A chat with the reigning Superbike World Champion
Miller Motorsports Park will again host the USA Round of the FIM Superbike World Championship on Memorial Day Weekend, May 26-28.
As was the case last year, representatives of MMP will visit with race winners and other notable riders participating in the championship after each race during the 2012 season leading up to the series’ return to Utah and bring you a new chapter in the “Five Questions with” series.
We will solicit questions from leading motorcycle racing journalists and, starting with the next installment, from our fans via Facebook.
Our first subject for this season is Spain’s Carlos Checa, the reigning Superbike World Champion, who rides the No. 7 Althea Ducati 1198R. Checa, known affectionately throughout the paddock as “El Matador,” could also justifiably be nicknamed “Mr. Miller.”
He swept both races at Miller Motorsports Park last year and in the series’ inaugural visit to Miller Motorsports Park in 2008. He would have repeated the feat in 2010 but for mechanical trouble that sidelined him while leading both races. He won the second of two races in the first round of the 2012 season on February 27 at Australia’s Phillip Island circuit, and looks poised to contend for a second consecutive championship this year.
Q. Now that you’ve won the Superbike World Championship, what is the source of your motivation for the 2012 season? (David Swarts, Roadracing World)
Carlos Checa says: “The same as every year. Each year I set out to improve, both as a rider and as a person. It was fantastic to win last year, but this year we must start over and face the championship as a new challenge, as if last year never happened. I have always put importance on self-development; we never stop learning and I approach racing in that way – every race will teach me something new, every race will help me to grow.”
Q. We know you’ve already ridden the new 1199 Panigale. What are your feelings about Ducati not wanting to homologate it for WSBK racing in 2012, and how much more potential do you think it would have had compared to the well-developed 1198 you’re riding now? (Kent Kunitsugu, Sport Rider)
Carlos Checa says: “Well, we already have 6kg extra on the 1198 in line with 2012 SBK regulations, so if we had brought the new bike to the track, I guess we would have been penalized to an even greater extent! I think Ducati’s strategy to race the 1199 in the Superstock championship before moving into the SBK championship in 2013 is a good one, as it gives them more time to “fine-tune” it, just like they did in 2007 with the 1098.
“From a personal point of view, I was very comfortable with the 1198 in 2011 and, together with this bike, I took the SBK title – so I admit I was a little wary of changing to the 1199, which seems to be a very different bike. I’ve heard great things about it, but I haven’t ridden the 1199 yet so I can’t say any more, but from what I’ve heard it definitely sounds like the potential is there!”
Q. Regarding the extra weight that the Ducati machines are carrying this year in accordance with championship regulations, how much will this affect your overall performance compared to last season, and is there a specific track where the extra weight will cause more of a problem? (Ron Lieback, Ultimate MotorCycling)
Carlos Checa says: “We have always struggled with top speed, and this is most obvious at tracks with long straights, so Monza and Portimao, for example. Adding any extra weight is a disadvantage, of course; the whole philosophy of racing is based on making the bike as light as possible, so 6kg more than last year is for sure a problem. We have evaluated how best to distribute this weight, and that is all we can do.”
Q. Starting this year, World Superbike permits only one complete motorcycle for practice, qualifying and the races. What are your thoughts? (Henny Ray Abrams, Cycle News)
Carlos Checa says: “It basically gives teams a lot more work to do! I was very skeptical when I first heard about the planned changes. Although the idea is for teams to cut costs, each team still needs to have enough parts to build a “second” bike from a rolling chassis in case of emergency. Maybe people thought that riders would go more carefully and there would be less crashes, but look how many crashes there were just at Phillip Island!
“So I don’t know how much money teams are really saving. Sessions have been spaced out to give teams a fighting chance of repairing any crashed bikes in between, but it’s not easy. I crashed in Race 1 at Phillip Island, and my boys worked like crazy to build a new bike for me for Race 2!”
Q. You’ve become the acknowledged master at Miller Motorsports Park. Only one time in eight races, when your bike was running at the end of the race, have you finished worse than first, and that was second in Race 1 in 2009. When you know a track this well, how much can you still learn when you return and what are your expectations for Miller Motorsports Park this year? (MMP)
Carlos Checa says: “Like I already said, I feel there is always room to learn something new. I always like to see if I can improve on “personal bests,” and so that’s what I’ll be aiming for once more at Miller this season. The extra weight will be a hindrance (as it is at every track), especially in light of this year’s stiff competition! I basically approach every weekend, mentally speaking, as if it was the first, and then we see what we can do.”
The May 26-28 BigM Weekend at Miller Motorsports Park will include the USA Round of the FIM Superbike World Championship, plus support races from AMA Pro Road Racing including the National Guard SuperBike Championship, the GoPro Daytona SportBike Championship, the Motorcycle-Superstore.com SuperSport Championship and the Vance & Hines XR1200 Championship. There will also be live music throughout the event and a major tribute to our armed forces in recognition of Memorial Day.
To obtain tickets for or information about The BigM Weekend, visit the event-specific website at BigMWeekend.com. For information regarding Miller Motorsports Park, call 435-277-RACE (7223) or visit the track’s website at MillerMotorsportsPark.com.