avoiding the "miller time" cliche . . .

SBK salt lake city, usa, 28th may 2012

Words: simon Bradley, Pics as credited

It wasn't very nice on Saturday and for some of Sunday. Niccolo Canepa gets wet... (Pic:InFront)Miller Motorsports Park, just outside Salt Lake City in Utah, is an interesting place. It's high, for a start. A good couple of thousand feet above sea level, the air is thinner and engines produce notably less power. Being close to the Rocky Mountains, you tend to get quite a lot of weather here as well. Sometimes you get almost as many variations as in Phillip Island, though that's pushing it rather. And despite the sunshine, it can be quite chiily as well. In fact, there's still snow on the higher ground, even at the end of May.

The other thing that's unusual is that this meeting takes place on Memorial Day. For those on the European side of The Pond, this is probably the biggest public holiday in the US after the fourth of July, and it's a three day weekend. That means that the race takes place on a Monday and everything gets skewed as a result.

Saturday's free practice saw the Effenbert Ducatis of Jakub Smrz and Sylvain Guintoli bracketing Marco Melandri's BMW in the top three, with Ayrton Badovini putting the BMW Italia bike i fourth, Then we had a solid block of Ducatis, with Carlos Checa, Niccolo Canepa and Davide Giugliano sitting ahead of Kawasaki's Tom Sykes, Honda mounted Jonathan Rea and Aprilia rider Eugene Laverty. The circuit is said to favour Ducatis as it is tight with very little opportunity for the four cylinder bikes to make use of their potential extra power but a lot of opportunity for Ducatis to maximise their out of corner drive and notionally better side grip. The first qualifying session saw Smrz tightening his grip on provisional pole ahead of Checa and Melandri. Max Biaggi made a foray to the provisional front row in fourth, clearly unhappy with the way the Aprilia was working for him and making sure everyone knew. Giugliano and Guintoli were next, followed by Laverty and Sykes with Leon Camier getting the Suzuki into tenth in what looked like a promising start, actually bothering the top of the leaderboard at one point.

Sunday gave us the next qualifying, another free practice and, of course, superpole. Qualifying was complicated as the weather changed from wet to dry during the session. That meant that the only really fast times would be in the dry toward the end. This turned out to be a disaster for Camier, who went out on a new soft tyre to put in a fast lap, got baulked by traffic on the first flying lap and then, as he started to really fly, found the bike almost uncontrollable. It later transpired that the tyre had a manufacturing defect that caused it to go out of round. Think of the vibration you get when you lose a wheel weight put the wheel out of balance, then magnify that and you'll have an idea what he was suffering. The end result, anyway, was a lowly twentieth on the grid.

Up at the front, Jakub Smrz and Carlos Checa were the only riders to dip below the 1'49" mark, followed by Melanadri, Guintoli, Laverty, Rea, John Hopkins making his welcome return from injury on the Fixi Suzuki, Biaggi, Leon Haslam and Tom Sykes. The rest of the Superpole entrants were Fabrizio, Chaz Davies, Maxime Berger, Lorenzo Zanetti, Canepa and Giugliano.

Jakub Smrz is still looking to convert his impressive qualifying abilities into results... (Pic:InFront)Though fast and dominating the leaderboard, both Checa and Smrz crashed in the second free practice session, which saw Camier put the Suzuki sixth. Checa was fastest this time, from Rea, Melandri and Guintoli, with Giugliano close behind, then Camier, Smrz, Sykes, Biaggi and Laverty.

Superpole One saw the departure of John Hopkins, whose qualifying tyre generated so much chatter that he was unable to put in a fast lap, Canepa, Berger and Leon Haslam whose weekend of electronics problems and other issues had the added delight of a puncture, resulting in his running out of time to put in a truly fast lap. The second superpole session left Zanetti, Chaz Davies, Fabrizio and Melandri on the bench. The final superpole session saw Jakub Smrz take his first pole position from Checa and Tom Sykes, with Davide Giugliano getting hs first front row start. Row two was headed by Jonathan Rea from Guintoli, Biaggi and Laverty. Laverty actually failed to make a single lap in the last session as the Aprilia developed an electrical fault that stopped him from going out, but with this being the first time the Ulsterman has qualified for the final session he wasn't too upset.

Race day was clear and dry. Warmup, though unimportant overall, still has to be reported. Tom Sykes was quickest, followed by Checa, Melandri, Biaggi and Camier demonstrating that the Suzuki goes well on race rubber at least. Giugliano was next from Guintoli, Smrz, Rea and Haslam.

And so we come to Race One. It was Tom Sykes who got the holeshot, making the most of his talent for starting and the Kawasaki's impressive performance to barge into turn one ahead of the rest of the pack. Carlos Checa made a brilliant start, as did Melandri, coming from the third row into third place by the end of the lap. There was some pretty robust overtaking going on, but everyone got around clean and upright. The movers in the field were definitely the old friends Biaggi and Melandri, and it was Jonathan Rea who seemed to lose out. The Ducatis were all clearly down on power and top speed, with even carlos Checa simply getting gobbled up on the long start/finish straight and having to do all his overtakes again in the corners.

Marco Melandri coCarlos Checa making the most of the bare knuckle fight between Rea and Melandri behind him...(Pic: InFront)ntinued his track record of pushing just that little bit too hard for the good of other riders, this time with Tom Sykes taking the brunt of the Italian's overexuberence. A ridiculously hard overtake saw contact between the two bikes, and though both stayed on, Sykes went from the lead to fifth as the impact had obviously caused some short term issue like a shifted brake lever. Melandri, Checa, Rea and Biaggi were in a four way scrap with Sykes just behind. For a while it looked as though it would be a BMW/Honda fight, but then the track tightened again and Checa got closer and closer before making a beautifully clean pass on Rea and setitng off after Melandri. Then it was just a matter of time before he did the same again. He got past a couple of times but was outgunned by the BMW on the straight, but when Checa got past early and had the chance to make some space on the twisty bits it was all over bar the shouting. Behind rea, Max Biaggi had been joined by his team-mate Laverty in the Ulsterman's best race performance of the season while behind them, Jakub Smrz was riding the wheels off the Effenbert Ducati.

We lost Canepa and Hopkins at the same corner, albeit on different laps, both unhurt but with rather second hand looking bikes. Zanetti and Mercado crashed out as well, while local wildcard Jake Holden slid off the Grillini BMW but remounted. Chaz Davies got a decent result, while Leon Haslam did OK considering that this wa salomst the first uninterrupted time he'd had on track. Leon Camier was running at the same pace as the leaders but no faster, which wa sunfortunate as he was in fourteenth place. So crossing the line for the last time in this somewhat uneventful race it was Carlos Checa who took his fifth win here out of the nine run so far. Melandri was second, with Max Biaggi salvaging the best he could to take third. Then it was Rea, Laverty, Smrz, Davies, Sykes, Fabrizio and Haslam rounding out the top ten.

Both Aprilias running together for the first time in a while. Wonder if Laverty's bike will suddenly become unreliable? (Pic: Aprilia)Race two again started with Sykes getting the holeshot from Melandri and Checa. The Spaniard took the lead on lap three but the race was red flagged following Hiroshi Aoyama's massively destructive crash which left oil, fuel and debris strewn across the track. Fortunately the likeable Honda rider wasn't hurt, but the organisers took an inordinately long time restarting the race. The restarted grid order was based on track position when the race was stopped, so we had Checa on pole from Sykes, Melandri and Smrz. Row two saw Giugliano ahead of Rea, Biaggi and Laverty, while the third row was headed by Leon Haslam from Davies, Leon Camier (who had made an excellent start from his lowly twentieth on the grid) and Guintoli. The second leg was only eighteen laps, and Checa made no mistake, leading from the line and opening a commanding gap. Well, actually he made one mistake. He fell off on the sixth lap, losing the front. Uninjured, he remounted and carried on but he wasn't able to push hard and with little to be gained his team pulled him in. Which left Melandri at the front being constantly harried by Rea. Indeed, the Ulsterman got past the Italian, towing Chaz Davies with him, when Melandri made a mistake and ran very wide on a corner. But the BMW rider got his head down, regrouped and charged back through to take second place back from the likeable Davies after a couple of laps and then to inch closer to Rea until snatching the lead on the very last lap and taking BMW's second Superbike win. Chaz Davies was denied a podium by a couple of seconds as Biaggi had barged past in the dying moments of the race as well. Behind Davies, Sykes and Laverty finished in that order after something of a tussle, while Giugliano, Smrz, haslam and Guintoli were all something over half a second apart to close the top ten.

So not the most thrilling of Superbike meetings, but still some good racing. A weekend to forget for Leon Haslam, I think, though I'd expect to see him back on top of things at Misano in a fortnight's time. See you there...

Our pal Chuck Forquer happened to be there when Marco Melandri's girlfriend and boss finished his well deserved champagne... (Pic: Chuck Forquer)Race One

1 Carlos Checa (Ducati)
2 Marco Melandri (BMW)
3 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
4 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
5 Eugene Laverty (Aprilia)
6 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)
7 Chaz Davies (Aprilia)
8 Tom Sykes (Kawasaki)
9 Michel Fabrizio (BMW)
10 Leon Haslam (BMW)

Race Two

1 Marco Melandri (BMW)
2 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
3 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
4 Chaz Davies (Aprilia)
5 Tom Sykes (Kawasaki)
6 Ayrton Badovini (BMW)
7 Davide Giugliano (Ducati)
8 Leon Haslam (BMW)
9 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)
10 Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati)

Championship Standing after six rounds:

1 Max Biaggi 160.5
2 Marco Melandri 142.5
3 Tom Sykes 142.5
4 Jonathan Rea 141
5 Carlos Checa 130.5
6 Leon Haslam 103
7 Sylvain Guintoli 95
8 Eugene Laverty 86
9 Davide Giugliano 64
10 Jakub Smrz 61.5



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