Max Biaggi logged two spectacular performances at Phillip Island to claim an early lead in the 2012 WSB series.
For an opening round of a world championship, the World Superbike race at Phillip Island had it all – heroics, bravery and some on track action that had to be seen to be believed. With all of the main protagonists having benefited from five days of testing at the Phillip Island circuit before racing had even begun, no one had the excuse that they weren’t ready.
Given his pace in testing, world champion Carlos Checa looked like the man to beat even though his 2011 dominance appeared to be slightly diminished. Aprilia’s Max Biaggi also started as a favorite at a track where he had previously never won on a Superbike. And the form guide proved to be a pretty accurate gauge as Biaggi stormed to victory in Race 1 by a massive 7.1 seconds to get his 2012 title campaign off to the perfect start.
The factory Aprilia man was helped by the fact that Checa suffered a spectacular crash on Lap 6 when he highsided his Althea Ducati at over 100 mph, landing flat on his back. After crawling out of the gravel trap the 39-year-old Spaniard incredibly walked away, and after a short stay in the medical center to treat elbow and lower back pain, declared himself fit for Race 2.
While Biaggi’s win was taken in comfortable fashion, the same couldn’t be said for the final two podium places. Fast starter and pole man Tom Sykes made his presence felt onboard his factory Kawasaki, but the early race leader eventually began to fade, claiming a lack of front tire traction on his ZX-10R was aggravated by high winds.
With Checa out, Ducati’s honor was upheld by Effenbert Liberty rider Sylvan Guintoli. The French rider showed strong pace in Australia 12 months ago before a sickening highside. This year he rode hard but within his limits and charged up to second with 10 laps to go.
The surprise package of Race 1 was undoubtedly Marco Melandri onboard his factory BMW. Having been close to despair during testing, practice and qualifying, the Italian rider produced an incredible performance to go from the fourth row of the grid to second place at the finish. Since joining the German manufacturer, Melandri has complained about a
persistent vibration or chatter, but the unexpected low track temperatures in Race 1 meant he was able to ride around the problem.
If Race 1 was exciting, Race 2 will go down in the history books as a true WSB classic. Heading through Turn 1 on the opening lap, Biaggi and Sykes touched resulting in Biaggi being forced to take to the grass at 150 mph before eventually rejoining the track – albeit in last position more than eight seconds behind the race leader. The next 21 laps were something to behold and gave the clearest indication yet that Biaggi means business in 2012.
Running a pace similar to or better than race leader Checa, Biaggi began the long climb up the leader board, but no one could have predicted his rate of progress. By Lap 5 he was in the points, five laps later he was in the top-10 before cruising up to the back of Sykes into third before overhauling Honda man Jonathan Rea for second.
“This was a great race, probably the most satisfying of my career,” said Biaggi. “I went from last place to fourth once when I raced in MotoGP, but never from last to the podium like I did today. It was almost the perfect weekend, but not quite. After last year my motivation is high and even with a new team we are working very well together, making many laps so this is a good start to the year.”
Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes earned his first dry weather podium in Race 2 after overtaking Jonathan Rea at the line.
In front of him Checa took a comfortable win just more than three hours after his viscous fourth gear highside. With no points in Race 1, Checa leaves Phillip Island with a win but lies fourth in the championship standings.
“Today was a new lesson for me,” Checa said. “I know that the crash I had in Race 1 can happen and the fortunate thing is that there was no damage and I am ok. I think it’s probably the biggest crash I have ever had with the Ducati. To get the win in Race 2 is great satisfaction for me and for my team because after spending more than two weeks in Australia preparing, the crash in Race 1 was hard to digest. I was able to be back to my best for this race so for sure the flight home will be much easier now than if I had not won the race.”
The battle for the last place on the podium was an all British affair with Sykes overhauling Rea on the final drag to line. The result marked Sykes’ first dry weather WSB podium and was the result of having more rear grip than Rea in the closing laps of the race.
Behind them factory BMW rider Leon Haslam was defying all logic. Having crashed in pre-season testing and breaking his leg (tibia, heal and toes) the 28-year-old underwent surgery on Thursday morning, just 24 hours before first practice. Despite huge levels of pain and the need for constant injection and having to be carried on and off his bike, the tough Brit finished fifth in Race 2 after a battle
BMW’s Leon Haslam (#91) rode with multiple broken bones in his leg to a fifth-place finish in the final race.
royal with his teammate, Marco Melandri. During the 21 laps the two men traded places and fairing paint, but Haslam refused to be overhauled.
“I know I’m injured but I was pretty disappointed with 12th in Race 1 because it was the bike that was holding me back – not my leg,” said Haslam. “It hasn’t been an easy weekend because I’m pretty beat up, but in the second race the bike was doing what I wanted and I was able to get a top five.”
Despite an incredible weekend of racing the event was overshadowed by a fatal accident in the Australian Supersport race on Saturday where 17-year-old Oscar McIntyre lost his life in a crash on Lap 2.