came through unscathed is definitely a bonus. But doesn't mean that nobody got duffed up, pushed wide or anything else. Oh no. Leon Haslam got well and truly tangled up in the melee, ending up ninth behind Xaus. Exactly what he didn't need as by the end of the first lap it was Max Biaggi in the lead from Checa, with Leon Camier a highly credible third and Troy Corser an astonishing fourth. Say what you like about the double World Champion, but he can sure get a motorbike off the line. Behind Corser, Johnny Rea, Nori Haga and Cal Crutchlow were tucked in neatly and watching for a mistake, with Xaus behind them being hassled by the unfortunate Haslam. Talking of unfortunate, Jakub Smrz didn't even finish the first lap, his Ducati expiring messily immediately in front of Haslam, covering the British rider with oil to add to his woes.

Haga was fastest in warmup. Which means nothing but it's good to be able to say that... (Pic: Ducati)To offer Haslam scant consolation, Biaggi's time in the lead didn't last as Checa sailed past early in the second lap and immediately set about creating some clear space behind him. And in truth, though Biaggi was fast and smooth in his usual style, Checa had all the answers and continued to extend his lead. Behind the Roman, things were getting a little exciting. Leon Camier was riding brilliantly, placing the little Aprilia exactly where he neded it to be to maintain his thidr place, albeit with a slim advantage over Corser, Rea and Crutchlow. But on lap four Rea overcooked it at one of the many switchback turns, sliding out and causing Crutchlow to take violent avoiding action. The Yamaha rider went across the gravel but managed to escape a collision, rejoining some way down the field, while Rea was able to restart and did so, circulating at the back of the field. Not so lucky was Michel Fabrizio, who slid off in spectacular style and left his Ducati in a thoroughly unrideable state.

Further behind, Birthday Boy Leon Haslam was demonstrating exactly why he's the prodigy he is, smashing through the field to be up to fourth place by lap six, passing both Haga and Corser on the lap before. And so it looked as though the situation wouls stay. Checa was comfortably holding his lead, responding with a fast lap whenever Biaggi looked as though he might close the gap and easing off to preserve his engine and tyres when possible. Biaggi was safe in second, with a comfortable gap back to Camier in third, who was under steady pressure from Haslam. But then, six laps from the end, Haslam made a move on Camier and slipped through to take that last podium slot. And three laps from the end Haga also managed to get by the Englishman. But more importantly, on that same lap, race leader Carlos Checa's Ducati simply stopped. No drama, no smoke, just no power at all. The Spaniard could only look on and shake his head as the pack streamed past, trailing his richly deserved twenty five points in their wake. Biaggi won, then, from Haslam and Haga with Camier a close fourth.

Slightly further back, Toseland had fought through to a solid seventh before his tyres suddenly went off a few laps from the end and he ended up slithering in to a noble but disappointing ninth. Ahead, Corser kept up the excellent pace he'd shown all race long, barely dropping off at the end to take fifth, while Shakey Byrne won his race long scrap with Luca Scassa for sixth.

An interesting race then, marred with frustration for some and surprising gifts of success for others.

Biaggi, Ciorser, Haga. There's a heck of a lot of experience and talent in this shot... (Pic: Aprilia)Race Two saw Carlos Checa again make a great start, this time capitalising on his pole position to take the lead straight away from Max Biaggi. And Troy Corser, showing it was no flash in the pan, launched the BMW off the line back in fifteenth to take third ahead of Camier and BMW team-mate Ruben Xaus. Rea, Crutchlow and Toseland were next, hotly pursued by former team-mates Haga and Haslam.

Again, though, this situation wasn't to last. Because as in race one Checa was easily able to maintain his lead, opening a nearly two second lead by lap six, on lap eight his Ducati again coasted to a stop in what appeared, cruelly, to be a carbon copy of the Race One failure and again gifting the lead to Biaggi. And on the same lap, just to make the Roman's day, Leon Haslam lit up the back of the Suzuki on a hairpin and got fired off the high side, earning an armful of stitches as a result. Happy birthday Leon.

Another Leon was having a better day, though. Camier was climbing all over the back of Troy Corser's BMW, and on lap eleven he made a neat move to make it an Aprilia 1-2. Cal Crutchlow was next to pass the Australian as the BMW ate its tyres in the normal way we've come to expect, sadly. Because a few laps later, haga slipped through as well to relegate Corser to his second fifth place of the weekend.

And so it finished. Biaggi took another double, while Camier took his best finish of his SBK career to date, and really stamped Aprilia as a team that has arrived. Not many manufacturers have taken both top spots. In fact, I suspect it's only Ducati who could claim that honour. Cal Crutchlow took a solid but fairly distant third from Haga, with Corser, as we've seen, in fifth. Sylvain Guintoli rode a cracking race to climb up to sixth ahead of Shakey Byrne, Johnny Rea (who suffered from severe vibration after the tyre gripped so well at the start that instead of spinning as he nailed it off the line the wheel turned inside the tyre, throwing it out of balance) and Michel Fabrizio. Smrz again failed to finish as his Ducati also expired, while Ruben Xaus' initial promise faded and the Spaniard finished eleventh.

So it's all changed at the top, with haslam's fifteen point lead arriving here being turned into a fifteen point deficit. Checa should have been third but his pair of DNFs mean that he stays behind Rea in fourth, but Haga's new form sees him leapfrog Toseland who himslf is now perilously close to being overhauled by Corser.

We're in Misano in a few weeks. It's a great circuit and you can always bank on things getting exciting at some point. See you there!

Corser holds off Camier and Crutchlow in Race Two. Second place at this stage, from fifteenth on the grid. The man can still boogie... (Pic: BMW)Race One

1 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
2 Leon Haslam (Suzuki)
3 Nori Haga (Ducati)
4 Leon Camier (Aprilia)
5 Troy Corser (BMW)
6 Shane Byrne (Ducati)
7 Luca Scassa (Ducati)
8 Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki)
9 James Toseland (Yamaha)
10 Ruben Xaus (BMW)

Race Two

1 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
2 Leon Camier (Aprilia)
3 Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha)
4 Nori Haga (Ducati)
5 Troy Corser (BMW)
6 Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki)
7 Shane Byrne (Ducati)
8 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
9 Michel Fabrizio (Ducati)
10 Luca Scassa (Ducati)

Championship Standing after seven rounds:

1 Max Biaggi 257
2 Leon Haslam 242
3 Jonathan Rea 151
4 Carlos Checa 141
5 Nori Haga 135
6 James Toseland 132
7 Troy Corser 127
8 Leon Camier 115
9 Cal Crutchlow 107
10 Michel Fabrizio 102



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