What was shaping up to be an exciting finish to the 2012 World Superbike Championship quickly came unraveled at the penultimate round held at Portimao, Portugal, as Max Biaggi persevered to finish both races well in the points while his two closest rivals both suffered DNFs that hurt their chances significantly. BMW’s Marco Melandri, who had led the title points chase before suffering a double DNF at the previous Nurburgring round, was looking to put himself back in the hunt when an aggressive pass attempt ended up putting him on the ground in Race One, and subsequently out of Race Two due to his injuries. This put Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes—who took the victory in Race One at Portimao—in with a good chance at giving Biaggi a fight for the title, but an engine problem took him out of Race Two while running third.
Heavy morning rains meant the WSBK field would be starting on a wet but drying Portimao racetrack for Race One, and tire selection would play a crucial role in the proceedings. It took but just more than half a lap for Melandri’s title hopes to go pear-shaped when he tried an aggressive move on Biaggi on the exit of Turn 11 while battling for fourth behind Biaggi’s teammate Eugene Laverty, Honda World Superbike’s Jonathan Rea, and Carlos Checa on his Althea Racing Ducati. Biaggi and Melandri made contact, with Melandri ending up on the losing side of the collision and going down; Melandri’s bike ended up taking out Checa’s teammate Davide Giugliano, while Melandri himself ended up sliding into the path of ParkinGO Aprilia’s Chaz Davies, who had nowhere to go and ended up smacking into Melandri before he could stop. Melandri was taken to the local Portimao hospital with a suspected bruised kidney, ruling him out of the second race and out of the championship chase for the most part.
The confusion resulting from the Melandri/Biaggi incident allowed the leading four—including Biaggi, who managed to stay upright—to gap the rest of the field. Biaggi then began making moves to the front, eventually taking the lead on lap seven, but it was all for naught, as the World Superbike race was eventually red-flagged due to oil on the track.
The resulting 16-lap restart at Portimao saw Biaggi grab the lead, but he was soon swallowed up by a charging Sykes, who quickly began pulling away. As the track dried, however, both Sykes’ and Biaggi’s pace began to fade, allowing the Ducatis of Checa and PATA Racing’s Sylvain Guintoli to catch up. Biaggi fell back to fourth behind the Ducati pair, and Checa was soon on the tail of the fading Sykes. The Spaniard couldn’t find a way past the Kawasaki rider though, as Sykes used his bike’s speed advantage to keep Checa at bay for the victory.
This put Sykes as the main rival to Biaggi for the World Superbike championship, with the British rider trailing Biaggi by 14.5 points. Race Two was run in dry conditions, and the start saw the Kawasaki man mixing it up with Laverty and FIXI Crescent Suzuki’s Leon Camier at the start, and with Biaggi behind, the race was shaping up to be an exciting affair. That all came apart on the second lap as smoke began billowing out Sykes’ Kawasaki, forcing race officials to black-flag him out of the race. With Laverty well out front and his chief rivals out of the race, Biaggi put it on cruise control and let Rea by for second. However, Camier soon caught Biaggi as well, and when the Suzuki rider shot for a gap that closed up quicker than he thought, the pair collided; luckily, both stayed upright, but Camier’s challenge for the podium would soon end with a mechanical issue.
Biaggi’s third place, coupled with his fourth place in Race One and the unfortunate DNF by Sykes in Race Two, puts him 30.5 points ahead of the Kawasaki rider with just one round (two races) left in the championship when the World Superbike field gathers up for the final time at Magny Cours, France in two weeks’ time.
World Superbike Portimao Race One results:
1. Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki
2. Carlos Checa (SPA) Ducati
3. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Ducati
4. Max Biaggi (ITA) Aprilia
5. Brett McCormick (CAN) Ducati
6. Jonathan Rea (GBR) Honda
7. Loris Baz (FRA) Kawasaki
8. Hiroshi Aoyama (JPN) Honda
9. Ayrton Badovini (ITA) BMW
10. Michel Fabrizio (ITA) BMW
12. John Hopkins (USA) Suzuki
DNF Marco Melandri (ITA) BMW
World Superbike Portimao Race Two results:
1. Eugene Laverty (IRL) Aprilia
2. Jonathan Rea (GBR) Honda
3. Max Biaggi (ITA) Aprilia
4. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Ducati
5. Carlos Checa (SPA) Ducati
6. Ayrton Badovini (ITA) BMW
7. Loris Baz (FRA) Kawasaki
8. Michel Fabrizio (ITA) BMW
9. Brett McCormick (CAN) Ducati
10. Lorenzo Lanzi (ITA) Ducati
11. John Hopkins (USA) Suzuki
DNF Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki
DNS Marco Melandri (ITA) BMW