Story by Colin Fraser- The second half of the 2012 eni Superbike World Championship opens at MotorLand Aragon in Spain this weekend, the second-ever SBK series event at the newish, 5.34 km long venue. Aprilia team leader Max Biaggi has built a solid advantage in the Championship standings, and the 2010 series Champ is looking to pull clear of his aggressive pursuers with a pair of strong SBK results in Spain.
Biaggi, who just turned 41, has run up front in most of the 2012 races, and has so far avoided the carnage that has seriously affected several of his likely title rivals. With three wins out of a possible 13, “Roman Emperor” Biaggi is the picture of consistency. Blessed with high top speed, the vee-four works Aprilia should be the pace setter at Aragon and the team has tested twice at the venue this season.
Last year, the pace setters at Aragon were Biaggi and Marco Melandri, the two trading wins and pulling clear of the rest of the pack. Yamaha YZF-R1 mounted Melandri took advantage of a late race bobble by Biaggi to earn victory in race one, while in the second counter Melandri ran wide into the first turn on lap 15, allowing Aprilia’s World Champ Biaggi to earn the victory. This was Biaggi’s overdue first victory of the 2011 campaign.
Currently, Biaggi is 38.5 points clear of second in the standings, but with a possible 350 points still up for grabs, the title race has a long way to go for 2012.
Second to Biaggi in the points standings is Ten Kate Honda squad team leader Jonathan Rea, who has earned the unofficial award for “most aggressive rider” in the first half of the season. The factory Honda squad has been busy testing at their dedicated “home track” of Assen in the Netherlands, but Rea has very little experience on the Aragon circuit, 300 kilometers outside of Barcelona.
With two wins so far in 2012 with the fly-by-wire throttle equipped Fireblade; Rea is looking forward to his first racing laps around Aragon. “It’s new to me and I love the challenge of riding and learning new circuits,” confirmed Rea. “I did a few laps for photos in really unpleasant conditions at the start of last year, the layout is really cool, lots of different elements, and the track is quite fun.”
Meanwhile, factory Kawasaki team leader Tom Sykes has been fast throughout the year, but has relatively little to show for his strong efforts, even though he is third in the standings. His sole victory, at the top speed paradise of Monza in Italy, only yielded half point for Sykes, since the second race did not go anywhere near the scheduled distance. The Monza opener was cancelled due to terrible track conditions brought on by heavy rain fall.
The Kawasaki squad is based in Spain, and Sykes has worked through three tests during this season at Aragon. So far in 2012, Sykes has taken the Tissot-Superpole award five times, and looks to cement the Ninja’s impressive one-lap pace with solid podium results.
Sykes often fades late in the race as tire wear with the spec Pirelli slicks becomes an issue, and engine problems have also blunted his efforts. Insiders speculate that the Kawasaki’s aggressive performance in not matched by electronics packaged that suits the conditions over a full race distance.
Yet another squad using Aragon as their test venue, meaning they can work at that one circuit throughout the season, are the Germany based factory BMW Motorrad Motorsport equipe. Even after several rough outings, Marco Melandri is fourth for the works BMW group, and looking to repeat last year’s success at the Aragon circuit. Team-mate Leon Haslam is sixth in the points, 33 behind Melandri, and looking to regain his early season, race-leading form.
The rider likely to attract the most attention is reining World Champion Carlos Checa on the Althea Racing Ducati. Based in Spain, the former G.P. star looked well on his way to a second straight SBK crown with strong early season pace, only to crash out at Miller in the U.S.A. and Misano, Italy. Along with a terrible tire choice at the second, wet Assen race, these issues have pushed Checa down to fifth in the standings.
Even so, Checa believes that his team is strong enough to regain form and fight their way into the battle for the crown. Fresh from the big fan-oriented World Ducati Week at Misano last weekend, Checa has also tested the radical new Panigale in preparation for the 2013 SBK tour. Checa’s team-mate, Davide Giugliano, has found form of late, and the World Champ will have to fend off his young partner if he aims to rebuild his challenge for a second consecutive crown.
“We had a chance, during the World Ducati Week, to work on our settings, and we thing our 1198 Desmo is as ready for Aragon as possible,” explained Checa. “From now on every race is very important for the Championship, and I know we have made mistakes and had our problems, but we can regain our form.”
Standings after 7 of 14 Rounds (two races per event)
- Max Biaggi Italy Aprilia RSV4 Factory 210.5 points
- Jonathan Rea U.K. Honda CBR1000RR 172
- Tom Sykes U.K Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja 164.5
- Marco Melandri Italy BMW S100 RR 155.5
- Carlos Checa Spain Ducati 1098R 150.5
- Leon Haslam U.K. BMW S1000 RR 123
- Sylvain Guintoli France Ducati 1098R 103
- Eugene Laverty Ireland Aprilia RSV4 Factory 95
- Davide Giugliano Italy Ducati 1098R 80
- Jakub Smrz Czech Repub. Ducati 1098R 75.5