The World Superbike Championship saved the best until last, although the newly crowned world champion, Troy Bayliss, would not necessarily be the first to agree. A spectacular crash on the penultimate lap of a captivating penultimate race of the season left the Australian reflecting on his title with a fractured collarbone.
Bayliss, sporting a silvery livery and wearing black leathers to commemorate the achievements of the Ducati rider Paul Smart in the first ever race for superbike-style production bikes, staged at Imola in 1972, was involved in a three-way battle for the lead with Ruben Xaus and Regis Laconi.
Exiting the Rivazza final bend, Bayliss ran wide, lost control and, despite a desperate attempt to control the twitching Ducati with an outstretched foot, crashed directly in front of the hapless Laconi. The Frenchman was momentarily trapped underneath his Aprilia as the combined human and mechanical debris hurtled into the air fence.
Although Bayliss was clearly hurt, the two men flopped into an embrace derived from sheer relief. Unaware of the drama, Xaus pressed on regardless in his inimitable frantic style to confirm Ducati's faith in a raw talent who has been retained for next season.
The season's final race was no less dramatic. This time Troy Corser provided the spectacle, somersaulting through the Villeneuve chicane and causing Colin Edwards to run into the gravel and, subsequently, out of the race. Corser avoided serious injury and his team-mate, Laconi, amazingly capitalised on his own earlier escape to clinch his first win, crossing the line two hundredths of a second before Xaus.
Neil Hodgson saw all hopes of clinching fourth place in the championship disappear when he ran wide on lap two of the first race and finished 10th, before gaining just three places in the afternoon. His team-mate, James Toseland, missed the second race after being taken to hospital as a precautionary measure following a fall on the final lap of race one.Reuse content