Max Biaggi has become the first Italian to win the World Superbike title, snaring the championship on home soil at Imola on Sunday.
But it was far from a routine crowning for motorcycle racing’s Mr Durable, with the 39-year-old made to work hard for his success.
Biaggi began the day with a grinding 11th place on the fast and bumpy layout, and in race two just when it seemed the championship would be kept on ice until the final round in France this weekend, the Suzuki of major competitor Leon Haslam expired.
Biaggi crossed the finish line in fifth position, and now holds an unassailable 63-point lead over Haslam ahead of Magny-Cours’ season finale this weekend.
“I’m so happy, it’s a big emotion through all my body,” said Biaggi. “There are tough riders out there; they are all fast and this championship is very competitive. I had so many problems in race one: off the track, on the track, the bike sideways, but I didn’t crash.
“For sure we didn’t get the best setup here at Imola, but I never stopped trying. In race two we changed the bike and I attacked from the first lap. This is a really great day for me, for all my team, for Aprilia Alitalia, my sponsors, everyone who supported us to make this dream come true. We really made it happen.”
Biaggi is now the 13th WSBK champion since 1988, and the first European winner since Frenchman Raymond Roche in 1990.
It’s also Biaggi’s fifth career world motorcycling championship after dominating the 250cc Grand Prix class from 1994-1997.
Both races at Imola were won by red-hot Spaniard Carlos Checa (Ducati), who was fastest in regulation qualifying before being shuffled back down the grid in a very wet Superpole session – where Tom Sykes upstaged everyone to claim Kawasaki’s first pole position since 2007.
Australia’s Troy Corser (BMW) struggled in both 21-lap races to finish 15th and 11th.
“It’s been a really hard weekend for us,” said Corser. “We have had some issues with our setup, and that has hindered us today. We made two good starts and when the bike was gripping everything was working well. Sadly once the grip levels dropped off, I just couldn’t do the lap times.
“I was struggling to get the bike to do what I wanted it to do. We must work hard over the next few days to ensure we improve in time for Magny- Cours.”
In race one, Biaggi and Haslam were locked together on the last lap before Haslam ran off the circuit and eventually finished fifth. That gifted second spot to local rider Lorenzo Lanzi, with Noriyuki Haga making it a Ducati trifecta ahead of Jakub Smrz (Aprilia).
Sykes was a long-time leader before fading to sixth, but the Briton is still building a strong case for Kawasaki to keep him on its books for next year alongside Australian Chris Vermeulen.
In race two, Checa’s clinical 2.129sec victory over Haga saw him rocket to 274pts, just 14 behind third-placed Jonathan Rea (Honda), who didn’t compete after fracturing his collarbone and wrist the day before.
Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow snapped the Ducati domination of the top places with third in race two, ahead of Sykes and the euphoric Biaggi.
There was high drama on the last lap of World Supersport, with long-time leaders Kenan Sofuoglu and Eugene Laverty colliding at the final chicane, and the Triumph of Chaz Davies also expiring.
That allowed Michelle Pirro to catapult from fourth to first to claim a highly improbable victory, with Sofuoglu and Laverty restarting their Hondas to finish second and third ahead of Australia’s Broc Parkes (Kawasaki). Another Australian, Mark Aitchison (Honda), was seventh.
In the points ahead of the Magny-Cours climax, Sofuoglu now has 243 points to Laverty’s 227.