For the third year in succession the Imola round of the World Superbike Championship belonged to one man and one man only – Carlos Checa. The Spanish Althea Ducati rider showed the rest of the paddock that it will take a lot more than an extra six kilograms of weight (given to all Ducati’s on the grid for the 2012 season) to slow him down as he claimed an emphatic double win at the famous Italian circuit.
His win was played out in front of thousands of passionate Italian fans but more significantly a host of senior Ducati management including the president Gabriele Del Torchio, head of product Claudio Domenicalli and MotoGP project leader Filipo Preziosi. For them it was clearly a welcome change to be on a winning team given their current experience in the MotoGP paddock and it also underlined the continued importance of WSB to the Italian factory even if they are no longer officially involved.
Checa’s performances in both races were sublime and a perfect combination of superb race pace, tire management and patience. Having been out-qualified by factory Kawasaki man Tom Sykes, Checa had no answer for the fast starting Englishman at the start of either race. On fresh tires with high grip Sykes’s Kawasaki was working incredibly well, but the moment his tires began to lose grip around mid-race distance, Checa pounced, taking the lead with a decisive pass and immediately began pulling away.
Speaking after the second race, Checa said: “It’s a fantastic weekend and a fantastic feeling and we did a great job. The second race was a little more complicated than Race 1 because I made a small mistake and both Biaggi and Haslam passed me. I was able to get them back and then get on the back wheel of Sykes and I was able to pass him too.
“Before the race I did not believe that I could win both races, but it has ended up being an unforgettable weekend at Ducati’s home race. A perfect weekend.”
Tom Sykes captured the superpole at Imola, making him two for two this season. The veteran Kawasaki pilot would go on to keep his third place spot in the standings after a solid finish in both races.
For Tom Sykes, Imola marked his genuine arrival as a WSB front runner. Following on from his pole and podium in Round 1 at Phillip Island in Australia, Sykes was on top form at Imola – a track where he has prospered in the past. Onboard his ZX-10R the 26-year-old claimed his second pole of the year with a lap time none of his rivals could get close to. And starting from pole Sykes made the most of the advantage with two blistering starts. In Race 1 he got the holeshot and led for the opening nine laps before being overhauled by Checa and ending the race in second place.
In the second outing Aprilia man Max Biaggi made a stunning start from the seond row to lead into the first chicane, but Sykes nonchalantly rode around the outside of him to lead the race. He held on for even longer than race one at the front setting a new outright lap record in the process, but like Race 1 he succumbed ty Checa when the grip level of his Pirelli dropped.
From that point on it was a case of consolidation and over the remaining ten laps he had to beat his best to hold off fellow Brit Leon Haslam and 2010 world champion Max Biaggi.
“Not a bad weekend! Pole position and two seconds so I’m fairly happy with that because I don’t think we could have done any better. The track temperature today was cooler than Saturday unfortunately because in the hotter conditions we were very fast, equal to Carlos and I was very confident for the races. But that’s the beauty of racing, the conditions were different, we had to change the bike but overall I’m happy because Kawasaki have delivered again and I had a much stronger package for Race 2.”
It was also an impressive day for Leon Haslam who made BMW history by securing their first double podium since the project began in 2009. The 28-year-old secured his place on the front row before overhauling Max Biaggi in both races to take third place. In contrast Marco Melandri who finished second in Australia had a nightmare ending the two races in sixth and tenth place after being plagued with chatter and gear box problems.
Haslam said: “I was struggling with the tire at the start of the race but then it came into its own and I was able to run a pretty good pace. I managed to get past Max and bridge the gap to Tom and I honestly thought I could pass Tom and go after Checa but as soon as I tried to push more I was getting really bad chatter from the rear and I had to save three big corner entry highsides where the rear came around on me.
“I realize I couldn’t get Checa and focused on Tom but just made too many mistakes to get past plus he was riding really well so fair play to him.”
Max Biaggi ran in contention in both races but just didn’t have the pace to make it on to the podium. His two fourth places mean that he is now second in the WSB championship standings four points behind Checa and two points ahead of Sykes. Leon Haslam is now fourth, one place ahead of his BMW team-mate Marco Melandri.
After missing the first round of the 2012 season Hopkins got back in the saddle to get some points on the board at Imola.
It was a difficult debut round for American John Hopkins who has spent the last six months of his career injured. The Crescent Fixi Suzuki rider lost valuable track time during practice and qualifying due to a small crash and technical problems but suffered with pain and fatigue in his injured right hand during the two races. In the first race he claimed 13th but in the second he was forced to pull in due to a lack of feeling from his hand.
He said: “Basically I’m having a hard time just holding on to the handlebar from a physical point of view. It’s only been a week of being able to do anything with my right hand. It’s very physical around this track in particular with the braking and the throttle. It’s not so much pain but physical strength and the only way it’s going to improve is to carry on riding.
“In Race 2 I got really bad arm pump early on, I couldn’t use the brake properly and I was either going to wipe someone else out or crash so I pulled in.”
The third round of the World Superbike Championship takes place in three weeks time at the Dutch circuit of Assen. Last year Honda Superbike rider Jonathan Rea and Carlos Checa shared the spoils.