Tom Sykes (66) has a chance to move past Max Biaggi (3) and take the 2012 title, but it all depends on both riders’ performances at Magny-Cours in Sunday’s races.
The final round of the 2012 eni FIM World Superbike Championship comes down to the battle at Magny-Cours in central France on Sunday, with three riders within reach of the title. Currently Aprilia’s Max Biaggi reigns out front with a 30.5-point advantage over British rider Tom Sykes of Kawasaki Racing. BMW’s Marco Melandri also has a shot from third, 38.5 points off Biaggi’s lead. Though there is the chance of Sykes or Melandri ending the season in first, it will be Biaggi’s to lose as he only needs to finish sixth or better in both races to secure the championship.
History bodes well for the Aprilia ace since he’s completed every race he’s entered at the French circuit between first and sixth place. He missed the round in 2011 due to injury, but in 2010 he took the win in Race 2 and was fourth in Race 1. Biaggi went 4-3 in the previous round at Portimao and will be fighting for his second Superbike title.
“I want to tackle this race like any other,” said Biaggi. “I know the pressure will be high because of the current standings, but we must not lose focus because we are the ones with the most to lose. Being out front puts you in the bulls-eye. Our rivals know that any weakness on our part could reopen the competition. In any case I am calm and focused as always. We’ve demonstrated that we can do well when we are able to take advantage of every practice session and I can’t wait to get onto the track and get to work.”
Sykes will be looking for that perfect mixture of preparation and luck to propel him past the Corsair at Magny-Cours. The Kawasaki rider has earned three race wins this season, with the most recent coming in Race 1 at Portimao. Race 2 ended in disaster for Sykes after a mechanical issue forced him to retire while battling in the lead pack. Apart from having to post high-ranking results in both races on Sunday at Magny-Cours, Sykes has to do it at a circuit where he’s never finished higher than eighth and where he’s crashed three times. The performance of his ZX-10R has improved over the course of the season and his confidence in the machinery has shown in his ability to remain competitive out front for the length of a race, but much will depend on the results of others if the British rider is to come out on top this season.
Marco Melandri returns after breaking two ribs and sustaining a heavily bruised back during Race 1 at Portimao.
“I am looking forward to getting back on my ZX-10R,” said Sykes. “I am excited to go to Magny Cours as it is a race that has shown some potential for us in the past and the way we have the bike working now is good. I am looking to go there and do our usual thing. Honestly, I am also looking for a little bit of luck. I am second in the championship, 30.5 points from the leader, so we need a certain aspect of luck to help us out. But, ultimately, it can happen. It happened to me in Race 2 last week and in the last four races for Melandri. So I hope that we can put in two strong races and come out one place better.”
Sykes’ trouble in Race 2 at Portimao pales in comparison to the two previous rounds for Melandri. The BMW rider had just earned the top spot in points following the inaugural round at Moscow Raceway but has since failed to earn a single point due to a string of race-ending episodes. Melandri started Race 1 at Nurburgring third on the grid and appeared to be on pace to contend for the podium, but on Lap 5 he crashed out of competition. He was able to return for Race 2, but only made it through one lap before crashing out again. Things got even worse at Portimao where wet conditions contributed to the Italian’s crash early in Race 1. After going down, Melandri was hit by an oncoming rider and had to be taken to the hospital. He was later found to have broken two ribs and sustained heavy bruising to his back in the incident.
“I spent the time after Portugal back home taking a rest and recovering from my injury,” said Melandri. “It still hurts, but I am feeling better with every day and cannot wait to head to Magny-Cours. The last two race Sundays were difficult, but they are behind us now and we are as motivated as ever to fight on. The final round of the season will definitely not be an easy one, as it is fiercely competitive at the front of the field. It is important for us to work hard from the first day on in order to prepare as well as possible for the races.”
Carlos Checa may not be able to defend his 2011 WSBK title, but he is capable of earning a race win at Magny-Cours.
Althea Racing’s Carlos Checa is out of the running to defend his WSBK title, but will be looking to stage a strong performance at the French circuit where earned a double victory in 2011. His teammate Davide Giugliano will also look to place well in the final round of his first full WSBK season. The 22 year-old rider was another who got tangled in the Race 1 incident at Portimao, going down and injuring his ankle. He returned for Race 2 but was hindered by a mechanical issue mid-race and was forced to head back to the garage. A strong performance from Giugliano at Magny-Cours could propel him past BMW Italia GoldBet’s Michel Fabrizio into 10th overall for the season.
Honda’s Jonathan Rea will return to the helm of his CBR1000RR after earning a seventh-place finish in the MotoGP round at Aragon, riding in place of the injured Casey Stoner with Repsol Honda. He’s currently fifth in overall points, trailing Checa by 23. Last year, Rea met with trouble in both races at the French circuit after earning pole position. In Race 1 he crashed out of competition and then in Race 2 a mechanical failure forced him to retire. He’s already signed on to contest the 2013 WSBK season with Honda and heads to Magny-Cours looking to end the current season on a high note.
“I’m really looking forward to going to Magny-Cours this weekend and trying to finish this season off in style,” said Rea. “We often get some variable weather at this race, with pretty cold mornings, but it would be really nice to avoid another race that’s dictated by conditions like we’ve had a few times this year, including race one at Portimao. It’s especially frustrating when we’ve got the bike working well like we did there.”
Eugene Laverty took his first Superbike win aboard the RSV4 at Portimao and will look to earn another at Magny-Cours.
Biaggi’s teammate Eugene Laverty trails Rea by 14 points and is coming off his first WSBK victory aboard the RSV4. He’s improved his performance over the course of the season, moving from consistent finishes in the top-10 early on to consistent finishes inside the top five through the recent rounds. He was waylaid by the difficult conditions in Race 1 at Portimao, but was able to finish, albeit in 13th. He came back in Race 2 and took the win and is looking to maintain his positive momentum through the remaining two races of the season.
“We’ve reached the final round of the season at Magny Cours in sixth position in the championship,” said Laverty. “I’m within reach of achieving fifth overall and so that is my aim for the weekend. The first half of the season was disappointing but since then we’ve finished on the podium several times. It was a huge relief to win last time out in Portimao and it was nice to reward the team for all their hard work in turning our season around.”
Melandri’s teammate Leon Haslam will be looking for his luck to change in the final round of competition, as he’s had to retire from three of the last six races. PATA Racing’s Sylvain Guintoli has also managed a turbulent season, but comes to Magny-Cours having gone 3-4 at Portimao and with a more consistent record than Haslam in recent rounds. Since switching from Liberty Racing to PATA, Guintoli has earned one race win and one podium. If he’s able to continue posting top five results, he has a shot to bridge the 16.5-point gap between himself and Haslam and finish the season in seventh overall.
ParkinGO MTC Racing’s Chaz Davies is ninth overall as riders head to Magny-Cours, though his performance has improved markedly in the latter portion of the season. Davies earned his first Superbike race win in Race 2 at Nurburgring after taking two consecutive third-place finishes. He was forced to retire at Portimao after getting caught in the Race 1 incident and will be looking to finish off his rookie season with a strong performance. Davies moves to BMW Motorrad in 2013 as teammate to Melandri.
Kenan Sofuoglu (54) is the 2012 WSS title winner, but Jules Cluzel (16) will be fighting hard for the win at Magny-Cours.
The recently crowned 2012 World Supersport Champion, Kenan Sofuoglu, ends the season at one of his favorite circuits. He secured the 2012 title in the previous round at Portimao, earning his fourth race win of the season and his third career title. Sofuoglu returns to the paddock after celebrating his success with friends and family back in Turkey.
“I had a great reception back home in Turkey after winning the championship last time out,” said Sofuoglu. “Even the president of Turkey called me to pass on his congratulations. We made a tour in a bus through Istanbul, like football teams do. That was all very nice. We have taken the title now so I will go to Magny-Cours just to take the best possible result.”
PTR Honda’s Jules Cluzel isn’t going to let Soguoglu’s title win stop him from pushing for victory in front of his home crowd. The French rider sits second overall with a 15-point advantage over Kawasaki Intermoto Step’s Fabien Foret and has three wins to his credit this season, one of which came in the previous round at Portimao.
“I am looking forward to this weekend, I can’t wait,” said Cluzel. “I have only ridden at Magny-Cours back in 2005 in the French 125cc series. I have a good feeling there in 125cc. I need to learn the track with my PTR Honda and I am not scared about this. The hardest place to learn was Portimao and I was quick and won there, which is encouraging. Lots of my family and fans will attend and there is no pressure on me as I am assured second in the Championship.”
Bogdanka PTR’s Sam Lowes sits fourth overall with Ten Kate Honda’s Broc Parks trailing in fifth. Lowes has two race wins to his credit this season, and Parkes will be looking for his first. The Ten Kate rider has earned three podiums in 2012, though none higher than third-place. Both riders will be pushing for a big finish to the year at Magny-Cours.
Final round World Superbike action gets underway on Friday with practice and qualifying session. Weather forecasts predict mostly sun on Friday and Sunday, with a chance of rain increased on Saturday.