Althea Ducati’s Carlos Checa is in position to capture the 2011 World Superbike title this weekend if things go his way.
This weekend the 2011 World Superbike Championship slides into the Imola circuit for the final Italian race of the season. With only three rounds remaining in the series, Althea Racing Ducati’s Carlos Checa has the clear advantage as the Spaniard maintains a 74-point lead after recording his 11th victory of the season at Nurburgring. Conditions at Imola this year should be much improved after 70% of the track’s surface was repaved. Known for its many undulations, the 3.05-mile circuit is run counter-clockwise and is one of the most technically demanding on the calendar. Coupled with its new track surface, proper rubber selection and bike setup will be key for riders.
On September 16th the Superbike Commission of the FIM announced it would begin allowing the use of electronically controlled throttle valves. This sanction has led to Castrol Honda’s decision to run a new ride-by-wire throttle system at Imola – a system which the team has been developing for use in the 2012 championship. The squad recently had a preview of these updates during the WSB Misano Test, where Jonathan Rea and teammate Ruben Xaus proved the system is ready for use in the upcoming round. With Rea not having a single podium ever recorded at the Italian circuit, the Irishman is hoping the technical updates will give him an edge over his competition.
“It’s a circuit I really enjoy riding but I didn’t have so much luck last year, crashing out of a really wet Superpole and breaking my wrist, which ended my season a little prematurely,” said Rea. “Since then, I’ve had a similar injury on my other wrist, but it was good to come back at Nurburgring in the last round. The Misano test last week was pretty good
Castrol Honda’s Jonathan Rea (above) and teammate Ruben Xaus will try a new ride-by-wire throttle system at Imola after the FIM lifted its ban on electronically controlled throttle.
and allowed us to see the potential of the new ride-by-wire system. There’s more work to do though, and we’ll continue development of the package at Imola this weekend with one eye on the 2012 season, although of course I’ll be aiming for two good results for myself and the team.”
The World Superbike field will need all the help they can get to stop Checa, who nabbed the double victory at last year’s race. This year the Spaniard has been largely uncontested in his bid for the 2011 crown, and Imola will be crucial as he looks to take the championship early. With only 150 points possible over the next three rounds, Checa may snatch the title at Imola if events work to his favor.
One of the few riders to go up against Checa this year and win is Yamaha’s Marco Melandri. With three victories this season and a long list of podiums, the Italian will receive a morale boost in Round 11 as he visits his home circuit. Not only will the 29-year-old be competing on home soil, but Melandri is fresh off a successful two-day test at Misano where he captured the fastest lap on both days. Even though the World Superbike rookie has no prior experience at Imola, Melandri has proven more than capable of overcoming new circuits. Armed with improvements to the braking system which has troubled the Italian all season long, Melandri is perhaps the greatest chance the field has of keeping the championship open.
Reigning World Superbike champion Max Biaggi’s participation in the upcoming round is still unknown as the Italian recovers from a fractured bone in his left foot.
“Imola is yet another track I am unfamiliar with, it has been more than 10 years since I’ve been there,” said Melandri. “This doesn’t really concern me as I have done well in other new tracks this season and hopefully, I can get good results in Imola also.”
The situation, as it currently exists for Aprilia’s Max Biaggi, is much different than it was a year ago. Last year the Italian finished an impressive season by securing the 2010 WSB Championship here at Imola. This year, however, Biaggi’s appearance at his home circuit is in doubt after the Italian suffered a fractured bone in his left foot when debris struck it at Nurburgring. The defending champ has been under constant therapy and treatment – none of which will guarantee he’ll participate. Since missing the last round Biaggi’s hope of defending his title are essentially ruined. If Mad Max isn’t fit enough to suit up for Imola, he’ll have to face the very real possibility of losing a top-three finish in the series.
“I cannot assure you anything except the fact that I will fight to be there,” said Biaggi. “I am constantly in touch with Dr. Costa and my physiotherapist. I will keep you updated this week.”
Meanwhile Yamaha‘s Eugene Laverty is looking to make up for his spectacular crash on the final lap from last year in the World Supersport series. The Irishman is having an impressive rookie season in the premier class after winning both races at Monza and recently earned top-five finishes in both races at Nurburgring.
Yamaha’s Marco Melandri is one rider capable of keeping Checa from winning the championship this weekend.
“Fresh from the positive tests we just completed in Misano, I’ll be heading to Imola on a high note, which is nice,” said Laverty. “I struggled with the track a lot two years ago but I feel that last year I cracked it, even though I was unfortunate and came off at the end. I’m curious to try the track with the Superbike machine but it’s so powerful I’m pretty sure it’ll feel like an entirely different track.”
Returning to Italy for the third time this season, BMW’s Leon Haslam is currently fifth in the championship. Haslam recently announced that he will continue with the German marque in 2012. So far this season both Haslam and his teammate, Troy Corser, have seen mixed results on the BMW S1000RR, with their highest finish being Haslam’s third-place result at Phillip Island and Monza. The Brit will also look to make up for his last visit to the circuit where he recorded a DNF in the final race last year.
“I am looking forward to Imola,” Haslam said. “We have made good progress with the bike and it is one of my favorite circuits. I really enjoy racing there and the atmosphere is always fantastic. The track is very bumpy and very undulating. You really need to have your bike set up properly, as the circuit is very demanding with different tarmac in places and a lot of changes of direction.”
Alstare Suzuki’s Michel Fabrizio: “[Imola] is a track where it easy to make up time and very easy to lose time, especially if you get held-up at the start”
Alstare Suzuki’s Michel Fabrizio is well acquainted with Imola after posting a victory in 2009 and winning the Superstock Championship there in 2003. It will be Fabrizio’s home race as well, which should give the Italian a boost as he battles for seventh in the series, just two points ahead of Liberty Racing Ducati’s Sylvain Guintoli.
“It is a track where it easy to make up time and very easy to lose time, especially if you get held-up at the start,” said Fabrizio. “If that happens, it is very difficult to make up the time. It is very important to be on the first two rows of the grid and then make a good start for the approach to the first couple of turns.”
The World Supersport Championship is also in its final three rounds as Yamaha ParkinGO’s Chaz Davies leads the series by 59 points ahead of Kawasaki’s David Salom. While Salom faces the uphill task of overtaking Davies in the championship, he’s also caught in a major battle for second with Hannspree Ten Kate Honda’s Fabien Foret, who is just one point adrift of the Spaniard coming into Imola.