deutsche doubles . . .

SBK Brno, Czech Republic, 22nd July 2012

Words:Simon Bradley, Pics: Richard Handley

Tom Sykes just seems to have what it takes to make the Kawasaki work...Brno in the Czech Republic is a fabulous circuit. I may have said this before. The fact that I repeat it every time we have a race there should speak volumes for the place. But I'm not going to go on about it - suffice it to say it probably has the best combination of handling and power sections of any circuit on the calendar. Probably.

The weekend started with a bit of an upset, as Effenbert Ducati and championship top ten runner Sylvain Guintoli parted company in a fairly spectacular style. The team says the Frenchman wasn't performing. Which is interesting considering that I believe Guintoli has outperformed his team-mate in every race so far this season. Guintoli, on the other hand, says that the team hasn't, won't and indeed can't pay his wages. The story in the paddock is that their hospitality team would agree, having worked this weekend and then not got paid either. No doubt the truth is something else entirely, but the enormously likeable and talented Guintoli spent the weekend watching from the sidelines, which was rather a waste.

Something else happened, too. The weather. It's always hot and dry at Brno, except this weekend it wasn't. Hot, yes, at least some of the time, but the Czech Republic seems to be enjoying a British summer this year and it was distinctly damp for a good few of the sessions.

Anyway. Proceedings opened with a dry but not very grippy track. First free practice saw the Ducatis of Giugliano and Smrz at the top of the timesheets, followed by the factory Aprilias of Laverty and Biaggi, while Jonathan Rea threw the Castrol Honda into the hedge halfway through the session, happily coming away unhurt.

Leon Camier took the Fixi Suzuki to the top of the timesheets in Superpole, albeit briefly...The first qualifying session was again topped by Giugliano, who seems to have found his feet quite quickly, closely followed by Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty, with Tom Sykes nipping at his heels. Indeed, the first eleven riders were separated by less than a second, boding well for some close racing. This session started dry but there were regular showings of the rain flag as small showers took place at different places on the circuit. Qualifying two saw Marco Melandri crash out unhurt, while Tom Sykes took the top spot from Carlos Checa and his upstart team-mate Giugliano, with Fabrizio and Smrz ahead of championship leader Biaggi. The combined times of both sessions saw Tom Sykes ahead of Giugliano and Melandri with laverty finishing the provisional front row. Checa was next, followed by Fabrizio, Smrz and Biaggi. Then we had David Salom, Loris Baz, Ayrton Badovini and Leon Camier, with the last superpole entrants being Chaz Davies, Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam and John Hopkins - an unusually august last row.

Superpole was declared wet, and therefore run in two sessions instead of the normal three. The first session saw Eugene Laverty take an early lead before being overhauled by Leon Haslam, the BMW rider himself being pipped shortly afterward by Leon Camier on the Fixi Suzuki - not someone we're used to seeing at the top of the leaderboard. It didn't last, though, as Max Biaggi went fastest for a short time before Marco Melandri blasted through a full eight tenths of a second faster to take the first place. The chequered flag saw the early departure of John Hopkins and Loris Baz, as well as, surprisingly, one time leaders Max Biaggi and Leon Camier, the Suzuki rider managing to go faster than his former team-mate but missing out on the cut by five hundredths of a second.

Session two was properly wet, and Jakub Smrz took an early lead before yielding to Giugliano The Italian was then passed by Fabrizio who in turn gave best to Carlos Checa. Then it was Tom Sykes' turn at his usual Superpole position, and a bit of toing and froing took place between the Yorkshireman and the Spaniard, decided in the Grinner's favour in the last few minutes.

So the grid eventually had Tom Sykes on pole from Carlos Checa, Eugene Laverty and Davide Giugliano The second row was headed by Marco Melandri with Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam and Michel Fabrizio alongside. Row three saw Chaz Davies, who had crashed in the dying embers of the second session when pushing for a fast lap, ahead of Smrz, David Salom and Badovini.

Maxime Berger sees off Davide Giugliano. But the track is drying out, and Berger has treaded tyres... (You can see them in the full size shot)Race day was chilly and wet. Warmup was no such thing, with temperatures barely into double figures, but for the record Jakub Smrz was the fastest from Melandri and Loris Baz, the young Frenchman doing extraordinarily well. Though of course warmup means nothing.

So when everyone lined up for Race One, the track was in an interesting state. The sky was clear, in fact the sun had come out, and though humid it was also fairly warm. The track was actually steaming in places. But it was still wet. The trouble was, it wasn't going to stay wet for long. In the first few laps, perhaps, a wet tyre would give a huge advantage. But it wouldn't go the distance before melting into a horrible gripless mess. Slicks would be very interesting indeed for the first few laps, but as the track dried so they'd come into their own.

So when the lights went out a few interesting things happened. Tom Sykes got a good clean start and took the lead immediately. A pair of Althea Ducatis tucked in behind him, with Checa being led by his impetuous team-mate. And by the end of the first lap, Maxime Berger on the Effenbert Ducati had slithered and sliced his way into fourth...from nineteenth on the grid. A closer look showed that he had intermediate tyres fitted - the only one on the grid - but the ride was impressive nonetheless. To give an idea of how treacherous the conditions were out there, the second lap was over twenty seconds slower than the Superstock bikes that had been out before in the rain with full wets.

Three laps in and Berger took the lead for the first time ever in an SBK race, while Loris Baz also managed to make a move on his team-mate Sykes and get into second. Smrz, too, had carved through the pack and was now ahead of Checa while Giugliano had paid the price for his early over-enthusiasm, sliding off at fairly high speed but remounting for the slow ride of shame back to the pits. Of course, with hindsight we could predict berger gradually dropping off the pace as the track dried and his tyres cooked, and on lap seven Sykes blasted past and retook the lead.

Lap eleven saw the departure, stage left, of Luis Mercado, the Argentine Kawasaki rider somehow managing to launch himself off the bike in a straight line on the start/finish straight. The bike went into the wet grass by the track and cartwheeled itself into a very expensive jigsaw puzzle while the rider slid straight into the path of the unfortunate Hiroshi Aoyama, whose options were severely limited. Given the choice of running Mercado over or falling off, the Japanese rider sportingly took the second option, happily without either rider sustaining serious injury.

Tom Sykes holds off a determined Rea and Checa, while Melandri closes in...Marco Melandri was a man on a mission, pushing through the field in his usual rather aggressive style. But at the front it was Tom Sykes holding off a determined attack from Honda mounted Jonathan Rea, which only ended when Rea went for a fairly tight but genuine gap on the inside. Sykes carried on into the corner, unaware of Rea's move, and the two made contact. While Sykes came away unscathed, Rea highsided and was chased across the track by the remains of his bike. We all winced, but he got away with it. Meantime, melandri kept pushing, kept closing and with two laps to go managed to get past Sykes and make it stick. Sykes fought back but to no avail, and the BMW rider took the chequered flag by over a second. Checa looked good in third place but was overwhelmed by the fantastic performance of Kawasaki rookie Loris Baz, the nineteen year old stand-in rider giving the ride of his life to put two green machines on the podium for the first time in as long as I can remember.

Race two at least started with a properly dry track and everyone on slicks. Lights out and again it was a clean start from Sykes to make the most of his pole position, this time hotly pursued by Eugene Laverty and Leon Haslam who made a storming start. Haslam fell victim to one of the dirtiest passes I've seen this season on the next lap, as Melandri literally barged him off the track, relegating the British rider to sixth behind Checa and Giugliano having done well to stay on the bike. Things at the front soon settled down, though, as Sykes kept the hammer down and Melandri clung onto his coat tails. Toward the end of the race a pattern developed. Melandri would make a pass on the short straight after turn three, then Sykes would do him on the brakes at the tricky chicane at the end and maintain the lead for the rest of the lap. Again and again it happened, until finally Melandri got the pass in on the start straight, managing to open enough of a gap using the BMW's phenomenal power that Sykes couldn't get past. It was close though - the Yorkshireman had the measure of the situation it seemed, but in the final sprint to the line it was the Italian who got the drive to take the flag by just fourteen hundredths of a second.

It went on like this for lap after lap... Sykes manages to repass Melandri and make it stick.Further back, a solid scrap was going on between Laverty, Davies, Haslam and Baz. Max Biaggi had worked his way through while Checa was riding a lonely third place, three seconds ahead of Biaggi and seven seconds behind the leaders. Nobody crashed out this time, though Aoyama's bike broke early on, perhaps as a result of his race one crash. Mercado didn't start, his bike being too badly damaged to repair in time. Ayrton Badovini didn't get onto the grid in Race One for technical reasons, and retired in race two as well to make his weekend truly one to forget.

So Marco Melandri, the man who seems set to rival Max Biaggi in unpopularity as well as championship hopes, closed the gap from the championship lead with BMW's first double. Of course, they'd have done it at Donington were it not for the Italian's stupidity, but that's another matter. Next round is Silverstone. It's Leon Haslam's other home track, and he'll certainly have a point to make. Sylvain Guintoli will be back on a PATA Ducati, and we know they can make a bike work. Rea, Sykes, Davies, Laverty and Camier will all be on home turf, and Camier especially will be anxious to improve on the season's performance so far. But the championship almost certainly belongs to either Biaggi or Melandri now, though the fat lady hasn't even got dressed yet, let alone started singing. There are two hundred and fifty points still on offer. Let's see what the boys can do...


Chaz Davies had a disappointing first race, as did several others, but rtaher redeemed himself in race 2...Race One

1Marco Melandri (BMW)
2 Tom Sykes (Kawasaki)
3 Loris Baz (Kawasaki)
4 Carlos Checa (Ducati)
5 Eugene Laverty (Aprilia)
6 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
7 Leon Haslam (BMW)
8 Michel Fabrizio (BMW)
9 Maxime Berger (Ducati)
10 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)

Race Two

1 Marco Melandri (BMW)
2 Tom Sykes (Kawasaki)
3 Carlos Checa (Ducati)
4 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
5 Eugene Laverty (Aprilia)
6 Chaz Davies (Aprilia)
7 Leon Haslam (BMW)
8 Loris Baz (Kawasaki)
9 Leon Camier (Suzuki)
10 Michel Fabrizio (BMW)

Championship Standing after nine rounds:

1 Max Biaggi 271.5
2 Marco Melandri 250.5
3 Tom Sykes 212.5
4 Carlos Checa 204.5
5 Jonathan Rea 187
6 Leon Haslam 160
7 Eugene Laverty 148
8 Sylvain Guintoli 110
9 Davide Giugliano 99
10 Chaz Davies 93



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