There’s no way of saying this, other than just saying it. I love motorsports in that giddy, happy, bouncy way. So, I always feel guilty when I am trying to prioritize races. Take motorcycle racing. There are Sundays when I have to choose: MotoGP or World Superbike Championship? If you follow me on Twitter, then you know I end up choosing MotoGP. I try to make up for it by following WSBK, reading about it, and watching the reruns. But it isn’t really the same, is it?
This weekend, Saturday was MotoGP day and WSBK rounded off my weekend on Sunday. It is always difficult to compare them. Yet, the two sports are so different and yet so similar, its people intertwined into the very fabric. Watching them back-to-back just about drove home that point. The historical, breathtaking Assen was the MotoGP playground and dry, windy, desert-like Aragon played host to the WSBK.
So come Saturday, I watched in horror as Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner’s ‘real’ competition crashed out. San Carlo Honda Gresini’s young and talented rider Alvaro Bautista will pay for his mistake at Sachsenring next weekend when he will start from the back of the grid. Dani Pedrosa led the way, speeding ahead, as he tried to escape his hunter. Stoner, the reigning world champion chased him in what seemed an almost nonchalant manner. Then, with a twist of his wrist, he swept past Pedrosa to take the first spot at the podium. The Hondas led the way, maintaining an improbable gap. The fight for position stayed with the rest of the grid, as Andrea Dovizioso fought a good fight with Ben Spies to get a well-deserved 3rd. Cal Crutchlow narrowly missed the Lorenzo-Bautista collision, but it put paid to his podium dreams as he finished 5th. It was the same old story with the Ducatis, as Valentino Rossi started off at a brilliant pace, but soon slipped down the grid because of a rather strange tyre issue. He pitted and returned to the track to finish 13th. Teammate Nicky Hayden held off Hector Barbera to finish 6th.
In many ways, it seemed a mirror of some of the previous races. The only difference was the not-classified list. Avintia Blusens’ young Colombian rider Yonny Hernandez started with a bang battling it out with the top of the CRTs, but crashed six laps in, ending what could have been a fantastic race. Aleix Espargaro, Colin Edwards, and Stefan Bradl joined the not-classified list as well.
But it isn’t the not-classified list or the crashes that make a brilliant race, is it? It’s the sweeping overtakes as the riders hold on to their powerful machines and battle for position. It is about nail-biting finishes that ruin manicures and leave you breathless and high on adrenalin.
I got my wish 24 hours later, as I watched the second WSBK race. My fingers were crossed as Welshman Chaz Davies on his ParkinGO MTC Racing Aprilia climbed steadily from his 8th spot on the grid, even as Eugene Lavarty and Max Biaggi on the two Aprilias fought for the 1st position. Giving them competition was BMW Motorrad Motorsport’s Marco Melandri. It was a four-way fight that was breathtaking (and that is an understatement). A mere 0.484 seconds separated the four riders in the end. They danced a beautiful ballet, tyre-to-tyre, side-by-side, racing up to the first spot and sliding down to the second, or third, or fourth. I screamed, shouted, groaned in despair (Biaggi isn’t a personal favourite), yelped in happiness and generally felt out of breath. It all came down to the final lap, and I still didn’t know who was winning. They changed positions so fast. Laverty led, then it was Biaggi, and then it was Melandri. Suddenly, the roles reversed, and then reversed again. All the while, Chaz Davies hounded them, fighting for a podium spot. Before I knew it though, the 20 laps were up. The chequered flag was out and the winners were in. Melandri got his third win of the season. 0.042 seconds behind was Laverty and right behind him was Davies. Biaggi got the 4th slot followed by Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam, Carlos Checa and then Tom Sykes.
I have to focus on Sykes here for a minute. He has been brilliant in the qualifying, and he rides for the phenomenal Kawasaki team (yes, now you know my personal favourite). His stunning timing on Saturday left his rivals breathless, as he claimed his 6th Superpole and set a new lap record of 1m 56.552secs. Mindblowing! But race 1 saw him fall and lose what seemed to be a sure-fire podium, after Ayrton Badovini lost the front and his bike hit Sykes’ rear wheel. The second race saw him at the 8th position.
Rossi’s greatest rival and Hayden’s former teammate, Biaggi is now leading the 2012 WSBK championship. He has a phenomenal ride in the Aprilia and he is pushing the machine to its maximum. It remains to be seen if current rival Melandri lets Biaggi get away with the crown. Meanwhile, even as Stoner readies for retirement, his buddy Davies is coming into his own. He claimed the World Supersport Champion crown last year. He scored his first-ever podium in the Superbike World Championship this weekend.
And that’s what I find so fascinating about MotoGP and SBK: their shared history and talent. It’s like watching two parts of a whole.