Max Biaggi took the opening victory of the 2012 Superbike World Championship as Carlos Checa's title defence got off to the worst possible start when he crashed out of the lead. The stage was set for a resumption of their 2011 duel in Australia but the Spaniard made a spectacular exit six laps in.
Normal service seemed to have been resumed when Checa smoothly overtook polesitter Tom Sykes to take the lead on lap two with Biaggi following suit a lap later but rounding the final corner on lap six, the rear end of Checa's Ducati stepped out, catapulting him off the bike. Thankfully, the Spaniard walked away unhurt but the path was clear for Biaggi to claim a comfortable win and secure a 25 point head start in the title race.
With the identity of the winner decided early on, the attention shifted the battle for second, led by Sykes but Sylvain Guintoli was piling on the pressure. Teammate Jakub Smrz was also looking to join in the fun but he had fallen victim to a recovering Marco Melandri who had made swift progress from 13th on the grid. By half distance, the quartet were running nose-to-tail.
Despite boasting an apparent straight-line speed advantage, Sykes succumbed to Guintoli on lap 14 as the Frenchman slipped through at turn four. Melandri slipstreamed past the Briton to grab third at the start of the next lap before giving chase to Guintoli, eventually snatching second with five laps remaining.
Sykes held off Smrz for fourth while further back, Jonathan Rea was embroiled in a close fight with Michel Fabrizio for sixth. The BMW Italia rider looked to have sealed the deal after outbraking Rea into turn three on lap 20 but entering the final lap, the Northern Irishman looked as if he might hang on. That remained the case exiting the final corner but the BMW S1000RR just had the legs on the Honda, beating it to the finish line by 0.023s.
Hiroshi Aoyama recovered from a nightmare qualifying session to finish one place behind his teammate while fellow rookie Davide Giugliano took ninth after an eventful debut. The Superstock 1000 champion wasted no time mixing it with the established riders and an over-aggressive move into the MG hairpin pushed Leon Camier onto the grass on lap 18, denying Crescent Fixi Suzuki of any points.
Leon Haslam did salvage some points despite carrying an injury, coming home in 12th, but Eugene Laverty couldn't do the same, pulling into the pits with three laps left to run.