WSBK

World Superbike title in Checa’s sights

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Carlos Checa's reward for an irresistible 2011 world Superbike season could come early this weekend, with the Spaniard an outside chance to wrap up the championship in Italy with two rounds still remaining.

Ducati-mounted Checa is currently a 74pt leader over Yamaha's Marco Melandri, and if he comes out all guns blazing at Imola ‰ÛÒ just like in 2010 when he swept both races ‰ÛÒ he will go a long way towards wrapping up proceedings irrespective of results at the final two rounds in France and Portugal.

"This is a track that we know well and where we've had some good results, especially last year of course," Checa said. "We will need to see how the tyres behave on the new track surface that is the only unknown but I'm feeling very prepared for the weekend. We are looking to the championship of course but at the same time it's important to concentrate on each individual race, doing our best and always giving 100%. We're feeling confident."

But Melandri is also a proven big-time performer and, on the evidence of testing at Misano last week when he finished on top of the timesheets, the Italian is more than capable of taking the fight to his Spanish rival when action resumes at Imola.

And if things fall apart for Checa at Imola, Melandri will be right back in the championship hunt himself.

"We've just completed two very positive days testing and found encouraging results all around," said Melandri. "We made progress with the engine brake which I had been struggling with during the season and hopefully we made a step in the right direction which will help in the remaining three races‰Û_"

Checa was second overall at the Misano test, while the other rider still in the title race, reigning world champion Max Biaggi, was absent while he continues to recover from a broken bone in his left foot. His participation at Imola is still up in the air.

For the Australian riders,Troy Corser (BMW) and Mark Aitchison (Kawasaki) will compete at the fast and challenging Imola layout, located 40km south-east of Bologna. Queenslander Chris Vermeulen (Kawasaki) will miss another round as his injury woes continue ‰ÛÒ despite testing at Misano last week.

Like Vermeulen, Corser's 2011 season has been a disaster. But he still hopes to conjure up a few podiums in the closing races, in what could be his world superbike swansong.

"Imola is very bumpy in places. It has four different surfaces around it where they resurfaced some parts of the circuit," said Corser. "It's very fast, particularly through the back part, which is known as 'Acque Minerale'.

"It's important that the bike turns very well on the throttle, on the crests coming over the hill, and I think this is the case with our bike and engine. The brakes also play a big part there. They help to make the bike more stable.

"I am confident that we can get a good result with our bike. If we can get everything sorted out for Superpole and qualify in the front or second row, I hope we can get some podiums on the run to the end of the season."

Meanwhile, if Biaggi is a non-starter at Imola, Yamaha's Eugene Laverty has a great chance to tighten up the battle for third in the championship.

"Fresh from the positive tests we just completed in Misano, I'll be heading to Imola on a high note, which is nice," Laverty said.

"I struggled with the track a lot two years ago but I feel that last year I cracked it, even though I was unfortunate and came off at the end. I'm curious to try the track with the Superbike machine but it's so powerful I'm pretty sure it'll feel like an entirely different track.

"I'm looking forward to the weekend. It could be very interesting as it could also be the title decider. Checa will be stronger than ever to claim the championship, but I think the Yamahas will also put on a strong fight," Laverty concluded.

Others expected to fight for podium honours include Leon Haslam (BMW), Leon Camier (Aprilia), Michel Fabrizio (Suzuki), Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati), Noriyuki Haga (Aprilia) and Tom Sykes (Kawasaki).

At the last round in Germany, Sykes scored a popular win for Kawasaki when the heavens opened, but he was also very fast in the dry at Imola last year.

In World Supersport Australia's Broc Parkes (Kawasaki) simply has to win at Imola to keep his championship hopes alive ‰ÛÒ and he proved that he's got his act together with the fastest time in Supersport testing at Misano, albeit among a small band of riders.

"I am really looking forward to the last three rounds because they should really count for us," Parkes said.

"I have to go to Imola with a positive attitude and the final placings will probably only come out at the very last round. The final races take place at tracks I really like and where the bike works well.

"Hopefully we can get back up there on the podium this weekend. We were trying out a lot of stuff back-to-back at the Misano tests and we just really tried to confirm a few things. I felt like I had my bike back and our lap times were really good. We bettered the times we did there during race weekend in the summer, which shows that we are making progress still."

Chaz Davies (Yamaha) leads the title on 171pts, well ahead of David Salom (Kawasaki, 112), Fabien Foret (Honda, 111) and Parkes (104).

Main Photo: Carlos Checa leads Max Biaggi Credit: Graeme Brown

World Superbike, Rd11, live on Speed Channel at 7:30pm, September 25
WORLD SUPERBIKE STANDINGS (AFTER ROUND 10 OF 13):
1 Carlos Checa, Spain, Ducati 376
2 Marco Melandri, Italy, Yamaha 302
3 Max Biaggi, Italy, Aprilia 281
4 Eugene Laverty, Great Britain, Yamaha 232
5 Leon Haslam, Great Britain, BMW 176
6 Leon Camier, Great Britain, Aprilia 154
7 Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Suzuki 141
8 Sylvain Guintoli, France, Ducati 139
9 Ayrton Badovini, Italy, BMW 134
10 Noriyuki Haga, Japan, Aprilia 115
15 Troy Corser, Australia, BMW 67
20 Mark Aitchison, Australia, Kawasaki 24
21 Chris Vermeulen, Australia, Kawasaki 14

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