The Netherlands hosted a dramatic weekend of World Superbike racing that featured a red-flagged wet race, several riders crashing while leading, a first-time race winner, a photo finish between two teammates and the reigning World Champion finishing out of the points because of a poor choice of tires.
The 2011 WSBK Champion Carlos Checa arrived at Assen with the lead in the championship and a three-race winning streak, but opting to run wet tires in Race Two cost him the lead and may have contributed to a crash that severely injured Liberty Racing‘s Brett McCormick.
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The first race began in dry conditions with polesitter Tom Sykes taking the early lead. The Kawasaki rider led the first 11 laps before his ZX-10R began emitting a cloud of white smoke. It was later determined the problem was a faulty water pump hose clip but the race was over for Sykes.
Sykes’ retirement opened the lead to BMW teammates Marco Melandri and Leon Haslam. The drama continued a few laps later when Melandri crashed while leading after hitting a wet patch. Several other riders also crashed at the same wet spot while others had near misses. The race was then red-flagged and restarted as a nine-lap sprint with heavy rain and strong winds.
Melandri and his repaired S1000RR jumped out to the lead after the restart but could not find enough grip to stay in the lead. His teammate Haslam then took over the lead. The drama continued three laps late however with Haslam crashing out with a healthy lead.
Althea Ducati‘s Checa then took over the lead but a mistake gave it up to BMW Motorrad Italia‘s Ayrton Badovini, but the Italian’s lead was soon cut short by a high-side crash.
The lead then landed on Liberty Racing’s Sylvain Guintoli who held on the final three laps for his first career WSBK win. Second place went to Davide Giugliano followed by his teammate Checa for an all-Ducati podium.
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The rain had stopped for the second race but officials still declared it a wet race. Tire choice was thus an important factor in the second race. Checa was alone in selecting full rain tires and the decision proved to be costly.
Checa soon discovered he made the wrong choice and pulled into the pit after just one lap, returning in last place. By then Checa was too far back to catch up despite laying down a race-best lap time of 1:38.092 on Lap 16. Checa’s efforts proved costly to Liberty Racing’s McCormick however.
McCormick came in contact with a hard-charging Checa on Lap 10, sending the Canadian crashing hard. McCormick was treated at the medical center for facial trauma, a hematoma to his eye sockets, a broken finger and two fractured vertebrae. McCormick was later sent to hospital but fortunately has full feeling and is expected to recover.
Back to the race, it was Liberty Racing’s Jakob Smrz with the early lead on wet tires, staying up front for the first 17 laps. As the track began to dry however, his lead too began to evaporate, and the Czech rider later crashed trying to pass a lapped rider.
The lead then passed on to his teammate Guintoli who battled Honda‘s Jonathan Rea for the final stretch. Rea would come out on top for his first win of the season. Guintoli finished 2.819 seconds back for another podium finish. Eugene Laverty finished in third for his first podium with the Aprilia team.
Laverty finished just ahead of the BMW duo of Melandri and Haslam who crossed the line in a photo finish with Melandri taking fourth place by just 0.002 seconds.
Despite taking just a fourth- and an eighth-place result at Assen, Aprilia’s Max Biaggi has emerged with the lead in the championship with 92 points. Checa sits a point back in second place after a goose egg in Race Two. Sykes recovered from a disappointing Race One to finish sixth in Race Two to sit third overall with 79 points. He is followed by Guintoli and Melandri with 66 points each and Rea close behind with 65 points.
The 2012 World Superbike Championship continues May 6 at Italy’s Monza circuit.
[Source: WSBK (YouTube)]