MotoGP veteran Marco Melandri won his first World Superbike leg in his third try by passing Ducati privateer Jakub Smrz on the 22nd of 23 laps in the first race of the European round of the championship at Donington Park in the British East Midlands.The chances of victory didn't look good off the start for Melandri, who made his home in the Midlands for a number of years. The Yamaha factory rider was away ninth, while three Aprilias led the way. But Melandri didn't panic. Instead he patiently made his way through the field until on the 17th lap he passed BMW Motorrad's Leon Haslam for second.By then the Aprilia trio had long since faded Team Effenbert-Liberty Racing's Jakub Smrz, who'd taken the lead on the seventh lap, was up front but soon to slow with a fading rear tire: His final two flying laps would be his slowest.Melandri immediately began chipping away at the lead until he was on the Czech rider on the 21st lap. The Italian made the decisive pass going into the reworked left-right Fogarty Esses at the end of the Dunlop Straight.With clear sailing ahead, Melandri sped away to win his first World Superbike race by 2.455 seconds.

Althea Racing Ducati's Carlos Checa, the double-winner in the Phillip Island season-opener, was the same gap back in third and retains the championship lead. Heading into this afternoon's second leg the Spaniard has 66 points to 55 for Melandri. Another Grand Prix veteran, Alitalia Aprilia's Max Biaggi, is third with 49 points.Defending World Champion Biaggi ended the race in seventh at the back of a three-rider fight for fifth. BMW Motorrad's Leon Haslam was the top-placing Brit in fourth,.34 of a second behind Checa. Then a gap of nearly three seconds to Castrol Honda's Jonathan Rea, who was fifth ahead of PATA Racing Team Aprilia's Nori Haga, with Biaggi seventh. The Rea-Haga-Biaggi threesome was covered by less than a second.Alitalia Aprilia's Leon Camier, who'd earlier been in the battle for fifth, faded at the end and just held off BMW Motorrad's Troy Corser for eighth.Kawasaki's Joan Lascorz was the lone Kawasaki finisher in 10th. Teammate and third fastest qualifier Tom Sykes crashed on the 18th lap, and Chris Vermeulen, who continues to recover from last year's devastating knee injury, opted not to race after qualifying 3.5 seconds off the pace.Sykes was one of four non-finishers - the others were Alstare Suzuki's Michel Fabrizio, Melandri's teammate Eugene Laverty, and Ducati-mounted Maxime Berger - to go with 15 finishers.

Race One:

1. Marco Melandri (Yamaha)

2. Jakub Smrz (Ducati)

3. Carlos Checa (Ducati)

4. Leon Haslam (BMW)

5. Jonathan Rea (Honda)

6. Nori Haga (Aprilia)

7. Max Biaggi (Aprilia)

8. Leon Camier (Aprilia)

9. Troy Corser (BMW)

10. Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki)

 

World Superbike Headlines

By Cycle News Staff

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