World Superbike Monza Insider 2012

May 7, 2012
Peter Thomas
Contributing Editor|Articles|Articles RSS

Our World Superbike man on the scene, Thomas is like a ghost, slipping quietly in and out of the media center, digging for dirt, getting the facts and providing us the inside scoop on the World Superbike series

Tom Sykes.
Tom Sykes won the eight lap WSB round by a substantial margin, apparently unfazed by the half wet, half dry track conditions.

The Monza WSB round promised so much, but ultimately delivered very little in terms of outright racing action – just one eight-lap race was all there was to show from the three day meeting. What is traditionally one of the most exciting rounds on the World Superbike calendar due to brilliant racing and a 200 mph straightaway turned into a battle between teams, race control and the one make tire supplier Pirelli.

The problems came to a head during Superpole where a combination of a half wet and half dry track and different track surfaces caused the Pirelli wets to literally fall apart along the 200 mph front straight. Within two laps of riding chunks of tire could be seen flying off the back of the bike and in some cases with enough force to smash holes in the underside of the seat unit.

There was uproar in the paddock with teams furious that Pirelli did not have a tire suitable for the track and conditions. Pirelli immediately put the ball back in the court of the teams saying that their riders should have been using an intermediate tire in the conditions not a full wet and that if the track had been fully wet their wet weather tires would have no problem lasting a full race distance.

Unfortunately for the Italian tire manufacturer this didn’t prove to be the case as later in the weekend many teams tried to complete laps on a fully wet track only to run into problems within three or four laps. Ducati had the best chance of making their tires work, but even they estimated their maximum would be eight laps – well under the scheduled race distance of 18.

Race 1 on Sunday did actually get underway in dry conditions with the entire grid on slicks, but the rain wasn’t far away and within two laps it had been stopped. What followed was close to monsoon levels of rain, which left the circuit flooded in places resulting in Race 1 being cancelled.

Max Biaggi currently leads the championship by a single point.
Max Biaggi was just one of a handful of riders who voted to delay Race 2 in hopes that the track would dry.

Due to the tire situation a decision was made that there would be no racing if Race 2 was wet. With rain on and off throughout the afternoon further on track activity looked unlikely but after a short delay and a respite from the rain the riders formed on the grid to complete two warm-up laps to assess the conditions. Everything looked set until a handful of riders including Max Biaggi, Carlos Checa, Marco Melandri, Jonathan Rea and Eugene Laverty raised their hands and the race was postponed for an additional 15 minutes to allow the track to dry further.

With rain never far away it appeared a risky decision and while the majority of the big hitters were in favor of the delay there were lots of riders on the grid ready to race. Eventually the race got underway and it was all about one man – Tom Sykes. While his rivals tiptoed around the dry, damp and wet track, Sykes was unfazed by the conditions and immediately pulled a massive 2.5 second lead on the first lap. His pace was relentless at the front and even when his rivals got up to speed they were still over a second a lap drift of the Kawasaki man. With eight laps complete light rain began to fall which immediately meant the race was stopped, but because only half the race had been completed only half points were awarded.

Sykes said: “It was my aim to make the best of the situation. In the last corner I had a couple of warnings from the front. But with the feedback I was getting from the bike it was my job to understand where the limits were. I think I certainly made the most of the damp conditions. I got a great start and got myself into the lead and as Elvis once said, ‘It’s now or never.’

“It is a shame that it is only half points but we put on a good show in eight laps and I hope I put on a good show for the Italian fans. This was my first podium at Monza so that is good and my Kawasaki has been working fantastically well.”

Behind him it was a battle royal for second place with Leon Haslam, Laverty, Melandri, Biaggi, Rea and Checa. The group of six riders were separated by just over one second as they fought and tussled for position.

Leon Haslam at Monza.
Leon Haslam qualified in 14th but was able to charge through the pack in the short race at Monza to take second behind Kawasaki rider Tom Sykes.

The standout performer in the group had to be Haslam who having been competitive in every session suffered with a disintegrating rear tire in Superpole and qualified way down in 14th place. But with his factory BMW finally working well he was able to prosper in the iffy conditions and carve and slipstream his way past his rivals up to second place. Laverty also performed well to take third – his second podium in a row after Assen with the Irishman finally looking comfortable on the factory Aprilia.

The fact there was only one race and even that only earned the riders half points was highly significant for Althea Ducati man Carlos Checa. With Monza far and away Ducati’s weakest track on the calendar due to its three long straights, the reigning world champion had resigned himself to losing big points to his rivals having said before the event that a top ten finish would be like a win. In the end he lost just one point to title rival, Biaggi meaning that he holds second in the standings just two points behind the Italian but interestingly just four points ahead of race winner Sykes.

With the racing over the majority of the riders were philosophical about the weekend’s decisions. While there was disappointment that the racing could not take place there was relief that the meeting was complete without any serious incident or injury as rider safety remains a high priority for all.

There were however exceptions the most notable was from the Effenbert Ducati squad of Sylvan Guintoli, Jakub Smrz and Maxime Berger. Having qualified on pole Guintoli, an expert in mixed track and weather conditions, looked set to be one of the few men capable of challenging Sykes. And like Sykes he was ready to race at the start of Race 2 and did not agree with the fact that the race was delayed further. As a result he ended up stalling his Ducati, which refused to restart meaning that he could take no further part in the race.

A team statement read: “The clear impression is that the WSBK has lived today one of its worst days, disrespect for the public, for those who like the team Effenbert invests and for sports in general.

It is unacceptable that the fundamental decisions of the day are been taken with such a superficiality not even worthy of a monobrand championship of scooter. At the end it is clear that the WSBK is in the hands of a little number of team and riders.

Other categories, also titled, would never ran into such a farce, (in fact proves the competitions of the other classes without major incident and without whims).

Considering all this situations, the team Effenbert Liberty’s management will reflect about its racing future.”

In contrast to the lack of racing activities it wasn’t all doom and gloom for WSB at Monza. As part of the championships 25-year anniversary there was a huge gala dinner held on Thursday night where past and present WSB stars were invited to attend. Among the ‘A’ listers included double world champion Fred Merkel, Davide Tardozzi, Aaron Slight, Carl Fogarty and Troy Bayliss.

WSB will have a chance to redeem itself in just five days’ time when the sixth round of the championship kicks off at Donington Park this weekend.

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