Max Biaggi extended his points lead thanks to the plight of his rivals and his 4-3 finish at Portimao.
Max Biaggi was the big winner in the penultimate round of the World Superbike championship at Portimao, despite having an average weekend on track by his high standards. In the opening race he took in fourth-place and then went on to secure his 11th podium of the year in Race 2 in third.
The reason Biaggi’s weekend was such a success came down to the plight of his rivals. Having crashed out of both races at the previous round in Germany, title contender Marco Melandri had another nightmare weekend. In Race 1 the BMW Motorrad rider was in the thick of the action, but after getting passed by Biaggi he immediately tried to strike back and ended up colliding with the Corsair, crashing out of the race. With the entire field closely packed behind them, Britain’s Chaz Davies of ParkinGO MTC Racing had nowhere to go and smashed into the side of Melandri as he slid along the track. Davies’ crash in turn brought down Althea Ducati rider Davide Giugliano. Melandri was initially assessed at the circuit medical center before being taken to the hospital in Portimao for an MRI scan which revealed heavy bruising to his side and right kidney. The 30 year-old was discharged and later returned to the track, but will be spending the forthcoming days licking his wounds and contemplating what could have been after seeing his 18.5 point lead after Moscow turn to a 38.5 point deficit with just one round remaining. Biaggi went on to take the lead in the race, only for it to be stopped on Lap 6 following Norino Brignola’s crash which left oil on the track. The restarted race was subject to an hour delay, by which time the previously wet track had begun to dry. However the surface was still wet enough to mean that the entire grid started on full wet weather tires.
Mixed track condition specialist Tom Sykes saw his opportunity to close the gap on Biaggi and grasped it with both hands. After taking the lead on Lap 3, Sykes was never headed and went on to take his third win of the year, move to second in the championship standings and close the points deficit to just 14.5. With expectations high going into the dry second race, Sykes was well placed in the front pack before smoke started to billow out of his factory Kawasaki ZX-10R. Inside the first lap he was forced to retire, a result that put a serious dent in his title aspirations and means he now sits 30.5 points behind leader Biaggi with just 50 points available in the final round.
Sykes said: “It’s obviously really frustrating but that’s the way it goes. In Race 1 we had good luck because in the first re-start my wet weather setting was no good and the red flag and re-start enabled my team to make some really positive changes and we went on to win the race. At the end of the day neither myself, my team or Kawasaki have made many mistakes this year. This engine problem wasn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just one of those things.”
For Biaggi it was clearly a good day but, with Sykes and Melandri both still mathematically able to win the title at the final race of the championship at Magny-Cours, the Roman Emperor still wasn’t happy. “30 points is ok, but I would have preferred 51. There are still two races to go and anything can happen as we have seen today. So I must stay as focused as possible and make sure I don’t make any mistakes throughout practice, qualifying and both races when we get to France.”
Eugene Laverty put in a commanding performance in Race 2, going on to win his first WSBK race of the season.
Aprilia man Eugene Laverty was able to step out of the shadow of his illustrious teammate by securing an impressive Race 2 victory – his first of 2012 and his first onboard the RSV4. In what was a genuinely classy performance, the 25-year-old Irishman got to the front, controlled the race and pulled close to a four second lead. In the closing laps he was reeled in by Honda Superbike rider Jonathan Rea, but Rea ran out of laps to make a pass for the win.
Laverty said: “It feels good to finally get a win and get the monkey off my back. It’s taken a long time but the race went to plan. I was able to get to the front and just race the track, concentrate on my lines and ride my own race.”
Davies looked set to make amends for his Race 1 crash and fought his way up to second before losing the front while chasing down Laverty and crashing out. It was a disappointing way to end his day after winning his first ever WSB race last time out in Germany, but it once again showed he has the speed to run with the fastest men in the class.
Suzuki rider Leon Camier illustrated just how far the team has come during the season by fighting with Biaggi for the podium in Race 2. The former factory Aprilia rider and teammate to Biaggi scythed his way through the field after a traditional bad start. The two men collided on more than one occasion before Camier was forced to slow and subsequently retire with a gear box problem on his GSXR1000.
Kenan Sofuoglu and the Kawasaki Lorenzini team celebrating the 2012 World Supersport title win at Portimao.
In Supersport, Turkish rider Kenan Sofuoglu secured the world championship crown – the third of his illustrious career. The Kawasaki Lorenzini rider only had to finish fourth, even if Honda rider Jules Cluzel won the race – which he did. But the insatiable 28-year-old couldn’t resist pushing his way onto the podium – ultimately finishing in the second spot.
By securing the championship win, Sofuoglu became the most successful rider in Supersport history and has pledged to come back for more in 2013 in an effort to win his fourth title.
Away from the racing itself, the big news came from Honda who announced its 2013 rider line-up. Despite his recent foray into MotoGP, Jonathan Rea will ride for the team again in 2013 where he will be joined by another equally fast British rider Leon Haslam. With the performance of the aging CBR1000RR in question, the Dutch run Honda Superbike team is set to receive increased levels of support from Honda Japan in an effort to get the bike back to the top of the WSB class next season.
FIM president Vito Ippolito also attended the Portimao round to discuss the 2013 calendar which will feature new races in India, Laguna Seca and Jerez. He also spoke about moves to unify domestic Superbike championship rules around the world. The FIM want standard technical regulations in AMA (America), BSB (UK), IDM (Germany) and JSP (Japan) with lower spec rules than in WSB. The theory is that if the FIM can get the leading manufacturers on board, each company will be able to produce standard race kits that will be able to be used the world over, enhance participation and reduce costs.
The final round of the World Superbike Championship takes place in Magny-Cours in France in two weeks’ time. With 50 points still available, Tom Sykes and Marco Melandri can still mathematically win the title, but Max Biaggi remains the overwhelming favorite due to his commanding 30.5 point lead over Sykes and 38.5 point lead over Melandri.