Memory Games: WSBK, the 2012 Season
Sunday dawns and I look around nervously, glancing at the clock, waiting for 5.30pm. Then, I stop, sigh a big, sad sigh and walk away from the television.
Youtube is my new best friend. I watch races on repeat again, and again, and then again.
The countdown clock on my computer doesn’t believe in the Mayan calendar. It believes in February, the start of the 2013 WorldSBK season.
And I tend to relive every moment of the season past, on a loop, like I am stuck in the Twilight Zone. And I actually enjoy it.
Yes, I am an addict and I have no hope. It sort of becomes more apparent during winter, when the motorsports world is on an extended holiday.
If you are anything like me, then join me on this trip down the 2012 lane. It was anything but boring. Instead, WSBK celebrated its 25th anniversary with a season that saw the rise of new stars; it saw redemption, hope, perseverance and courage of the sort we haven’t seen before. After all, this was the first time since 2008 that we saw 9 different winners through the season.
We saw the return of the Green Ninja, rising above adversity and becoming a championship contender. Kawasaki, the team that has seen only a rare, one-off podium finish in the last 10 years until now. The season began with hope. Kawasaki had on board two talented, young riders slated to set the track on fire. Then, at Imola during testing, Joan Lascorz crashed. His future is uncertain as he now tries to put his life back in place, recovering from a spinal injury. His teammate Tom Sykes rose to the occasion, as the team reeled from news that Lascorz would never race again. Sykes scored 9 super-poles, a stunning feat and the third all-time value for a single season. Ben Spies holds the record with 11 poles in 2009. Then, there was the nail-biting final race of 2012 at Magny-Cours, France. Max Biaggi was leading, but by the thinnest of all margins. Sykes was pushing for a championship win. In his bright yellow helmet – a dedication to Lascorz – he raced his heart out on the track, missing the crown by a mere 0.5 points. This was perhaps the closest finish in the history of the championship.
An emotional Max Biaggi entered the pits and slumped down, hugging his wife. He had won only five of 28 races, but became the oldest champion at 41 years. Later in the year, he announced that he would be hanging up his leathers and retiring.
But new stars rose this season, threatening the old guard, ready to take their place in the spotlight. Chief among them was Chaz Davies who was crowned Supersport champion in 2011. We saw the spark in Aragon, Spain as he took his first podium finish in the championship. Then came victory at the second race in Nürburgring. It was a phenomenal run at the Green Hell. Watch him next year.
Loris Baz though, wasn’t far behind. He stood in for Lascorz, joining Kawasaki at Donington Park. Four rounds later, he grabbed a 3rd place at Brno, then stunned the Paddock and everyone else when he took victory and a 2nd place at Silverstone. The 20-year-old will continue to race Green in 2013. But there was heartbreak too. Marco Melandri was a title contender, but a series of mistakes left the BMW rider disappointed. He will be seeking redemption and looking at fixing his mistakes in 2013.
The year of 2012 was a season from hell for John Hopkins who will be on a sabbatical next year to rest and heal. Like John Hopkins, the FIXI Crescent Suzuki rider was plagued with injuries this season. But unlike Melandri, Hopkins is taking a sabbatical to heal. “I have really struggled with my hip since the crash at Monza, and I know that it is a priority to get my health sorted before I can even think about racing again,” he told WorldSBK.com. “I didn’t want to pledge myself to the FIXI Crescent Suzuki team for 2013, and then not be able to give 100%, because the injury is a constant worry, so although this is a difficult decision it is the correct one,” he said.
Hopkins went through six surgeries for a hand injury that finally led to the amputation of a finger. He broke the same hand six weeks later. He returned to race at Imola and then crashed at Monza. The frightening high-side crash led to a severe hip injury. He told WorldSBK.com, “I still have the desire and passion to race against the world’s best riders, but every time I have pumped myself up to go for it this season, the hip has quickly and painfully reminded me that I need to be careful – and that’s no way to go racing.” Here’s wishing him a quick recovery and hoping we see him back on track soon!
The season also introduced us to Moscow. The year of 2013 however will see SBK come home, to my side of the world. The second race of the season is scheduled for March at the Buddh International Circuit. Excitement is already in the air. Plans are afoot. Joining SBK will be the first Indian super sport team with Mahi Racing Team. The Kawasaki-backed team have 2012 Supersport Champion Kenan Sofuoglu and Fabien Foret racing for them. We don’t have very long to go. February is around the corner and soon, in March, the Buddh International Circuit will resound with the growl of the super bikes. 2013 promises so much!