While it’s not unique to face wet weather during the course of a World Superbike season, the 2012 series seemed to face more than its fair share of rain. Dubious track conditions provided some key turning points in 2012 that helped to make it one of the closest title races on record.
Though there were some sporadic showers in the season opener at Phillip Island, rain didn’t come into major play until Round 3 at Assen. Race 1 claimed a number of riders and saw Sylvain Guintoli earn his first ever Superbike race win. The opening laps proved to be relatively uneventful, but mid-race Marco Melandri went down, tossing his bike and forcing officials to red flag the event. Following the restart, competitors completed the nine remaining laps in the wet, but six additional riders went down including Jonathan Rea, Leon Camier, John Hopkins, Chaz Davies, Ayrton Badovini and Brett McCormick.
The incident-packed Race 1 caused some riders to prepare for the worst in Race 2, but much to the chagrin of Carlos Checa and Jakub Smrz in particular, rains didn’t fall and the wet tires mounted on their respective machines proved more of a hindrance than a help. Smrz moved to the front early but fell off the lead as his tires began to wear out, and Checa fell to last place after having to pit for a change of rubber. Checa came into the round with the points lead and left sitting in second behind eventual title winner Max Biaggi.
Following Assen, riders were faced with a showdown at Monza, a round that proved pivotal in 2012. Despite the wet, Race 1 started as scheduled but was promptly red flagged after Hopkins high-sided in a devastating wreck which saw the American fracture a bone in his right foot and tear muscles in his left hip. Officials waited for conditions to improve, but the mixed patches of wet and dry on track eventually led to the decision to cancel Race 1 entirely and hold out for Race 2.
Patches of water remained on track at the start of Race 2, which saw Sykes run out front early on and hold the lead to the checkers. Due to persistently unsafe conditions though, the contest was cancelled mid-race. Riders were awarded half the points typically given for a race win due to the stunted nature of the event, paving the way for the miniscule margin by which Biaggi would eventually claim the title.
Through the subsequent five rounds, riders were given something of a break from the maddening hazards they’d encountered at Monza and Assen. Things changed when competition commenced at Silverstone. Race 1 was delayed following a first attempt which saw two separate crashes happen almost immediately off the start, owing to the still drying track. Following the restart, intermittent rains caused many to ride with caution, giving Kawasaki Racing’s Loris Baz, filling in at the time for the injured Joan Lascorz, the opportunity to gain his first career Superbike win. Once again, a number of riders crashed out of competition, including Hopkins, Biaggi and Camier.
Race 2 was even more dreadful, lasting only eight laps and claiming nine riders. Guintoli won the event, followed by Baz in second and Smrz in third, but as with Monza, due to the shortened race riders scored half the points given in a full contest. Among those going down were Haslam, Camier, Rea, Sykes and others while points leader Max Biaggi settled for 11th, losing ground in the points race to Melandri, who finished in eighth. This would prove important at the following round at Moscow Raceway, as that was the moment Melandri moved ahead of Biaggi in overall points, albeit briefly, putting the Roman on serious notice that his long held spot at the top was in serious jeopardy.
The penultimate round at Portimao started in the worst possible way for a number of riders, including Melandri, who had crashed out of both races during the previous stop at Nurburging. Wet conditions prevailed in Race 1, forcing a red flag after six laps. Chaz Davies and Davide Giugliano crashed out very early in the proceedings, and they were followed by Norino Brignola, who, after going down, left enough oil on the track to delay the race for a period. Melandri also went down early and was forced to seek medical attention, leaving him unable to finish Race 1 or compete in Race 2. The Italian had lost the points lead back to Biaggi following Nurburging, but the second consecutive round of 0-0 goose eggs left Melandri with little hope for the 2012 title.
Wet weather fractioned the points standings, aided in Melandri’s loss of the overall lead and gave some unexpected riders their first taste of premier-class glory. Most riders who fell victim to treacherous track conditions over the course of 2012 recovered without serious injury, though they did lead Hopkins to bow out of the 2013 season to dedicate time to rehabilitation and reflection on the future of his career.
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