2012 Portimao WSBK Sunday Round Up: An Undulating Track Gave Us Ups And Downs
In a weekend where championships could be determined, the weather decided once more that it needed to leave its mark. With wind and rain, the Superstock 1000 race had to be moved to late afternoon and races had to be held with only dry set up time.
Today showed that championships are never set in stone until the last chequered flag. The title chase went one way, then another and then another. Fortunes were turned on their heads, gifts were given and tolls were taken.
It was a day that BMW described as “a black Sunday” with Marco Melandri being hit by Chaz Davies's Aprilia as he lay on the ground from an accident of his own causing. It's the same accident Melandri has had several times this year, charging for a gap that isn't there at the apex of a corner, only this time he came off worst. He feared for his back but tests revealed nothing that pain killers can't cure. Four DNFs in a row for the Italian has dropped him from first to third in the championship in just two race meetings. Leon Haslam's performance was not much better, having gambled badly on an intermediate tyre in the first half of race one, getting a ride-through for a jump start in the restart and a mechanical glitch in race two forcing him to pit in, he also left without a single point.
Max Biaggi had a roller coaster of a day. Fourth in the first race, when Tom Sykes won, was not the sort of result he wanted, even with Melandri out. Third in the second race, on the other hand, was good enough as both Sykes and Melandri scored no points. There was no reason to pull rank and get Eugene Laverty to sacrifice a win, just to get Biaggi four extra points, as even Gigi Dall'igna, Aprilia's chief racing engineer, was happy to see the Irishman take his first Aprilia win. Laverty's win was a popular one, and helped maintain Aprilia's lead over BMW in the manufacturers's standings.
Portimao is Eugene Laverty's favourite track, its undulating terrain giving it a unique character. Almost all the corners are blind, with crests and valleys making corners interesting. The track gave a great demonstration of the electronics at work, with Biaggi's Aprilia wheelieing at the plateau on the start/finish straight much like Tom Sykes's Kawasaki did in qualifying, but Jonathan Rea's Honda was able to tame the crest and pass Biaggi's notoriously fast bike before the braking zone for the first turn. Different bikes managed the track in their own way, with the wet weather favouring the Ducatis method of getting the power down while the drying track favoured the Aprilias. If the track is indeed being removed from the calendar next year, amidst rumours of financial troubles, its uniqueness will be missed.
Tom Sykes was blessed with the red flag in the first race as his bike's electronics and suspension were not working well together in the wet. The restart gave his team a chance to fix the problem, and fix it they did. His performance in race two showed that he was hungry for a second good result, with a revitalised championship chance ahead of him, but the mechanical issue with the engine that took him out of the race knocked a manageable 14.5 point deficit up to a disastrous 30.5 point one.
Even though Carlos Checa scored more points than Max Biaggi today, including a second place, he was finally knocked out of a mathematical chance of the title. He is almost certain to end the year in fourth place, yet rumours are strong that both Checa and Davide Giugliano have signed with the returning factory Ducati team to race Panigales in 2013.
Other 2013 news was that Loris Baz will be staying at Kawasaki, in a decision that surprised no one. Baz's performance as replacement for the injured Joan Lascorz has impressed everyone and to score a win, the second youngest rider to do so, in his rookie year must have helped his future.
In World Supersport, Jules Cluzel put his flying rooster helmet on the top step of the podium once more, but that wasn't enough to stem the inevitable as second place was taken by the now three-times World Supersport champion Kenan Sofuoglu. Sofuoglu managed the season almost to perfection, head butting his rivals at 160mph and ignoring officials telling him to drop places notwithstanding. His slow-starting fast-finishing aggressive style, coupled with immense braking skills and a strong engine under him, stood him in good stead for the whole year.