Carlos Checa arrives at Miller the championship points leader. Motorcycle USA catches up with the 2011 contender.
Carlos Checa returns to Miller Motorsports Park in 2011 as the World Superbike points leader. The Ducati rider owns a 27-point advantage over his former Grand Prix competitors, Marco Melandri and Max Biaggi. Undoubtedly fast at MMP, the Spaniard has recorded mixed results in his three visits: scoring the Double in 2008, a second-place podium and crash DNF in 2009, then registering a notorious double DNF due to technical gremlins while leading both races in 2010. Motorcycle USA caught up with Checa in his Althea Ducati garage prior to the on-track action, chatting about his affinity for the US circuit and his current good fortune in SBK.
Motorcycle USA: You scored the Double here at Miller on your first visit, a podium the second and nearly scored the Double again last year. What is it about Miller that you like so much?
Carlos Checa: I like Miller. Always here in America I like it, I always try to spend time here before or later. I feel comfortable here, also not quite so busy the week before the race, and I am quite fresh. I think technically with the track, riding on the left I feel more comfortable. I think I’m better turning [to] the left side than right. You also have banking, and good grip, and I interpreted this section of the track quite well. I like to carry speed in the turn, and when you have grip and banking it’s good for that. Probably it’s that. I’m always quick here I think, and not the other places. This year I’m much more competitive in the other places, quite improved with the rights side on the bike.
What exactly was going through your mind last year, when you had those technical problems with the bike? Did you know what was happening, or did it completely surprise you?
When this happened in Race 1, of course, it was a strong moment. You know something was happening unexpected, but it was for a minimum of a few tenths or few seconds – then after that I realized there’s some problem with the bike. I’ve been riding for many years, and when you take part in something, you must assume the risks you take. Racing sometimes can be dangerous, with a lot of risk, and I accept that risk. I accept also that you can crash, or someone can crash into you, and as well the bike can stop. And what happen here is the bike had stopped. And I said it’s a shame, because when if this happens in 10th position or 12th its something… But when you are leading and close to win, it’s a different feeling.
What happened the second time was amazing, because we said ‘okay, we will forget the first one, and we’ll go for the second one.’ But the second time when leading, not an easy win, but for me it was like… [shrugging in disbelief] But I think about it in the best way. We can do nothing about it. We can get frustrated. We can get pissed off, but it will not help. At the end, some things happen that can be worse. We can get crash, can get injured.
Carlos Checa was the favorite heading into Miller Motorsports Park, but will the Spaniard’s Althea Ducati hold up in 2011?
After that (MMP DNFs) I took a few days. Took a Moab holiday, cycling and climbing with my friend. I wanted to forget all this, and after we did some sport it helped. After that my best attitude was just to think about what I did well. We did great work in from Friday, and for Saturday, Sunday. Monday we started well and rode well. For me it was very important. When I finish that week without points, for me at the end it was great feelings. Not for the championship, but for my spirit it was great.
This year did you think coming into Miller you’d be up by 27 points in the championship?
I didn’t expect to arrive here with this happening. Especially because Monza is the worst track for us for the speed. But it was not so bad, because the others made mistakes, especially Biaggi. This gave us a chance to keep some advantage in the championship. But we did what we expected. Even it was good, because the second race we had some problems with the engine. In sixth position the engine started losing power, losing power, losing power… but finally it was able to finish 10th. To finish in that situation, it was already for us a good result.
You and Biaggi have both been racing for 20 years now. How do you account for still winning races at almost 40?
For myself I have the feeling that still – to say enjoying would be very easy not to say (laugh) – but I still feel I can grow and improve. I can do some things and arrive at a certain level that I compete at in the past. And this for me is the main thing – I try to grow and improve and become a better rider. And my success, it is a sign that I am in a good way. And, of course, part of the motivation is that we are in front and we are doing well.
What would a World Superbike title mean for you at this stage in your career? What does it mean to you to be a world champion?
Well, of course, it’s not happening yet. But if it does happen, I think it will be a great feeling. Because we did well, we worked well. And at the end of the day, also we have the backing of good team and good bike. It’s all a combination, even if your ability and your mind is strong, sometimes technically it’s really difficult. But now I arrive at a certain level, and at the same time with good team and good bike, and we have some chance. We’ll see if this is possible, for now we focus race by race, but we have more chance than ever.
How’s the support from Ducati? They’ve officially withdrawn factory support, but I imagine you guys in the lead get some help, right?
[Laughs] Yes, spiritually 100%. Technically, not so much. This bike already they [Ducati] have it for many years. And also we [Althea team] have a strong group, where we cannot do more than what we have. So the factory it is part important, but during the season I think it is more important what you can do with the suspensions, with the team, with yourself. This, I think, is the key point to that success, because one time the bike is designed, then the bike is on the track. There is not much more the factory can do. Of course, we request for more power, but the power is still a big issue because with this design of engine and the rules we have, to get more power is very, very difficult – almost impossible.
Who’s the one guy you’re going to make sure to finish ahead of on Monday. Who do you size up as your lead rival in the championship?
At this moment Melandri and Biaggi I think are the strongest, and they will be the strongest for the season. Then I don’t know BMW. And Honda should be okay, because they test here last week I believe so they will be competitive. Also when I first race here (as a Ten Kate Hannspree Honda) we were able to get the podium and win. These will be the people I think, if the conditions don’t change, because in the wet can be a completely different story.