SBK comes home . . .

SBK Donington Park, Great Britain, 27th March 2011

Words: Laura Bradley, Pics: Simon Bradley and Richard Handley

Leon Haslam knows his way around here a bit. And it shows. He also really suits the BMW - it can't be long before he gets the results he deserves...Donington Park, newly renovated and with the lap record one second faster as a result, has always been entertaining to watch the racing at. Now they’ve opened up the Foggy Esses, the riders seem to enjoy it much more as well! Sunshine greeted us on Friday, warming the track and resulting in some brilliant times, but the cold and windy weather that stayed for the rest of the weekend was tricky to judge. The rain stayed away, though, and we had some good racing on slick tyres.

The first qualifying session was bad for Aitchison, who crashed and had to retire – leaving him out the race for superpole. Haga had a technical problem at turn eight and had to return to the pits bikeless, which also affected his position but still left him in the running due to some very quick times. By the end of the first session Rea, Fabrizio and Haga had set the fastest times. In the second session it was Biaggi’s turn to fall off, although it was a rather feeble crash as he ran straight onto the gravel and dropped it. Smrz and Guintoli also crashed, but all three riders were OK. This left the results for those going into superpole as Rea, Sykes, Berger, Camer, Lascorz, Haga, Corser, Fabrizio, Haslam, Xaus, Checa, Badovini, Melandri, Smrz, Laverty and Biaggi.

Superpole one was a brilliant session, but Laverty had a massive crash and had to get on his second bike. This, obviously, didn’t do well for his lap times and resulted in him not qualifying for superpole two, joined by Guintoli, Berger and Xaus. Haslam remained fastest throughout the session until the last minute, when Sykes set a time of one minute twenty-eight, taking first. The second superpole saw Rea starting off with the fastest time, but Checa soon took the lead and kept it. There were no crashes in this session, but Biaggi and Melandri showed their dislike for each other by racing each other throughout – something which Biaggi had a sense of humour failure about and ended up having points on his racing licence for starting an argument with Melandri after the session, even giving him a few slaps around the face! Biaggi's on track antics meant that Melandri just missed out on getting into superpole three, as well as Corser, Fabrizio and Lascorz. Superpole three had Haslam again start with the fastest lap, but Checa took this from him and stayed there, taking pole for the Sunday races. Haslam took second place on the grid followed by Sykes, Smrz, Haga, Biaggi, Camier and then Rea finishing up the second row.

Carlos Checa. He can ride a motorbike, no doubt about that. Could this be his year?Race day was, mercifully, a little warmer than Saturday with the occasional glimmer of blue appearing between the generally overcast cloud. The bitter wind dropped, too, making the day actually quite pleasant.

Race one had its first event in the warm up lap, when Berger’s bike broke down and he had to wheel it into the pit lane and sort it out for the start of the race. The start of the actual race was very close, as the new on-board cameras showed. Haslam took the lead through the first corner and Haga showed his new racing self (the old one!) by coming through to second. Camier started down in fourth but managed to overtake Smrz and Haga by the end of the first lap to get himself up into second place. Fabrizio managed to run off the track and into the gravel at Coppice but re-joined the race at the back of the pack. The Suzuki rider later pitted in for a new rear tyre, and although he kept riding there was no way he was going to take anything more than data away from this race. Lap two showed what seemed as disaster for Melandri as he ran wide and ended up out of the top ten, but within three corners he had worked his way back up to ninth behind rival Biaggi and overtook him just at the end of the lap. Laverty had his second crash of the weekend on lap four at Coppice again, ending up in the medical centre after bashing his head about. He turned out to be OK, though a bit dazed and sore. Smrz, Camier and Haga all started to battle the race out for second place which Smrz managed to win, allowing Sykes to also overtake Haga. Smrz then went on to overtake Haslam and get into first place. Berger’s bike failures kept going throughout the race, as on lap seven at turn twelve his rear wheel came apart as he accelerated onto the main straight from Goddard's, spitting him off the bike and out of the race the race, luckily uninjured. Further down the pack, Melandri and Biaggi reignited their on circuit battle for sixth place, Melandri held it and went on to overtake Haga and get into fifth, behind Sykes. Biaggi, obviously having something to prove, also took Haga and stayed hot on Melandri’s tail on lap ten, which is also when Fabrizio finally threw in the towel. Haga, however, was having none of this, and on lap twelve he overtook Biaggi, who then bumped tyres with Haga when trying to take the place back and ended up losing two more spaces to Checa and Rea. Rea then overtook Checa into seventh place.

Marco Melandri and Leon Camier racing hard but behaving like true professionals. Melandri got the better both times, but who knows what may happen at Assen? (Pic: Richard Handley)Smrz had by this point, pulled into the lead as Camier and Haslam had started to slow each other down whilst battling for second, which Haslam managed to keep. Melandri then snuck up on Camier by lap fifteen and overtook him, starting to close on Haslam. Checa also managed to hold eighth place from Biaggi, as Sykes zoomed ahead and also overtook Camier. Melandri was gaining speed and places as he managed to overtake Haslam on lap sixteen and started quickly catching up with Smrz. Moving further down the pack again, Rea started battling with Haga and ended up running onto the grass, losing valuable places whilst Sykes had a disastrous low-side on turn ten of lap eighteen, losing fourth place and retiring from the race. Camier’s exhaustion from his glandular fever started to show, as well as his worn out tyres as he kept dropping down the pack and ended up in eighth place, but he was still able to overtake Biaggi when he ran wide on lap twenty due to battling with Haga and Checa. Rea also took this opportunity to overtake and get some places back. However, Biaggi soon took seventh place back from Camier and kept it on lap twenty-one.

By lap twenty-two Melandri had caught up with Smrz and managed to overtake him. Looks like he took his anger at Biaggi and used it as motivation to not only beat him, but beat everyone else too! The last lap saw all the Brits pushed off the podium as Checa overtook Haslam, leaving the top ten as Melandri, Smrz, Checa, Haslam, Rea, Haga, Biaggi, Camier, Corser and Lascorz.

Race two once again started with Haslam taking the lead through the first corner, shortly followed by Checa and camier. Biaggi had yet another bad start as Corser, Xaus and Laverty all overtook him through lap two, leaving the current champion in thirteenth. This despite his very obviously jumping the start - a fact that didn't go un-noticed by the clerk of the course who promptly awarded the World Champion a ride through penalty. Which he ignored. Checa overtook Haslam on lap three and started to pull away from the rest of the pack, whilst Melandri started his battle for first again as he overtook Camier on lap five and Haslam Camier and Nori Haga took the time to discuss flower arranging. Or maybe it's Camier's nail varnish. Whaetever, no harm done... (Pic: Richard Handley)on lap six. Camier wasn't about to let that go, though, as, determined to prove his worth, he also overtook Haslam to keep third place. Biaggi's weekend was rounded off perfectly when he got a black flag for ignoring his ride through. Considering that he was also reported for overtaking on yellow flags during Race One and fined for his antics with Melandri I can only guess that this is a weekend he'd rather forget. Haga possibly gets the award for the best comedy crash of the weekend as he outbraked himself going into Goddard's on lap four, ran onto the grass and fell off at walking speed in what I can only describe as Charlie Chaplin style. Being the pro he is, though, he remounted, pulled the bits of mud out of various orifices on the Aprilia and proceeded to ride the wheels off it. Finishing outside the points was almost inevitable but he maximised the time his sponsors got on track and collected valuable data. Plus, of course, had Biaggi actually taken his ride-through then he could have had a great dice with Haga. Oh well. Haslam also had a problem that lead to him running onto the gravel and ending up on his bum, rejoining down in seventh, but by lap eleven he had overtaken Xaus to get back up into sixth place and was hot on Rea’s tail. Fabrizio also managed to get past Xaus. Camier showed what he’s made of when he overtook Melandri on lap fifteen and, despite being overtaken back straight away, tried again and made it stick on lap sixteen. However, Melandri managed to get the place back on lap nineteen and kept it for the rest of the race. Haslam had overtaken Rea and got into fifth place on lap twenty-one, overtaking Lascorz and keeping the place for the rest of the race. This left the end result at the end of the race as Checa, Melandri, Camier, Haslam, Lascorz, Rea, Fabrizio, Smrz, Badovini and Xaus.

All in all a pretty good weekend's racing. Disappointing not to have an all British podium but a great effort by all involved. Oh, it's worth mentioning new boy Sam Lowes in World Supersport, who was reeling in the leaders and surely on the way to his debut win win the clutch failed on his Parkalgar Honda. And congratulations to the likeable Gino Rea (no relation to Johnny) who took the last podium step in WSS anyway after Lowe's retirement. Sometimes you're just lucky...and sometimes you're not.

Next round is Assen in three weeks. See you there...

Something you don't see every day. The top four are all European machines...Race One

1 Carlos Checa (Ducati)
2 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
3 Leon Haslam (BMW)
4 Eugene Laverty (Yamaha)
5 Marco Melandri (Yamaha)
6 Michel Fabrizio (Suzuki)
7 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)
8 Tom Sykes (Kawasaki)
9 Nori Haga (Aprilia)
10 Troy Corser (BMW)

Race Two

1 Carlos Checa (Ducati)
2 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
3 Marco Melandri (Yamaha)
4 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
5 Leon Haslam (BMW)
6 Leon Camier (Aprilia)
7 Nori Haga (Aprilia)
8 Michel Fabrizio (Suzuki)
9 Tom Sykes (Kawasaki)
10 Ruben Xaus (Honda)

Championship Standing after two rounds:

1 Carlos Checa 91
2 Marco Melandri 72
3 Leon Haslam 53
4 Max Biaggi 49
5 Jakub Smrz 42
6 Jonathan Rea 38
7 Leon Camier 37
8 Michel Fabrizio 27
9 Nori Haga 26
10 Tom Sykes 19



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