Aprilia veteran Max Biaggi took his second World Superbike title at in the final race of the season at Magny Cours on Sunday with the closest ever finish in the history of the series - half a point!
Biaggi did just enough to head off Kawasaki rider Tom Sykes' late-season charge by finishing fifth in Race 2, after crashing out of a wet Race 1, which opened a window of opportunity for Sykes and Race 1 second-place finisher Marco Melandri (BMW)
But Melandri crashed out in spectacular style in Race 2, so it was down to Sykes to make the running, and he did it in style to notch up his fourth race win of the year. Biaggi, however, working on pit signals from his crew, worked his way just far enough up the field to take the championship.
He now two World Superbike titles, 21 race wins, 70 podiums and five pole positions to his credit, as well as the four 250cc Grand Prix World titles he scored in the 1990s.
He said: “This is the fourth world championship out of six that I have won at the final race - I seem to like difficult challenges! We started well with a win at Phillip Island with a new team but we also had some difficult moments and we had to work hard to win this title, and maybe for that reason it feels even better.”
Biaggi ended the season on 358 points to Sykes' 357.5 and Melandri's 328.5. Aprilia also won the Manufacturers' championship by 23.5 points, from BMW.
An amazing start to the day saw Biaggi tumble out on lap two while his two remaining championship rivals, Melandri and Sykes, scored podiums for second and third respectively and privateer Ducati rider Sylvain Guintoli continued his David-and-Goliath act with a clear six-second win - his third of the year.
He said: “What a race - it's been a great weekend for me. Obviously with a wet race I knew I had a big chance, then got into my rhythm. When Marco came past it woke me up and I found some extra pace and then managed to pass Tom. I'm really happy to win at home in France after this crazy season with lots of ups and downs.”
Sykes did all he could in Race 2, taking an impressive win by just 1.354 seconds, despite pressure from behind for the 23 laps, on a largely dry circuit track. Jonathan Rea (Honda) was second and Guintoli third.
Biaggi's team mate Eugene Laverty was fourth, but Melandri crashed out, while Maxime Berger made it a happy day for the French with fourth on his privateer Ducati.
Sykes said afterwards: “It's difficult to accept that half a point separates us after a whole season, but that's all credit to World Superbike and how close it is.
“Max did a great job, but for me and my season I'm very happy, everybody gave me a full package to do something with here - and we took pole position, a new circuit record and two podiums!”
Jules Cluzel (Honda) took his fourth win of the year at Magny Cours as he made the best of a wet track and then a drying line around the 4.411km circuit. The French rider underlined his second place in the championship with Sam Lowes (Honda) third overall in the points after finishing second on the day.
Third place at Magny Cours eventually went to Dan Linfoot (Kawasaki) after he was knocked off by an attempted pass from new champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki). Linfoot restarted to finish fourth but Sofuoglu was penalised 25 seconds, reversing their positions.
The South African riders battled in the difficult conditions. Mathew Scholtz (Honda) impressed with a fighting seventh, just behind Alex Baldolini's Triumph Daytona and less than a tenth of a second ahead of Andrea Antonelli (Yamaha), but Sheridan Morais had to work hard for 14th place and Ronan Quarmby trailed home in 26th after running off the circuit.
Sofuoglu finished the season on 231 points, with Cluzel on 210, Lowes on 172 and former champion Fabien Foret (Kawasaki) on 171.
Sylvain Barrier (BMW) survived a wet track and the pressure of racing for the championship at his home round to finish second at Magny Cours and claim an emphatic championship win.
Compatriot Jeremy Guarnoni (Kawasaki) rode with confidence and pace in the wet to win the race, but main championship challenger Eddi La Marra (Ducati) crashed early on and lost his chance to get back into the race.
Another potential champion, Bryan Staring (Kawasaki) fell early in the race but got going again and put in a charging ride to finish fifth on the day and fourth in the championship.
Cape Town's David 'McFlash' McFadden (Kawasaki) crashed out in Turn 12 on the very first lap, Nicholas Grobler dumped his ZX-10R in at the same place four laps later and newly-crowned (for the third time in a row!) SA Superbike champion Greg Gildenhuys, on a one-off ride on the works BMW, went down five laps from the end in Turn 13.
The final points read Barrier 153, La Marra 130, Guarnoni 123 and Staring 122.
RESULTS - RACE 1
1 Sylvain Guintoli (France) Ducati 1098R - 44min06.299
2 Marco Melandri (Italy) BMW S1000 RR +6.127sec
3 Tom Sykes (Britain) Kawasaki ZX-10R +16.595
4 Maxime Berger (France) Ducati 1098R +21.857
5 Leon Haslam (Britain) BMW S1000 RR +25.149
6 Ayrton Badovini (Italy) BMW S1000 RR +32.778
7 Eugene Laverty (Ireland) Aprilia RSV4 Factory +34.311
8 Davide Giugliano (Italy) Ducati 1098R +47.269
9 Claudio Corti (Italy) Kawasaki ZX-10R +49.720
10 Loris Baz (France) Kawasaki ZX-10R +50.192
11 Norino Brignola (Italy) BMW S1000 RR +1 lap
12 Michel Fabrizio (Italy) BMW S1000 RR +2 laps
13 Jonathan Rea (Britain) Honda CBR1000RR +5 laps
1 Tom Sykes (Britain) Kawasaki ZX-10R - 38min15.725
2 Jonathan Rea (Britain) Honda CBR1000RR +1.354sec
3 Sylvain Guintoli (France) Ducati 1098R +2.393
4 Eugene Laverty (Ireland) Aprilia RSV4 Factory +13.122
5 Max Biaggi (Italy) Aprilia RSV4 Factory +13.955
6 Davide Giugliano (Italy) Ducati 1098R +18.229
7 Carlos Checa (Spain) Ducati 1098R +18.430
8 Chaz Davies (Britain) Aprilia RSV4 Factory +26.648
9 Ayrton Badovini (Italy) BMW S1000 RR +33.809
10 Leon Camier (Britain) Suzuki GSX-R1000 +37.217
11 Maxime Berger (France) Ducati 1098R +38.871
12 Claudio Corti (Italy) Kawasaki ZX-10R +55.714
13 Lorenzo Zanetti (Italy) Ducati 1098R +57.621
14 Hiroshi Aoyama (Japan) Honda CBR1000RR +1min05.487
15 Norino Brignola (Italy) BMW S1000 RR +1lap
POINTS (after 14 of 14 rounds)
1 Max Biaggi (Italy) Aprilia RSV4 Factory - 358
2 Tom Sykes (Britain) Kawasaki ZX-10R - 357.5
3 Marco Melandri (Italy) BMW S1000 RR - 328.5
4 Carlos Checa (Spain) Ducati 1098R - 287.5
5 Jonathan Rea (Britain) Honda CBR1000RR - 278.5
6 Eugene Laverty (Ireland) Aprilia RSV4 Factory - 263.5
7 Sylvain Guintoli (France) Ducati 1098R - 213.5
8 Leon Haslam (Britain) BMW S1000 RR - 200
9 Chaz Davies (Britain) Aprilia RSV4 Factory - 164.5
10 Davide Giugliano (Italy) Ducati 1098R - 143
1 Jules Cluzel (France) Honda CBR600RR - 42min20.985
2 Sam Lowes (Britain) Honda CBR600RR +1.591sec
3 Dan Linfoot (Britain) Kawasaki ZX-6R +27.615
4 Kenan Sofouglu (Turkey) Kawasaki ZX-6R +27.854
5 Fabien Foret (France) Kawasaki ZX-6R +31.601
6 Alex Baldolini (Italy) Triumph Daytona 675 +46.745
7 Mathew Scholtz (South Africa) Honda CBR600RR +50.820
8 Andrea Antonelli (Italy) Yamaha R6 +50.934
9 Gabor Talmacsi (Hungary) Honda CBR600RR +53.090
10 Jed Metcher (Australia) Yamaha R6 +55.664
14 Sheridan Morais (South Africa) Kawasaki ZX-6R +1min16.824
26 Ronan Quarmby (South Africa) Honda CBR600RR +1 lap
POINTS (after 13 of 13 rounds)
1 Kenan Sofuoglu (Turkey) Kawasaki ZX-6R - 231
2 Jules Cluzel (France) Honda CBR600RR - 210
3 Sam Lowes (Britain) Honda CBR600RR - 172
4 Fabien Foret (France) Kawasaki ZX-6R - 171
5 Broc Parkes (Australia) Honda CBR600RR - 135
6 Sheridan Morais (South Africa) Kawasaki ZX-6R - 96
7 Alex Baldolini (Italy) Triumph Daytona 675 - 96
8 Ronan Quarmby (South Africa) Honda CBR600RR - 84
9 Vittorio Iannuzzo (Italy) Triumph Daytona 675 - 60
10 Andrea Antonelli (Italy) Yamaha R6 - 60
1 Jeremy Guarnoni (France) Kawasaki ZX-10R - 28min12.230
2 Sylvain Barrier (France) BMW S1000RR +9.862sec
3 Lorenzo Savadori (Italy) Ducati 1198R +20.703
4 Mathieu Lussiana (France) Kawasaki ZX-10R +34.445
5 Bryan Staring (Australia) Kawasaki ZX-10R +37.916
6 Christoffer Bergman (Sweden) Kawasaki ZX-10R +39.886
7 Ondrej Jezek (Czech Republic) Ducati 1098R +43.775
8 Julien Millet (France) Kawasaki ZX-10R +49.227
9 R Pagaud (France) Kawasaki ZX-10R +49.678
10 Markus Reiterberger (Germany) BMW S1000RR +19.708