World Superbike Imola Preview 2012

March 29, 2012
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

Max Biaggi
Biaggi looks to extend his World Superbike points lead at Imola, the 2010 SBK champ getting a 1-2 result in Round 1.

A familiar late season stop on the SBK calendar, Imola vaults up to a Spring-time appearance for 2012. Round 2 of the 2012 World Superbike Championship features Max Biaggi arriving on his home Italian soil with the points leader after an impressive 1-2 start at the Phillip Island opener. The 2010 SBK champion will look to extend his advantage on Sunday, but is sure to face stiff competition from the reigning champion, Carlos Checa, who defends Ducati honor at its home circuit.

The odds makers give Checa the slight edge at Imola, where the Althea ace nabbed a Race 2 victory in 2011 after an uncharacteristic DNF in Race 1. Checa could use some wins this Sunday to make up for the Race 1 deficit earned by his nasty high-speed get-off at PI. The Ducati factory is just down the road a piece from the Enzo & Dino Ferrari circuit and the rabid Ducatisti are sure to be a large contingent of the Imola crowd. Other Ducatis that could shake up the results include the three-rider Effenbert Liberty squad, with Sylvain Guintoli getting a Race 1 podium at Phillip Island and teammate Jakub Smrz a fifth-place. The third Liberty Racing rider, Maxime Berger, got a seventh-place result at the Island and Checa’s Althea teammate, Davide Giugliano, also managed a top-10 in his SBK debut.

Marco Melandri
Marco Melandri sits second in the points after getting a 2-6 byline at Phillip Island, his first round with BMW.

The first of three SBK visits to Italy in 2012, the Imola round features two Italians atop the standings in Max Biaggi and Marco Melandri. Biaggi looked every bit the title-winning Max of 2010 at Phillip Island, where his Aprilia RSV4 looked unstoppable – particularly charging through the field after a poor start in Race 2 to finish second. As for Melandri, his second-place finish in Race 1 was tempered, somewhat, by a sixth-place result in Race 2 – finishing behind BMW teammate Leon Haslam. Supermarco, however, managed to give BMW its best SBK finish to date in his first try – an encouraging start to his Beemer tenure.

Biaggi and Melandri’s teammates arrive at Imola in better shape, after both were battered around in Australia. Aprilia rider Eugene Laverty logged a disappointing DNF-8 debut on the RSV4, the Irishman having busted his hand during pre-season testing. Haslam somehow managed to score a 12-5 byline despite breaking bones in his leg and feet, and getting a screw inserted into his tibia just days before the Phillip Island races. With more than a month to mend, expect both riders to improve come Sunday.

Tom Sykes
Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes is delivering impressive results on the ZX10R He looks to keep the momentium going at Imola.

One man to watch at Imola is Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes. The Englishman has been consistently fast in 2012 during testing, the ZX-10R demolishing the SBK lap record at a private Motorland Aragon test earlier this month. Sykes fought for the podium in Race 1 at PI, finishing fourth, then won the final rostrum position in Race 2. It’s the most impressive start for Kawasaki since, well, forever, and Sykes could build real championship momentum with a solid result at Imola.

In the Honda camp Jonathan Rea has had his ups and downs at Imola, managing a race win there in 2011. The Northern Ireland rider was unable to score a podium at the season opener and will be keen to get on the steps in Round 2. Ten Kate Honda teammate Hiroshi Aoyama got an 8-9 result in his first SBK outing. The former MotoGP competitor will look to improve in his second SBK go ‘round.

John Hopkins
American John Hopkins returns from yet another injury, making his 2012 racing debut at Imola.

Another former MotoGP competitor seeking some SBK glory, John Hopkins finally gets his 2012 campaign underway at Imola. The American ran into familiar bad luck at Phillip Island, breaking his hand during testing. The Crescent Suzuki rider is fit and ready for action after the latest, or more than a score of surgeries. The lone Suzuki squad in the SBK paddock failed to crack into the top 10 at PI, with regular rider Leon Camier’s best a 12th in Race 2, while Hopkins replacement and BSB contender Josh Brookes could only muster a 15th (also in Race 2). The Gixxer pilots should fare better in the points after Round 2.

In the World Supersport ranks, Kenan Sofuoglu will have to overcome injury to maintain his lead in the championship. Winner of Round 1 and a two-time WSS champion, the Kawasaki ZX-6R pilot injured his leg during a recent test at the Imola circuit. Similar to Haslam’s earlier surgery, Sofuoglu had a stabilizing screw inserted into his leg to anchor a dislodged bone.

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