A change of tire compound along with a brave overtake on the penultimate lap turned a 3rd place in race 1 to a 4th victory for Althea Ducati’s Carlos Checa in the 3rd round of the World Superbike Championship yesterday at Assen, Netherlands. Defending champ Max Biaggi twice took second while Castrol Honda’s Jonathan Rea took his 3rd successive Assen victory in race 1.
Checa kept his perfect pole record intact despite looking like he might struggle during the free and qualifying practice sessions. Tire choice would turn out to be especially important at Assen. In the first race only 3 riders used the soft option which saw Tom Sykes up at the pointy end until it went off rapidly dropping him way back down the field.
Rea ran a perfect race to take his 3rd victory in a row at Assen for Race 1 with Max Biaggi second and Checa unable to challenge for the lead with the hard tire taking a safe 3rd. In the second race, Checa was confident enough to try the soft option and he used it to good effect winning the race with a penultimate lap overtake of Biaggi into the final chicane ahead of the start/finish line.
Checa 3rd & 1st:-“The beginning of race 1 was difficult; I didn’t have enough grip and so some of my rivals were able to get past me. Then I really had to push to make up lost ground. I tried to stay clam and maintain my rhythm and was able to get in front of the second group, but to reach Max and Johnny wsa just too difficult. They already had an advantage because I had lost time getting past Laverty. I happily accept the result however, a positive end that gives us important championship points. Then for Race 2 we decided to change tyre and so, with the softer solution, I had more grip and could maintain a strong pace right from the start. I wanted to push at the beginning and try to build a gap between me and Max but he stayed with me, putting me under pressure. When I made a small mistake and he passed me in the final stages, I was able to see that he was having some tyre trouble. I got back past him and took the win, a result that is surprising but fantastic. At Monza we will try to defend our position as best we can, knowing that it will be a very tough track for us.”
The other Ducatis in the field didn’t fare as well with Effenbert Libery Ducati’s Jakub Smrz taking out injured teammate Sylvain Guintoli after a poor start from the front row of the grid. The pair finished 9th and 10th behind Noriyuki Haga in the second race. Maxime Berger failed to finish race 1 on his Supersonic Ducati but managed 13th in race 2, this time with both wheels!
Checa consolidated his lead in part because he has many rivals who are not proving very consistent over the opening rounds of the season. MotoGP refugee, Marco Melandri crashed out of the second race whilst Leon Haslam also had a poor meeting. As a result, Carlos is now 43 points ahead of Biaggi (Max had an appalling Donington round) with Melandri a further 4 points adrift.
RESULTS: Race 1 – 1. Rea (Honda); 2. Biaggi (Aprilia); 3. Checa (Ducati). Race 2 – 1. Checa (Ducati); 2. Biaggi (Aprilia); 3. Rea (Honda)
CLASSIFICATION: Riders – 1. Checa (Ducati) 132; 2. Biaggi (Aprilia) 89; 3. Melandri (Yamaha) 85; 4. Reaa (Honda) 79; 5. Haslam (BMW) 68; 6. Camier (Aprilia) 50; 7. Smrz (Ducati) 49; 8. Fabrizio (Suzuki) 47
Despite the excellent results the team are concerned about the next round at Monza (May 8th), a circuit that rewards horsepower, something the Ducati lacks compared with their 4 cylinder rivals. Even at Assen, Biaggi appeared to be able to blast by on the back straight at will.