Carlos Checa has set a high standard for the 2011 season after dominating pre-season and the first two races.
Since arriving in Australia for pre-season testing Spaniard Carlos Checa has been in a class of his own. In two days of testing last week he topped every session, and during the race weekend his run of golden form has continued. It’s hard to remember the last time a rider topped the timesheets in every session before going on to win both races with ease, but that’s exactly what the 38-year-old racing veteran did.
Due to the flowing nature of the track, which means riders spend more time on the edges of the tire each lap, the 1200cc V-Twin Ducati 1198 is tailor made for the Australian track. And it’s not any old 1198 – it’s the best Superbike Ducati has ever built. Although the Italian factory has officially withdrawn from the series, don’t be fooled, this is a 2011 spec bike with updated electronics, suspension and engine. But most importantly: it comes as a package with experienced technicians to run it.
“I feel very comfortable here,” said Checa. “We grew as a team a lot in 2010 so I knew that we would be competitive when we came back to Phillip Island. This year the bike is also different, we have new electronics that is more specific and gives us more control, plus I am working with the engineer that practically designed the system. We have a new front fork, but overall I just think we have made progress with the set-up and my riding. Coming into this race I had my doubts because, compared to some other teams, we had very little testing so I didn’t think it would be possible to win again. As soon as I rode the bike at the test I felt confident because I had a good understanding and a good rhythm.”
Biaggi has come a long way with the RSV4 in a short period of time and leaves Australia just 10 points behind Checa.
Checa also added: “For sure not every race will be like this, we will struggle at some tracks, but to start the season like this is incredible.”
Reigning champion Max Biaggi put in an equally classy performance at a track where Aprilia has suffered some of its worst results. In November last year, Aprilia showed its commitment to cracking the Australian circuit by conducting an expensive but worthwhile test. And the results were obvious with Biaggi securing two second -place finishes, meaning that he leaves Phillip Island with just 10 points less than Checa.
Last year’s runner-up Leon Haslam has since traded his Alstare Suzuki for the factory BMW, but despite masses of testing the German brand is still a long way off where Haslam wants his new bike to be. Despite this he wrestled his S1000RR to the podium in Race 1 before backing it up with a fifth-place finish in Race 2. His results were a long way off his testing results earlier in the week, which saw Haslam languishing down in 14th after having been completely outpaced by his rivals.
“Compared to the test Checa was actually 1.5 slower today in the races whereas we were actually 0.4 quicker, so we are making progress but it’s not enough,” said Haslam. “I’m getting a lot of the chatter because we’ve got too much engine braking, but I wasn’t able to adjust it
Leon Haslam suffered chatter issues with the S1000RR at Phillip Island, but still managed a podium during Race 1.
because the button stopped working in Race 1. I’m not going to complain about grip because no one had good grip. There was no way I could have gone with Carlos today, but without the chatter I think I could have hung with Max. I know the championship is long but we can’t afford to be throwing too many points away if we want to win it this year.”
It was a good day for Yamaha who suffered a disastrous two races in Australia last year. For 2011 they have two new riders – former MotoGP man, Marco Melandri, and WSS contender, Eugene Laverty. Melandri claimed fifth in Race 1 before significant set-up changes allowed him to fight at the front, which led to an intriguing battle with former MotoGP sparring partner, Max Biaggi.
“It’s been a tough day for me, so to get a podium in my first WSB weekend is very good,” said Melandri. “In Race 1 I didn’t feel comfortable on the bike, but before Race 2 we had a big meeting and we improved the set-up a lot and it gave me a lot of confidence. It was a good battle with Max. At some points he was faster and some points I was quicker, so I just decided to try
and pass him wherever I could. I wanted to try on the last lap but I did not have enough power in my shoulder and I decided it would be stupid to try and pass him and make a mistake that took us both out.”
Meanwhile, Yamaha teammate Laverty made an equally impressive debut. Although he didn’t get on the podium he managed to lead his first ever WSB race and out-drag Melandri to the line to secure fourth in the opener. Unfortunately, his Race 2 was much less impressive after a gear selection problem meant he hit a false neutral and ran off track twice, leaving him 15th at the end of the race.
“I’ve got a lot to learn but I want to do it progressively through the year,” said Laverty. “I’m picking things up as we go along but the most important thing for me to understand is how this bike needs to be ridden and what’s best for it. I can look at Checa or Biaggi and see what lines they’re running, but they’re on different bikes to me and they’re all different. This is our hardest track but there really is nowhere else like this during the rest of the year. The power and torque we’ve got will only help us everywhere else.”
Despite two high-speed get-offs in the last week, Castrol Honda’s Jonathan Rea walked away with fourth in Race 2.
Pre-season favorite, Jonathan Rea, had arguably the most eventful opening round of anyone. His week of testing and racing was marred by four painful crashes that included a 100-mph highside and jump off the back of his Castrol Honda at 130 mph when it caught fire. As a result, he started the weekend severely battered and bruised but still managed to claim fourth place in Race 2 after mugging Haslam on the final lap of the race.
“We know how well the Ducati goes around here and we know how strong the Aprilia is,” Rea said. “The two main guys that I have to beat this year both had great weekends, but we’ve still managed to come out of here with a decent handful of points. It’s something to build on and I’m looking forward to coming back stronger and actually riding the bike when I’m fully fit.”