The highs and lows of racing . . .

SBK Imola, Italy, 25th September 2011

Words: Laura Bradley, Pics: as credited

Leon Camier started off steadily but found his mojo as the weekend went on... (Pic: Aprilia)Editor's note. Imola is a classic circuit, the home of some of the best, and worst, moments in motorsport history. It's also one of the last truly old-time circuits on the calendar with a hard to imagine location facing onto residential gardens and streets in this quiet Italian town. Being near Bologna, it's genuinely Ducati's home track and the atmosphere rivals anywhere else in the world for passion, excitement and sheer Italian-ness. basically the place rocks. Coming at this stage in the championship, it's also frequently the first round where anyone has a genuine chance or wrapping up the title. This year both Carlos Checa in SBK and Chaz Davies in Supersport are in that enviable position.

Oh, and it's usually nice and sunny, too. It certainly was this weekend, without a cloud in the sky to spoil things. But enough of me - here's Laura's report.

The first qualifying session saw Camier hit the gravel four minutes in at turn eighteen, re-joining. Berger also ran onto the gravel four minutes in at turn two, along with Smrz, both riders re-joining. Fabrizio also went into the gravel at turn nine, eleven minutes in and Rolfo had to retire from the session with a technical problem with fifteen minutes to go. At the end of the session Rea had taken the fastest lap with Checa in second, Haslam in third, Fabrizio fourth, Melandri fifth, Sykes sixth, Guintoli seventh, Berger eighth, Haga ninth, Smrz tenth, Sandi eleventh, Polita twelfth, Camier thirteenth, Badovini fourteenth, Aitchison sixteenth and Lascorz rounding off the provisional superpole sixteen.

Nobody fell off or hit the gravel in the second timed session, but Sykes set the fastest time from Rea. This left the top sixteen going into the battle for pole as Sykes, Rea, Fabrizio, Checa, Haga, Haslam, Melandri, Smrz, Camier, Guintoli, Sandi, Laverty, Corser, Berger, Badovini and Polita.

Carlos Checa took yet another superpole in fine style... (Pic: InFront Motorsport)Superpole One saw Laverty set the fastest time, with Haga, Checa and Guintoli making up the rest of the first row. Fabrizio, Rea, Sykes and Berger made the second row with Melandri, Badovini, Haslam and Camier just made the cut in the final row to qualify for superpole two, knocking Smrz, Sandi, Corser and Polita out. Superpole Two completely changed the positions, with Haga setting the fastest lap for pole followed by Sykes in second, Checa in third and Rea rounding up the fourth row. Laverty, Haslam, Guintoli and Badovini made up the second row, knocking Melandri, Camier, Fabrizio and Berger out of Superpole Three.

So, the real battle for pole then started. Checa set the fastest lap with Rea taking second, Haga third and Sykes rounding off the front row. Laverty started the second row followed by Haslam, Badovini and Guintoli...leaving everybody asking the ultimate question...where has Checa been storing all these superpole watches?

Race One started with Rea taking the lead from the first turn with Checa in second, only to be overtaken straight away by Laverty, but the champion-elect took it back straight away. Whilst this was happening, Sykes slingshot himself into the lead while Checa overtook Rea into second. Camier out-braked himself and had to go into the pit-lane to avoid hitting the bike in front of him, which pretty much ended his race as he lost so much time trying to regain the circuit without gaining an advantage through his detour and thus earning a ride-through.

Lap two ended Fabrizio’s race as he crashed out with a lowside, throwing a mini tantrum and ripping the seat off his bike. This left Sykes, Checa, Rea, Laverty and Haga making up the top five into lap three. Rea then overtook Checa to get second place after looking menacing for the whole lap. Haslam then overtook Melandri into sixth place, and Checa was overtaken by Laverty. By lap five Haga had started to chase Checa, with Sykes and Rea starting to pull away from third, fourth and fifth place. Rea overtook Sykes on the inside just before they crossed the line into lap six. Haga then overtook Checa on the first corner, with Rea already pulling half a second on Sykes. Haga went on to overtake Laverty, shortly followed by Checa. Melandri, the only person able to challenge Checa for the championship, was struggling as Badovini overtook him into eighth after he hit the kerb. On lap eight Haga set the fastest lap of the race, point eighth of a second faster than Sykes. Camier was way down in eighteenth after his early incident, but he was still in play for some points.

Jonathan Rea and Nori Haga were at this for probably a third of the race, hammer and tongs, every bend. Great stuff... (Pic: InFront Motorsport)Haslam sadly crashed out on lap nine, ending his race but at least he was unhurt. Haga then overtook Sykes, leaving the standings by lap eleven as Rea, Haga, Sykes, Checa and Laverty. Melandri was down in eighth at this point. Haga then started closing the gap between him and Rea, clipping the kerb slightly as they crossed the line in lap fourteen. Melandri overshot the chicane at lap fifteen and collided with Guintoli coming back onto the circuit, both riders luckily staying on but obviously being severely slowed until they sorted themselves out.

Checa overtook Sykes on lap sixteen but then ran wide to be overtaken again, which was lucky for Melandri as he had dropped down to ninth place again with Guintoli and Badovini in front of him. Haga was still taking small looks down the inside of Rea to see if he could overtake, but Rea managed to pull a crucial couple of yards on the last lap, with Checa overtaking Sykes at the final corner after a long and hard battle. This left the final result as Rea, Haga, Checa, Sykes, Laverty, Guintoli, Smrz, Melandri, Badovini and Lascorz.

Jonathan Rea's victory, a year after the warmup crash at this very circuit which came within an ace of finishing his career and saw him in and out of surgery for months, must have been especially sweet, and the likeable Ulsetrman was visibly emotional as he laid that particular ghost to rest at the corner where he crashed last year.

Leon Haslam made a good start and pushed hard to secure a good finish (Pic: BMW)Race Two started with Rea taking the lead from the first corner again, with Laverty second and Sykes third. Checa was fourth, both overtaken straight away by Camier, who went on to overtake Sykes and hold it after what may well count as his best start of the season. Checa then overtook Sykes on lap two. Haga started to look around Haslam and Smrz crashed out of the race. Rea now had a decent gap behind him, giving the other riders a fast pace to keep up with. Camier started to close in on Laverty, overtaking and holding second place. Checa tried to squeeze through at the same time but Laverty held him off.

Haga then overtook Haslam and started to catch up with Checa and overtook him into fourth place. Haga then went on to overtake Laverty and zoomed straight past Camier into second place. Checa overtook Laverty and Camier took second back from Haga but didn’t manage to keep it from him.

Fabrizio then overtook Sykes and Laverty after Haslam had also passed the Ulsterman. Laverty took Fabrizio straight back again. Sykes, after falling further and further down the pack from his start, then sat up and pulled off the racing line to show there was a problem with his bike, ending his race hopes.

By lap seven Camier was having to fight off Checa’s attention, and Checa overtook coming into lap eight. Haslam was also being put under pressure by Melandri, both of them chasing Camier for fourth. Melandri overtakes Haslam into fifth, with Haslam having to work hard to fight back for it...but not for long, as Melandri then ran straight off the track, leaving him in twelfth place. Berger also ran off at the final chicane, gaining an advantage despite his appearing to be very careful and giving him a ride through which effectively wrecked any chance he may have had. Fabrizio also had to retire from the race by lap ten with yet another technical problem, though at least this one wasn't linked to the bike sliding along the track...

By lap thirteen Checa had started to gain on Haga and Laverty had managed to overtake Haslam. Checa then went on to try and overtake Haga, but Haga fought him off until lap fifteen, when Checa managed to get past into second. Rea was well clear though, and the likelihood of Checa catching him was extremely slim.

Troy Corser had a pretty thin time of the weekend as he appears to still be struggling with the battering he got in Misano... (Pic: BMW)Then disaster struck on lap seventeen, as Rea’s bike developed a technical problem which caused it to start cutting out intermittently - not only slow but extremely dangerous as power could come back in suddenly, perhaps mid corner, almost guaranteeing a highside and subsequent injury- leaving him to pull out by lap eighteen. How cruel fate can be sometimes.

At this point Checa had the championship y one point, with Melandri in tenth, but Polita let Melandri past into ninth place. Haga suddenly dropped slightly off the pace by lap nineteen, with Checa in first after Rea’s bike failing him. Melandri had now caught up with Lascorz to keep a chance for the championship win. Polita had to retire from the race after a brilliant wildcard ride that saw him comfortably inside the top ten and clearly well within his limits as well when his engine let go ina pretty big way. Lascorz had a huge moment which allowed Melandri to overtake him, the Italian also going on to overtake Guintoli.

So Checa took the flag with Haga second and Camier third. Laverty was in fourth, Haslam fifth, Melandri sixth, Guintoli seventh, Lascorz eighth, Aitchison ninth and Badovini tenth. This means that Checa has just missed closing the championship by three points and the battle will continue this weekend at Magny Cours, where he will most likely lift the championship trophy. We’ll see you there. 

Chaz Davies, by the way, had the Supersport title in his sights and was cruising to a comfortable win when the engine of his Yamaha exploded in spectacular style just five laps from the end.

Race OneMichel Fabrizio is a great guy and a talented rider. If only he could get some luck, and consistency, he'd be a champion for sure... (Pic: Suzuki)

1 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
2 Noriuki Haga (Aprilia)
3 Carlos Checa (Ducati)
4 Tom Sykes (Kawasaki)
5 Eugene Laverty (Yamaha)
6 Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati)
7 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)
8 Marco Melandri (Yamaha)
9 Ayrton Badovini (BMW)
10 Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki)

Race Two

1 Carlos Checa (Ducati)
2 Noriuki Haga (Aprilia)
3 Leon Camier (Aprilia)
4 Eugene Laverty (Yamaha)
5 Leon Haslam (BMW)
6 Marco Melandri (Yamaha)
7 Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati)
8 Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki)
9 Mark Aitcheson (Kawasaki)
10 Ayrton Badovini (BMW)

Championship Standing after eleven rounds:

1 Carlos Checa 417
2 Marco Melandri 320
3 Max Biaggi 281
4 Eugene Laverty 256
5 Leon Haslam 181
6 Leon Camier 171
7 Michel Fabrizio 141
8 Noriuki Haga 155
9 Ayrton Badovini 147
10 Sylvain Guintoli 158



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