The World Superbike season finale at Magny Cours delivered on the pre-event promise with two sensational races that saw the championship come down to the wire. The stars of the show were factory Aprilia man Max Biaggi and the irrepressible Briton, Tom Sykes onboard his factory Kawasaki Superbike. Heading in to the final round of the championship 30.5 points separated series leader Biaggi from Sykes, with BMW man Marco Melandri and further eight points behind. Biaggi was the man on control and the clear book makers favorite to secure his second WSB crown, but the season finale was to play out dramatically.
In Race 1 held on a wet track, Biaggi initially overcame his disappointing qualifying position by moving up the field only to crash out of fourth position on Lap 3. Early race leader Sykes rode a strong race, but limited by his full wet weather set-up on the slowly drying track dropped to third to close the points gap to just 14.5. With Melandri securing second place he remained in the title race with a 18.5 point deficit to Biaggi.
The race was won by local hero Sylvain Guintoli, who wowed the French crowd with an impressive ride that saw him start slow, but end the race with unmatchable pace.
He said: “I had a really bad warm-up session in the morning and did not feel at all comfortable in the wet so in the race it took me a long time to really get into it. I was steady at the start, but with each lap I felt happier until I was at the front battling with Tom and Marco. I was able to get to the front and set a pace neither of the two guys could live with.”
By the start of Race 2 there was a dry line on the track with just a few wet patches meaning that every rider on the grid opted for slick tires. With nothing to lose Sykes immediately hit the front where he had to deal with a determined Eugene Laverty onboard his factory Aprilia. The two men traded paces before Sykes was able to escape the attentions of the Irishman and begin to ease away.
Behind him Biaggi was initially languishing down in tenth place and Melandri had high sided his BMW Motorrad S1000RR out of the race in dramatic fashion meaning that Sykes was on schedule to be world champion. Biaggi’s Aprilia team were giving detailed pit board information informing the 41 year old his position on track and the position he needed to be in to clinch the title. By Lap 6 Biaggi was up to seventh but needed to move up two places and into fifth to overhaul leader Sykes. With Althea Ducati men Carlos Checa and Davide Giugliano in front, Biaggi dug deep to catch and pass both riders to get into fifth place.
Biaggi had the additional safety net of his Aprilia teammate Eugene Laverty who was ahead of him on track in fourth place, but in the end despite Laverty being asked to slow by his team, Biaggi had done enough himself. Despite Sykes coming under intense pressure at the front of the field by Honda Superbike rider Jonathan Rea he held on to secure his fourth win of the 2012 season, but it was not enough to win the title – missing out on the WSB crown by 0.5 points to Max Biaggi.
Biaggi said: ““It’s been a very strange year and I feel lucky to have won this one and to win by 0.5 points makes it even sweeter. This year we have seen Sykes and Kawasaki make a big step up compared to last year and we know now that they will be strong contenders for 2013.”
“When I came to WSB people said that I don’t have the right style to ride a Superbike,” said Biaggi. “But since being here I have shown that I can adapt, learn new things and this is very satisfying for me.”
Biaggi’s second WSB crown came after his sixth season of racing in WSB after switching from a career in Grand Prix where he won four 250GP titles.
“When I came to WSB people said that I don’t have the right style to ride a Superbike and that it would be too rough for me,” said Biaggi, “but since being here I have shown that I can adapt, learn new things and this is very satisfying for me.”
While Biaggi emotion was a mixture of elation and relief, runner-up Sykes appeared equally satisfied.
“I’m obviously disappointed not to win the title,” said Sykes, “but it’s amazing that we’ve been able to take it down to the wire. At the end of the day we’ve exceeded all expectations and as a team we’ve done a great job all year. I came in to the last round a long way behind Max, but we’ve left with a pole position, a new best lap record, a win a third place plus I reeled in 30 points on a rider the quality of Max – so I’ve got to be satisfied.”
Away from the racing on track the big news was the ground breaking developments that Dorna Sport, the company that runs MotoGP, will take over the day-to-day running of the World Superbike championship with immediate effect. The change has been instigated by Bridgepoint – the company that owns both Dorna and Infront Sports and Media (WSB promoters). It means for the first time in history both championships will be run in harmony instead of fighting against each other for sponsors, TV coverage and spectators.
The main motivation for the change is to enable new technical rules to be introduced in both championships. MotoGP has undergone constant rule changes in recent years, which has led to discontent among the manufacturers and spiraling cost. Dorna want to reduce the costs and level of technology In MotoGP with a move closer to CRT rules, but the problem they have is the high level of WSB bikes means that lap times in each series would become very close. By being in control of WSB as well, Dorna is expected to move regulations closer to stock production bikes meaning there will be a difference in lap times with CRT type bikes in MotoGP staying the fastest.
No technical regulations have been announced and it seems unlikely that there will be any noticeable changes for the 2013 season, with bigger changes expected in both WSB and MotoGP from 2014 and beyond.