2012 Imola World Superbike | Preview

2012 World Superbike Championship

The 2012 World Superbike Championship continues this weekend with its first trip to Europe for Round 2 at Imola, Italy.

Imola will be the first of three rounds held in Italy during the 14-round World SBK Championship, followed by Monza on May 6 and Misano on June 10. And the first Italian round will bring home Aprilia Racing Team’s Max Biaggi, the 2010 WSBK Champion.

Biaggi holds the championship lead after winning race 1 at Phillip Island, the season opener last month, and taking runner-up in race 2. Biaggi has 45 points, but only 15 points behind is another man who will be returning home at Imola to race, BMW Motorrad’s Marco Melandri.

During Melandri’s debut aboard the BMW S1000RR at Phillip Island, the Italian finished second in race 1, and sixth in race 2. This was great news for BMW, as second was the German manufacturer’s best-ever result in Australia.

Heading into Imola, Melandri and his BMW Motorrad teammate Leon Haslam will likely be utilizing a new swing-arm and evo-spec engine that both recently tested at Aragon Motorland in Spain; both had positive results during the test.

With two Italians arriving in Imola on top of the point’s race, there’s undoubtedly going to be record-breaking crowds this weekend at the Enzo & Dino Ferrari circuit. Biaggi has one up over Melandri, though, considering the “Roman Emperor” clinched his first World Superbike title here in 2010, though he never had a WSBK win at Imola.

In third with 29 points, just one behind Melandri, is Kawasaki Racing’s Tom Sykes, who gave the Japanese manufacturer its first win since 2006 at Nurburgring last season. The Brit was a top rider in last week’s Aragon test sessions, and also started from the pole at Imola in 2010.

And Sykes began the 2012 World Superbike Championship strong with fourth in race 1 and third and race 2.

But only four points behind Sykes is the reigning World Superbike Champion, Carlos Checa. The Althea Ducati rider will also be a favorite since the Borgo Panigale Ducati factory is only a few miles from Imola.

And the 3.067-mile Imola circuit caters to Ducati machinery; out of the 17 races held there since 2001, Ducati won 11 of those, with Checa taking three of those.

At Phillip Island, Checa suffered a DNF in race 1 due to a nasty high side on lap six; before the crash, Checa was in second chasing down the eventual winner Biaggi. But he came back with vengeance in race 2, taking the win by 5.7 over Biaggi.

Fifth in the championship heading into Imola is Honda World Superbike’s Jonathan Rea; the Brit trails Checa by three points. Rea has some ups and downs at Imola, though.

In 2010, he fractured his collarbone and wrist during a qualifying crash. But in 2011, he redeemed himself by taking the race 1 win at Imola while utilizing a “Ride-By-Wire” electronic throttle control, which was just sanctioned for use in World Superbike the week before the September race.

Imola is also a turning-point for Jonathan Rea, the talented Honda rider who could only manage seventh and fourth in Australia and who has bitter-sweet memories of Imola: a painful injury in the 2010 warm-up and a magnificent win last year.

Making his debut at Imola World Superbike will be the American John Hopkins, who missed the Australian round due to injury. The Crescent Suzuki rider has additional surgery on his throttle hand, which he injured during a crash while testing at Phillip Island before the 2012 WSBK Championship began. But following further evalution, his hand surgeon cleared him to return to action.

Imola World Superbike begins with practice Friday, Superpole Saturday and both races on Sunday.

Imola World Superbike on TV

SPEED TV will broadcast back-to-back coverage of Imola World Superbike beginning at 2 p.m. EDT Sunday, April 1.

Imola World Superbike History (courtesy of World Superbike):

Since its debut in 2001 this is the first time the Imola round has been held in the spring, but the date evokes memories of the 200 Mile race which in the early 1980s opened up the racing season, with pioneering battles between the American specialists and the European aces. At that time Superbike racing was almost unknown in Europe, now it is a sporting phenomenon that has millions of passionate fans throughout the world.

In the previous nine editions (17 races in total because race 2 in 2005 was cancelled due to pouring rain) Ducati have won 11 races, Honda 5 and Aprilia 1, back in 2001 at the hands of Frenchman Regis Laconi. The most successful riders, with three wins apiece, are Laconi, Carlos Checa and Ruben Xaus. The only Italian to win at Imola is Michel Fabrizio (Ducati) in 2009. In four races Biaggi has scored a second, a fourth, a fifth and an 11th place, while Melandri only raced here in Superbike last year with a Yamaha, finishing eighth and sixth.

2012 World Superbike Point Standings (After 1 of 14 Rounds):

1. Max Biaggi 45 pts ITA APRILIA Aprilia Racing Team

2. Marco Melandri 30 pts ITA BMW BMW Motorrad Motosport

3. Tom Sykes 29 pts GBR KAWASAKI Kawasaki Racing Team

4. Carlos Checa 25 pts SPA DUCATI Althea Racing

5. Jonathan Rea 22 pts GBR HONDA Honda World Superbike Team

6. Sylvain Guintoli 16 pts FRA DUCATI Team Effenbert Liberty Racing

7. Jakub Smrz 16 pts CZE DUCATI Team Effenbert Liberty Racing

8. Leon Haslam 15 pts GBR BMW BMW Motorrad Motosport

9. Hiroshi Aoyama 15 pts JPN HONDA Honda World Superbike Team

10. Maxime Berger 12 pts ITA DUCATI Team Effenbert Liberty Racing

11. Michel Fabrizio 10 pts ITA BMW BMW Motorrad Italia GOLDBET

12. Davide Giugliano 10 pts ITA DUCATI Althea Racing

13. Eugene Laverty 8 pts IR APRILIA Aprilia Racing Team

14. Lorenzo Zanetti 7 pts ITA DUCATI PATA Racing Team

15. Niccolo Canepa 6 pts ITA DUCATI Red Devils Roma

16. Bryan Staring 6 pts AUS KAWASAKI Team Pedercini

17. Leon Camier 4 pts GBR SUZUKI Crescent Fixi Suzuki

18. David Salom 2 pts SPA KAWASAKI Team Pedercini

19. Josh Brookes 1 pts AUS SUZUKI Crescent Fixi Suzuki

20. Joan Lascorz 1 pts ESP KAWASAKI Kawasaki Racing Team

21. Raffaele De Rosa 0 pts ITA HONDA Team Pro Ride Real Game Honda

22. Mark Aitchison 0 pts AUS BMW Grillini Progrea Superbike Team

23. David Johnson 0 pts AUS BMW Rossair AEP Racing