Biaggi (center) overcame mistakes from Race 1 to claim victory and move closer to Checa in the championship standings.
Anyone watching the first ever World Superbike race at Aragon in Spain on Sunday may well have witnessed a genuine turning point in the 2011 championship. Having won the four previous races at Miller and Misano with apparent ease, Carlos Checa’s title hopes were dismantled when he highsided out of third position on Lap 8. At the time he was the fastest man on the track and catching his title rivals Max Biaggi and Marco Melandri to the tune of up to one second per lap. He was also the only rider on the entire grid that had opted to use the hardest rear Pirelli tire, which theoretically would have given him an advantage at the end of the race due to extreme 56-degree Celsius track temperatures. Down on outright top speed along the 1212-meter back straight (the longest on the WSB calendar), Checa knew he had to do something different to his main rivals, who had both opted for the softest Pirelli rear tire. His crash was a fast one and came exiting the long third gear left. It was Checa’s first no score in 2011.
“We knew that at this track it was impossible to escape and we also knew we had a top speed disadvantage so the only way for us was to have a different tire solution and be faster at the end of the race,” said Checa. “I believe it was the right decision but we don’t know because of the crash.”
In the second race, with zero points from Race 1, Checa opted to use the same tire as both Biaggi and Melandri. But having lost valuable set-up time from only completing eight laps in Race 1 and also being in pain
Max Biaggi: “In Race 1 we struggled going into the turns so we changed our set-up a little bit on the rear and the bike was better, but not perfect.”
from the crash, he didn’t have the pace to run at the very front and left his home race with a single third-place podium finish. And while it was a bad day for Checa it was a near perfect day for both Biaggi and Melandri, who took a win and a second apiece after two intense 20-lap races.
Factory Yamaha man Melandri was the only man on the grid that had previously raced at the circuit (albeit with a slightly revised final complex) when he was competing in MotoGP on the Gresini Honda last season. The 28-year-old Italian used his experience and as a result dominated the first practice and qualifying sessions on Friday. On Saturday things didn’t go quite as smoothly. In Superpole 1 Melandri thought his early lap time was fast enough to see him graduate to Superpole 2, but when his rivals used qualifying tires he began falling down the timing sheets and it was only a mistake by Czech Ducati rider Jakub Smrz that meant he scraped through in 12th position. From there on Melandri delivered, making it through to Superpole 3 and securing his place on the front row of the grid.
In the opening race the Yamaha man made a break with Biaggi, who set a stunning early place and led for the opening 15 laps. While it looked certain that Melandri would at least try to make a pass there was no obvious point on the track for him to do it, but in the end he didn’t have to as Biaggi made a mistake under braking for the hairpin at the end of the 200 mph straight and ran wide – gifting Melandri the lead and race win.
“Max was very fast, especially in the start of the race and there were some times where I thought I would lose touch,” said Melandri. “Just before he made the mistake I think I was getting closer. I would have tried to pass him, but for sure it would not have been easy.”
Marco Melandri was the only rider who’d previously raced the Aragon circuit in MotoGP. He used it to his advantage by taking pole position and his second win of 2011 in Race 1.
For Biaggi his win in Race 2 was significant as it was his first victory of the 2011 season. At this point of the season last year Biaggi had won six races. But in 2011 he has let potential victories slip through his fingers on more than one occasion. After losing out to Melandri in Race 1, Biaggi rode the perfect race in the second outing, leading from the first corner to the last, with no lapses of concentration and absolutely no mistakes.
“In Race 1 we struggled going into the turns so we changed our set-up a little bit on the rear and the bike was better, but not perfect,” said Biaggi. “It was better going into the turns but braking on lean we had problems, but overall it was easier.”
The significance of Biaggi’s second and first places and Checa’s Race 1 crash is that the championship points table has been blown open. Before the race it was looking a forgone conclusion that Checa would continue to dominate, but this is no longer the case with the Spanish rider seeing his lead slip from 72 down to 43 points. It’s also not a good time for Checa to be handing Biaggi any sort of mental advantage given that the next round of the championship is at Brno in Czech Republic – a track where Biaggi has won on practically every type of bike he’s ridden during his career, including wins on the Aprilia in both 2009 and 2010.
BMW’s Troy Corser (left) and Leon Haslam (right) had a tough time in Spain, with Corser breaking both bones in his left arm.
At the other end of the scale it was a tough weekend for the factory BMW team of Leon Haslam and Troy Corser. Not only were their results poor, Corser left Aragon with two broken bones in his left forearm after he collided with Supersonic Ducati rider Maxime Berger as he re-entered the track after running wide at the hairpin.
“I overshot the hairpin at the end of the back straight, but when I turned the bike and headed towards the track again I was hit by Berger,” said Corser. “He had also overshot the corner and I was in his way! I think it was my fault, because if had have been in my normal place on the track, I wouldn’t have been hit. His bike hit my left arm and that’s what did the damage. I knew I’d hurt myself and X-rays confirmed that I had broken both bones (ulna and radius) in my left arm. Both breaks are clean breaks, so I am pretty lucky, if I can say that! Considering the crash, I could’ve done a lot more damage to myself. I will see my specialist as soon as I can and find out what has to be done to my arm.”
The next round of the World Superbike Championship takes place at Brno on July 8th-10th.