Keeping things in, um, czech. (Sorry)

SBK Brno, Czech Republic, 26th July 2009

Words:Simon Bradley, Pics: As credited

Brno is a terrific circuit. Certainly one of our favourites, offering as it does the whole gamut of racing environments - flat bits, steep hills, fast open sections, tight nadgery bits. It's a circuit that rewards smoothness and front end feedback. Definitely one to take a bit of time getting the right setup, both on the bike and in your head. And a strong, enthusiastic performance will be greeted by a similarly motivated crowd. Brno is easy to get to from most of Europe, the people are friendly, the girls are beautiful, the prices are still extremely reasonable and the atmosphere is wonderful. It's only a short hop across the Tyrol from Italy, so there are lots of fans from there, while German fans have an even easier trip. From the UK it's not exactly difficult, but booking ahead to avoid getting rogered by the alleged budget airlines is always a good idea. Or fly BA to Vienna and drive up, which is our choice.

But I digress. For a change.

Aprilia nominated Brno as their testing circuit at the beginning of the season, and it shows as free practice saw Max Biaggi storm to the top of the timesheets in absolutely dominant style. And, as the sun continued to shine, so Biaggi continued to stay at the top. Threats came and went - Fabrizio always goes well here, as does Carlos Checa, while Jakub Smrz can add local knowledge to his prodigious arsenal of a well sorted bike and huge talent, making him a serious threat as well. Of course, Ben Spies couldn't be ignored, either, though the still very sore Nori Haga was a shadow of his former self, doing just enough to get through into Superpole while trying to minimise the pain. Haga, you may recall, had a very nasty crash at Donington a few weeks ago, and though happily he transpired not to have broken his neck as was first feared he did fracture his shoulder blade in several places as well as break his forearm. None of which was likely to contribute to his sparkling good mood as he wrestled the Ducati around this demanding, hot circuit.

So there was Biaggi, sitting pretty at the top of the timesheets, refusing to budge. Until it counted. Superpole one saw Biaggi unceremoniously ousted by that Spies man, relegated to sixth in fact, albeit by just a third of a second. And so it stayed, with Spies dominating in the manner we have rather come to expect. Biaggi made a valiant resurgence to second in Superpole two, while Troy Corser demonstrated that yes, BMW really had pulled their corporate fingers out and come up with the goods to come in third in the second session. But ultimately Spies ended up on pole again, from Fabrizio and Biaggi, with Johnny Rea making up the first row - four different manufacturers and engine layouts. Row two had Shakey Byrne on the Sterilgarda Ducati leading the BMW pairing of Corser and Xaus, with Spies' team-mate Tom Sykes in eighth. Lorenzo Lanzi, covering for the still injured Regis Laconi, put the DFX Ducati at the head of row three, with Carlos Checa having a disappointing run to round off the top ten.

Superpole is important, of course. Some might go so far as to say vital. But Brno isn't such a hard circuit to overtake at, so though making life easy for yourself by qualifying well is important, a poor showing there doesn't necessary preclude a good result. Especially if you can start well or don't mind a bit of argy-bargy on your way.

Making space, Ben Spies learns fro the first time around...Brno has a decent drag strip before the first corner, which is a very, very fast right hander. On the first lap you could probably take it flat out if you were brave, rolling off a touch into the following left which goes uphill in to another short straight. It's wide, and there's plenty of room for everyone to sort themselves out. And as the lights went out Troy Corser got the holeshot, launching the BMW off the line in the style we're used to and going straight into the lead, clean as you like but very forcefully indeed. Behind him, Ben Spies, Johnny Rea and Michel Fabrizio could only fall in to line, with Checa and Biaggi close behind them. Further back, Ruben Xaus' erstwhile brilliant weekend came to an abrupt end as he slid out in an (admittedly) unforced error. The popular Spaniard was unhurt until, ironically, he hit the deep gravel intended to avoid injuries, where his leg got trapped as he slid, rotating it hard and snapping the top of his femur. Happily it's reported as an uncomplicated break, but it certainly sidelined Xaus for the rest of the weekend.

Up at the front, Corser stayed in the lead for a couple of laps before the more developed Yamaha of Spies managed to get past. Behind, Biaggi had made a move on Rea and Fabrizio and was looking threatening. And indeed shortly after Spies slipped past, Biaggi and Fabrizio followed suit. Biaggi and Fabrizio scrapped for a while before the young Roman was able to make a move on the older Roman that actually looked as though it would stick. But in his enthusiasm, Fabrizio went for the inside line at the top of the long hill leading up to the back straight. For a while it looked as though he might achieve the impossible and get a 1200cc Ducati between Ben Spies and the barrier, but then the front tucked and Fabrizio bit the dust, sweeping the unfortunate Texan with him. Distraught, the Italian ran over to apologise to Spies, whose near legendary cool was briefly ruffled. For a moment it looked as though we were going to have some unseemly fisticuffs, but then the fight went out of the Texan, and with a few choice gestures (no, not like that, more along the lines of "You need to use your brain") he walked away. Which left Max Biaggi in the lead. Checa and Rea both managed to get past Corser, who also yielded to Shakey Byrne, albeit with one hell of a fight. Yamaha's woes continued as Tom Sykes retired with mechanical problems after dropping to the back of the pack and limping around in the hope of picking up a few points for surviving.

But the truly exciting part of the race was run. Biaggi rode inch perfect for the next fifteen laps and was never threatened. In fact, Biaggi's style is so smooth that he looked as though he was just out for a cruise. I suspect he didn't even break a sweat, despite running consistently close to the lap record. Further back, Jakub Smrz was demonstrating that you don't have to like a circuit, or necessarily qualify well, to get a decent result. With some robust but fair overtakes and some epic scraps with the likes of Haga and Haslam, the local hero climbed to sixth place and was starting to pull away from Leon Haslam, another rider who professes not to like Brno, when he ran out of laps. Joining Fabrizio and Spies in the gravel traps were John Hopkins, who crashed the Stiggy Honda hard a few laps from the end and limped away looking very sore indeed, and Lorenzo Lanzi who exited, stage left, early on and almost unnoticed. Shinya Nakano had been running well until the Aprilia gave up the ghost, and he retired a few laps in. But that doesn't detract from the wonderful sight of that beautifully crafted Aprilia taking the chequered flag under an emotional Max Biaggi. Or, indeed, of Troy Corser wheelying the whole length of the straight to celebrate BMW's best result by far and, hopefully, the end of a bleak period for the likeable Australian champion.

So with all the excitement of the first few laps out of the way, there was a certain frisson in the air as the protagonists lined up for race two. Again it was Troy Corser who got the holeshot, though this time he was swallowed up by the rest of the pack before half a lap was over. And it was Ben Spies who took the lead, followed at a respectful distance by Michel Fabrizio who in turn was being harried by Max Biaggi. The end of the first lap saw Spies already setting up a decent amount of clear space from the squabbling Romans behind him. Corser was splitting the Hannspree Ten Kate pairing of Rea and Checa, the Ulsterman having the advantage, while behind Shakey Byrne, Nori Haga, Tom Sykes and Leon Haslam were jostling for position and tripping each other up. Now to be honest, this wasn't as especially thrilling race. Up at the front, Spies gave a masterclass in going very fast indeed, though never looking as good as Biaggi while doing it. Biaggi continued to press Fabrizio until he slipped past a few laps from the end and made it stick. The leading trio, less than a second between them from first to third, opened a fairly large gap from the pursuing Hondas of Rea and Checa who spent the best part of twenty laps formation flying. Great for their promo photographers as they could get both in shot together, but not too good when it comes to closing up with the leaders. A long way behind, a titanic struggle was going on. Between, on one side, Nori Haga, the Xerox Ducati and Clinica Mobile's magic injections, and on the other side a raft of fast and talented riders on well sorted bikes and a whole world of pain. Astonishingly, even for Haga, the incredibly resilient Ducati rider came out ahead of Tom Sykes, Shakey Byrne, Jakub Smrz and Troy Corser. That's a whole lot of talent to get past with the sort of injuries that Haga is carrying. And the effort, though there'll be a fearful price to pay over the next few days, will probably be seen as being worth it as it meant that Haga only dropped seven points compared to Spies and just two points against Fabrizio. OK, so there's an element of luck involved but that seven point lead he still has is going to prove ever so important at the next round...

So what happens now? Well, Spies is in an incredibly strong position. And Haga must be kicking himself at jumping ship when he did. But this year is still the Japanese rider's best, and possibly last, shot at the title and you can bet he won't relinquish his lead without one hell of a fight. Next round is in five weeks time at Germany's Nurburgring. It's a cracking circuit and, whatever happens, the result will be interesting...


Man of the match, for sure. OK, so he didn't sore that many points but he's hurting and he still rode like a demon...Race One

1 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
2 Carlos Checa (Honda)
3 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
4 Shane Byrne (Ducati)
5 Troy Corser (BMW)
6 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)
7 Leon Haslam (Honda)
8 Nori Haga (Ducati)
9 Matthieu Lagrive (Honda)
10 Makoto Tamada (Kawasaki)

Race Two

1 Ben Spies (Yamaha)
2 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
3 Michel Fabrizio (Ducati)
4 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
5 Carlos Checa (Honda)
6 Nori Haga (Ducati)
7 Tom Sykes (Yamaha)
8 Shane Byrne (Ducati)
9 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)
10 Troy Corser(BMW)

Championship Standing after ten rounds:

1 Nori Haga 326
2 Ben Spies 319
3 Michel Fabrizio 273
4 Jonathan Rea 206
5 Max Biaggi 200
6 Leon Haslam 180
7 Tom Sykes 150
8Carlos Checa 145
9 Shane Byrne 134
10 Jakub Smrz 132




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