Max Biaggi needs just twenty points from the final two races to clinch his second Superbike World Championship after a dramatic weekend at Portimao. The Aprilia rider was unable to win either race but a mixture of bad luck and bad judgement virtually ruled his two rivals out of the title fight.
The opening race got underway on a heavily sodden track and Marco Melandri was caught out instantly. After his double DNF at the Nurburgring, the BMW rider would have been excused a little caution but a first lap move on Biaggi left him on the floor, taking Chaz Davies and Davide Giugliano out of the race with him. After crashing in front of Davies, Melandri was also struck in the back by the ParkinGO Aprilia, thankfully at low speed, but the subsequent injuries sidelined him for the rest of the day.
Biaggi escaped the chaos but he wasn’t out of the woods yet. An oil spillage brought out the red flags, leading to a shortened race, and Biaggi’s other challenger Tom Sykes claimed maximum points after fending off Carlos Checa. Sylvain Guintoli took third while a cautious Biaggi finished fourth, narrowly pipping Canadian rookie Brett McCormick and Honda’s Jonathan Rea on the last lap.
The momentum seemed to with Sykes having closed the gap to 14.5 points but Biaggi received another slice of luck early in race two when the Kawasaki suffered a rare engine failure while Sykes was running second. Biaggi was therefore able to finish a safe third and watch his teammate Eugene Laverty take a well-deserved win ahead of Rea.
Sykes is now the nearest challenger to Biaggi ahead of the season finale at Magny Cours but with a 30.5 point deficit, the Yorkshireman will need plenty of help from elsewhere to snatch the title. He wasn’t too downhearted afterwards though and will at least make sure the fight goes down to the wire.
“We have had some good luck today and also had some bad luck. Obviously on the good luck side in race one, in the first start, we were really struggling. We made two big changes to the bike after the red flag so on the restart it was a different motorcycle and I was able to do what I wanted with it. I felt more comfortable. So a big thanks to the team and Kawasaki for the snap decision to make those changes.”
“I was feeling confident for race two because we had done a lot of work this weekend and I definitely felt we could have had a very strong race. Honestly I felt I could have been top two in that second race, or maybe even better, but it is what it is. Everybody has seen today what happens in racing. Melandri has been relatively on the pace this weekend and through a change of luck of his own he went out of two races. So anything and everything can happen. We had a win in race one, we had problems in race two, and that is what happens sometimes. We are racing at a very high level and sometimes you get dealt this card. I accept it even though it is hard to take having got to within 14.5 points of the lead after race one. I felt I could have reduced that gap again. But it was not to be, so what can you do? We got to France next, pick up where we left off and try to have a strong weekend.”
Four consecutive non-scores have destroyed Melandri’s challenge with the agony of losing points adding to the obvious physical pain, he now lies 38.5 points back.
“Once more it was a very bad day for me. When Max Biaggi passed me I kept my inside line and I did not really see him. I just felt somebody touch the front of my bike and I went down and I felt something hitting my back. I was very worried about my back, my kidney and liver because it hurt very bad. Fortunately everything is okay. Now it is a bit better because I took a lot of painkillers, but I still don’t feel very well.”
The title will ultimately be decided in two weeks time with Biaggi knowing that second place in race one will wrap up the championship while Sykes and Melandri simply must win, and even that may not be enough.