what the heck ?

SBK Misano, Italy, 12th June 2011

Words: Simon Bradley, Pics: Richard Handley

Leon Haslam fights to keep Melandri, Laverty and Sykes behind.Misano Adriatico. Just the name alone conjures images of sun drenched beaches and the Italian Riviera. With the beautiful principality of San Marino just down the road (and technically hosting this event so the Italians can't be accused of having three rounds), this is the round to go to if you want to combine you're after sun, sea and....superbikes.

You can guess there are going to be some other weather references later already, can't you?

But as is so often the case these days I'm getting ahead of myself. Free practice on Friday was really rather pleasant. Business as usual for the Italian Riviera, in fact - temperatures in the mid twenties, track temperature around ten degrees higher. There are few nicer places in the world than Misano when the sun is shining. Must be why Frankie Chili lives there. On the beach. Really. Anyhow. Carlos Checa came here and tested earlier in the season, coming out of the session fastest. bearing that in mind, along with the fact that he is clearly a man on top of his game right now, it should come as little surprise when I tell you that he utterly dominated both the initial free practice sessions and the timed sessions as well. Biaggi came close a couple of times, Fabrizio and Corser were up there as well, along with Camier and Melandri. Troy Corser was pushing hard in the first timed session when he suffered a vicious highside that left him in the medical centre and doubtful for the rest of the weekend. Biaggi, Rea, Checa, Badovini, Fabrizio and Camier all had crashes as well in a bruising set of practice and qualifying sessions. But no matter how hard anyone pushed, Checa was going to be the man to beat, and he wasn't going to make it easy.

Nature, however, hates a smartarse, and sometimes Carlos Checa can be just too good. So between the second qualifying and Superpole, the clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped and the heavens opened. Ruben Xaus was the first casualty, crashing out unhurt just one minute into the session. Leon Camier was next, a minute or so later, followed by Checa. All three riders remounted and carried on, with Camier crashing again after another five minutes. Yes, it was slippery and a trifle unpredictable out there. And the young Elgnishman was pushing hard ata circuit he professes not to like at all. Eugene Laverty and Jakub Smrz joined the list of fallers before the end of the session, which was rapidly turning into a battle of attrition rather than qualifying. The end of this first session saw Xaus and Camier drop by the wayside, behind Maxime Berger and Fabrizio. And despite his crash, Jakub Smrz was fastest, ahead of Tom Sykes and Ayrton Badovini on the BMW Italia bike.

Checa gets past Biaggi. The crowd, strangely, did NOT go wild...Superpole two was equally wet. This time there were no crashes, but the lead changed about as many times as possible in a session as short as this. Jonathan Rea, Jakub Smrz, Tom Sykes and Marco Melandri all took multiple turns at the top of the table, along with Haslam, Guintoli and Badovini. But it was Carlos Checa who snatched the front spot in the dying throes of the session. Joan Lascorz didn't get through to the next round, exiting behind Rea, Laverty and Badovini.

So the final eight went out to battle for their position on the front two rows. It was still wet, of course, and there was no sign of an improvement. Rather a case of all or nothing, then. Checa was quickest out of the blocks, before being deposed by Guintoli and Biaggi. Then the championship leader was back at the top for four tenths of a second before Leon Haslam went ahead, the young Englishman being ousted himsef just nine seconds later by Kawasaki mounted Tom Sykes. Smrz did the same to the Yorkshireman, knocking him off the top under thirty seconds later, and a straight battle ensued between these two gritty riders. Leon haslam pushed for another go but slid out instead, and when the dust had settled the sesison was over. Tom Sykes got pole from Checa, who had managed to sneak in ahead of Smrz, with the front row rounded off by Marco Melandri. Leon Haslam headed the second row from his team-mate Troy Corser, bruised from the previous day's excursion but still game for the fight, Biaggi and Guintoli.

Race day, of course, kept everyone on their toes. The sky was blue, the clouds were gone. The track temperature soared, which brought its own problems. Nothing that Jonathan Rea needed to worry about, though. The likeable young Ulsterman launched himself and the Castrol Honda into a low orbit during warmup, coming down hard and breaking his right arm and left collarbone to rule him out of any further action for this weekend. As for the rest, it will probably come as no surprise to know that Carlos Checa was the fastest of the session, though Ayrton badovini's second place may be more of a surprise.

Warmup, as you'll no doubt be tired of hearing me say, doesn;t really mean very much unless it has some dramatic effect on your ability to play for the rest of the weekend. No, it's the race that counts.

Race One saw conditions staying much as they were earlier. Lights out and Tome Sykes made a brilliant start, capitalising on his pole position and launching the Kawasaki into the first turn ahead of the rest. Checa, too, got off the line well but was eclipsed into turn one by Leon Haslam, who sliced across in front of the Ducati to take second in very robust style. Troy Corser also got away well, diving up the inside of Biaggi, who had himself got a pretty neat start, though giving the Italian best on the switch back to the left hand turn two. Jakub Smrz got caught napping on the startline and found himself in a scrap with Corser and Guintoli. Up at the front, Haslam took just half a lap to dive through in front of Sykes in a very clean pass, while Checa looked as though he was about to burst something trying to go with the Englishmen. The next long right hander saw Checa trying to go around the outside of the Kawasaki rider, but Sykes is brave and committed, and that Kawasaki is pretty well sorted now - it turns and goes nicely. Sykes hung on and pushed Checa wide on the exit to retain second. But on the very next corner max Biaggi came from fourth to storm past both Checa and Sykes and slot into second behind Haslam. Behind, Smrz was in all sorts of trouble as the Ducati bucked and weaved, losing another place to Melandri. So the first lap ended with Haslam leading Biaggi from Sykes and Checa. Then Melandri was follwed by Smrz, Guintoli and a very sore Corser.

Looking at this, you'd thing Laverty was way faster than Sykes, right? He thought so, too. Both wrong...Lap two and Fabrizio lost the front and crashed out, while Biaggi managed to get past Haslam and Checa passed Sykes. Melandri was now firmly on the Yorkshireman's case as well, while a slight gap had opened up between this leading group and the rest of the pack. Troy Corser was really suffering, the bruising from his high speed off restricting his movement on the bike, and he steadily dropped back for another couple of laps before electing to retire a sa danger to himself and the other riders. Jakub Smrz also retired, the victim of a vicious tankslapper that spat him off and left the Liberty Ducati sliding down the middle of the track, spinning gently. Happily again the Czech rider was unhurt.

By the next lap the picture had settled down a little. Checa had finally got past Haslam, Melandri had passed Sykes and was hunting the BMW down and Laverty was now lining Sykes up. Melandri managed to get past Haslam, who fought like a wildcat before sadly crashing out on lap ten. Leon Camier launched a comeback from his dreadful start and climbed up through the field to establish himself in sixth place, ahead of Guintoli and Badovini. Nori Haga retired with a technical problem, as did Robby Rolfo toward the end of the race. Up at the front, Checa slid past Biaggi to take the lead and immediately set about opening a gap. Biaggi and the Aprilia are fast, but not fast enough on this circuit that feels almost made for Ducati. Haslam's fight with Melandri had slowed the pair of them down, and there was now a hefty gap between the lead pair and the rest of the field. In fact, as the race went on that became a hefty gap between the lead pair. And a hefty gap back to the rest of the field. Melandri had enough of a cushion to relax and not rhow his Yamaha into the gravel. Behind him, Laverty got past Sykes but failed to break away. In fact, while it looked as though he was certain to take fourth, Sykes got the Yamaha turned tight into the final corner and gassed it hard to mug the Irishman almost on the line and take the place. Behind them, Camier was comfortably ahead of the race-long battle between Badovini and Guintoli, decided in the Frenchman's favour.

Race two had a tough act to follow.

Again it was Sykes and Haslam who made the best of the start, with Checa ahead of Biaggi behind them. Again Haslam took the lead at the end of the back straight, and again Checa went for the pass on Sykes at the next right hander. But this time the Spaniard got the inside line and did unto Sykes as Sykes had done unto him. Biaggi, being an opportunist, followed Checa through the small gap and the kawasaki just didn't have the grunt to out-drag the Aprilia and was thus relegated to fourth. So the end of the first lap had Haslam leading Checa from Biaggi and Sykes, closely followed by Melandri, Guintoli and Smrz.

Biaggi must have thought he'd got away with it. He would have done, too, if it wasn't for that meddling Checa...Melandri passed Sykes on lap three, while Checa passed Haslam to take the lead. Biaggi again slipped through at the same time though Haslam fought back hard. The lead group again pulled away, and everything settled down until the beginning of lap eleven. Marco Melandri turned in to the first corner and gently slid off the bike with no fuss or drama. Behind him, apparently unrelated, Leon Camier did the same thing. Both Yamaha and Aprilia ended up across the track and Race Control had little choice but to wave the red flags.

So that meant a restart with just fourteen laps, the grid positions being decided by track position at the time the race was stopped. And yet again Carlos Checa got beaten off the line, this time by Biaggi and Haslam. Haslam went for the lead in his favourite first lap passing place, but the Aprilia is faster than Sykes' Kawasaki, and he ended up running wide, having gone in with just too much entry speed, and let both Biaggi and Checa through. Not being one to let things like that go, Haslam imediately responded and blasted past the Ducati ina very brave pass into the nearly flat-out kink in the middle of the third "straight" to take second again. On the second lap, though, Checa managed to make the pass stick and immediately went after Biaggi, who inexplicably hadn't managed to break away. It took half a dozen laps, but the result was almost inevitable. Checa passed Biaggi and extended another fairly safe lead. Eugene Laverty, no doubt still smarting from his last corner defeat, slipped past Haslam as well, though that only lasted for a couple of laps before he ran massively wide, onto the gravel, and rejoined at the back of the field. But then Haslam's old team-mate and on track nemesis came along. Yes, Nori Haga had fixed whatever the problem was in Race One and was out for a podium. The Japanese rider was unstoppable as he swept imperiously past into a safe and untouchable third place. Worse for haslam, the next person past him was Ayrton Badovini, on a satellite team machine, while just before the end he was also passed by Michel Fabrizio.

But it was Carlos Checa's weekend, and with the next round in Spain in just a week, it could well be Checa's year to lift a world championship. We'll see...


Nori Haga. Great style, beautiful bike. It's good to have him back...Race One

1 Carlos Checa (Ducati)
2 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
3 Marco Melandri (Yamaha)
4 Tom Sykes (Kawasaki)
5 Eugene Laverty (Yamaha)
6 Leon Camier (Aprilia)
7 Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati)
8 Ayrton Badovini (BMW)
9 Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki)
10 Maxime Berger (Ducati)

Race Two

1 Carlos Checa (Ducati)
2 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
3 Noriuki Haga (Aprilia)
4 Ayrton Badovini (BMW)
5 Leon haslam (BMW)
6 Michel Fabrizio (Suzuki)
7 Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati)
8 Ruben Xaus (Honda)
9 Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki)
10 Chris Vermeulen (Kawasaki)

Championship Standing after six rounds:

1 Carlos Checa 245
2 Max Biaggi 173
3 Marco Melandri 150
4 Eugene Laverty 123
5 Leon Haslam 106
6 Leon Camier 101
7 Michel Fabrizio 95
8 Jonathan Rea 94
9 Jakub Smrz 83
10 Sylvain Guintoli 72



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