Exclusive for Inside Motorcycles by Colin Fraser- Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes was the only real winner at Monza on Sunday, May 6, in round four of the 2012 eni Superbike World Championship. Troubled by ever changing weather since the Championship Series returned to Europe for round two at Imola, Italy a month ago, the tour ran into a “worst case scenario” Sunday at Monza.
Rain also affected Saturday afternoon’s SuperPole session, then caused the eventual cancellation of race one (although two full laps of action took place) before delaying and then shortening race two (really race one) – the actual sole official, brief offering of on-track activity dominated by Sykes on the works Kawasaki ZX-10R. With organizers unsure and rider opinion mixed, spectators were noisy in their complaints surrounding the multiple cancellations and delays.
“I’ve finally done it,” said Sykes of his first dry SBK victory. “It feels really good after all of the commotion today. There were some damp patches around the track, but I had such a good feeling from my bike that I was comfortable to get my head down right from the start.”
The biggest problem was the famous, forested Monza venue, the classic high speed layout with limited run-off that is very hard on tires. In a damp but not drying SuperPole session Saturday afternoon, the much anticipated top speed war did not occur, and instead it was necessary to nurse fully-grooved wet tires for a lap or two to set a time. Spec tire supplier Pirelli made it clear that the two intermediate choices were the right option, but rider confidence and a stressful “monkey see, monkey do” environment cause the front runners to struggle with full wets on the drying track.
The difficult conditions meant that long serving Ducati 1098R Desmo twin, long off the pace at Monza due to a lack of outright top speed, was able to shine again at one of their home events.
Veteran fast guy Sylvain Guintoli of Liberty Racing Team Effenbert, fresh from his popular break-through victory two weeks earlier at Assen in the Netherlands, made the right rubber choice at the right time to snatch a surprise pole. Considered among the calmest in the paddock, Guintoli edged second best Sykes, ending the Kawasaki leader’s impressive string of pole awards.
So far this year, SuperPole has been cancelled once due to a support race fatality (Australia), and switched to a less spectator friendly wet format twice (both Italian rounds).
Marco Melandri was third in Q action on the first of the BMWs, the in-line German four-cylinder squad looking forward to a much predicted break through victory in the dry at Monza. World Champ Carlos Checa, down on top speed to the tune of 18 kph against the best BMWs and v-four Aprilias with the Althea Ducati, netted fourth on the grid – much better than expected.
Of course, top speed advantages are mostly negated in the rain, when electronic packages are re-defined and the all-out SBK class leading horse power comes way down from a BMW best of around 220 at the rear wheel.
Sunday’s first race opened with the SBK stars on slicks for an almost dry track; Sykes grabbing his customary lead with the latest Ninja, Guintoli right in his wheel tracks with the top (privateer) Ducati. It started to rain on lap three and the five riders recognized (or tasked) by the series to report in such cases signaled for a red flag stoppage. Parked on the grid proper, waiting for a restart, some riders complained there was no need for the delay, while a few veterans went out in the Alfa Romeo safety car for a look-see, just as a biblical deluge commenced.
Flooding and the risk of aquaplaning meant that SBK race director Paolo Ciabatti had no choice but to cancel the Monza opener. Some riders wondered if the Pirelli rain rubber could handle the conditions, but Pirelli made it clear that a fully wet track was not a concern – the problem was with full rains on a track where Monza’s many long straight-aways were dry.
The World Super Sport event next took place on a mostly dry track without much drama, won by the Bogdanka PTR Honda CBR600RR of Jules Cluzel from team-mate Sam Lowes. Two time class World Champ Kenan Sofuoglu recovered from a warm-up lap crash (it was really that kind of day) to keep his points lead with third for Lorenzini Kawasaki.
Skies were again dark and threatening when the Superbikes went out for an attempt at their second counter, two warm-up laps showing the track was mostly dry, but crucially NOT in the gigantic final right hander that goes on forever, the world renowned Parabolica. When the two warm-up laps ended, some riders signaled that they didn’t want to proceed; while others were fed up with the many delays and the notion the some aces had more effect on the decision-making process than others.
After another delay, the race was restarted, crucially with total distance shortened to 16 laps. Sykes absolutely rocked away, taking control and pulling clear, to win by an unchallenged ten seconds. Frustratingly, moral favorite Guintoli and BMW Italia’s popular Michel Fabrizio both hit mechanical problems and were stranded on-track during the second, delayed set of warm-up laps.
The battle for second place included nine riders, the Ducati contingent eventually fading to the back of this drafting pack. The twins could hang in, however, as the iffy traction and wet run-offs made everyone cautions, except for an on-fire Sykes. With eight laps in the books, it started to sprinkle, allowing the event to be red flagged and called official at exactly half distance. This meant that only half points would be awarded, so a very busy Monza weekend offered just 25% of the usual Championship standings – a disappointing weekend outcome for the series’ important 25th anniversary event.
Angered by a poor wet Qualifying effort after showing well in practice, Leon Haslam matched BMW’s best ever SBK result with second, Eugene Laverty a very close third on the factory Aprilia RSV4 Factory. After crashing in the opening, non-counting race, Marco Melandri rebounded to place fourth for BMW, half a second behind his team-mate in second and .2 ahead of ex World Champ Max Biaggi, fifth on the second works Aprilia.
Jonathan Rea’s Honda was also part of the battle, netting sixth, just ahead of the Ducatis of Checa, his team-mate Davide Giugliano and the top Effenbert/Liberty Ducati of Jakub Smrz.
Following the race, the mega Effenbert beer backed Czech-Italian team issued a release detailing their frustration and suggesting they were no longer convinced of the fairness of the series. Canadian Superbike Champ Brett McCormick, an Effenbert teamster out with neck and hand injuries suffered in race two at Assen, is expected to return to action for the team later this summer, maybe as soon as July.