2011 World Superbike
I have not always been a Max Biaggi fan, but what happened to the Italian in Sunday’s World Superbike race at Monza was a travesty.
Biaggi, having nailed a second place finish in Race 1, was setting a blistering pace in Race 2, opening up a commanding lead over second place. Coming down the front straight at over 200 mph Biaggi missed his braking mark, and to avoid disaster had to stand the Aprilia up and ride through the run-off.
The rules for this are very clear. If a World Superbike rider has to use the run-off to avoid danger, they must not benefit from the course cut (i.e. they cannot make-up a position or any time).
Traditionally, superbike riders will check traffic and re-enter the race at the same point they were running when they went off (as evidenced numerous times throughout the two races by other riders). This is done by waiting for the riders you were running with to pass and then resuming the running order.
However, when Biaggi went off he was so far out front there were no other riders in sight, and thus, Max couldn’t judge the gap time difference. He clearly sat up, looked over his shoulder, slowed considerably, then carefully re-entered the race line and continued. There was a moment of silence from the World Superbike commentators before they began to speculate what might happen in terms of penalty.
Somewhere in the depths of the race management headquarters the decision was made that Biaggi had benefitted from the off-course incident. How they came to that is up for debate. Lap times showed that he had not gained advantage.
But two laps later Biaggi (and most of the racing community) were stunned to see the penalty flag come out ordering him to perform a ride through (making a speed controlled pass through pit lane before resuming the race).
Everyone knows that this penalty-combined with Monza’ rather long pit lane-creates a time deficit that makes a win virtually impossible. Max Biaggi did the ride-through and resumed the race in twelfth, eventually working his way up to eighth by the end.
This is one of those cases where the rules need to be studied and adjustments made. Granted, this was a unique case and I wouldn’t want to be the one trying to abide by established rules when one of these rare consequences of circumstance deride logic. That said, Biaggi did everything possible to ensure he was abiding by the rules, but it caught him out. It’s not like the man was trying to cheat to catch up. He was gapping the field.
I agree with commentator Steve Martin who said the World Superbike race marshals should have let the race run and assessed a time penalty after it was over. The amount of time Max may have gained (if at all) would not have reduced the gap he had over second place to where he would have been relegated to second or third. But a ride-through penalty is often tantamount to a DNF. As it was Biaggi was ultimately docked seven places. That’s a lot of points to have taken away from a title chase. This was plainly unfair.
Only the people on the inside of this matter know what is going on right now in terms of appeals, but to the public, Aprilia, Max Biaggi, and his team have shown nothing but absolute gentlemanliness in a matter that cost them dearly in championship points, abiding by the decision. They need to be commended for this.
Regardless of how you feel about particular personalities in the sport, regardless of who you choose to root for and whom you choose to despise (part of what makes racing, racing), this was completely unjust. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it, if anything at all.
For me, Max Biaggi climbed a few rungs on the ladder of respect. What happened to him Sunday in Italy (his home country no less) is one of those incidents that by the end of the season might be viewed as the incident that altered the World Superbike Championship. Let’s hope not. Hail the Emperor.