WSBK: Checa returns to Imola...but not as a racer

Forced to retire because of hip injury sustained in crash last year, former World Superbike Champion Carlos Checa is comfortable in retirement

Time heals several things, but not the speed fever. As someone grows older, the body may soften, reflexes may decline, but the passion for riding – and racing – is often immortal. Former WSBK champion Carlos Checa knows it first-hand. The retired Ducati rider-turned-brand-ambassador resurfaced in the WSBK paddock, where he paid a visit during the fourth round of the championship in Imola. His elegant demeanor and friendly smile have not changed. The only visible aesthetic difference from last year when he suffered a career-ending hip injury was a few extra white hairs. Psychologically, however, the Spaniard is not nearly the same as the old charging bull who enjoyed a second youth on production bikes after a long stint with prototypes.

"As far as I'm concerned, a racing career resembles a book, and mine has reached the final page," said Checa, commenting on the upcoming tests in Mugello scheduled for former colleagues and rivals Max Biaggi and Troy Bayliss. "That said, I'm not judging whoever is keen to resume riding at high levels. It's just me, and I no longer have the motivation and enthusiasm necessary to test and develop a bike. After so many years, racing is part of my DNA, but I would only do it for fun."

At the age of 41, Checa is enjoying a "buen retiro" (happy retirement), keeping himself busy with many hobbies and still conducting an active life. Still, practicing sports for fun is radically different from competing officially. "Training to be a racer is much harder than what it may seem from looking at pictures or a TV," he added. "I haven't been on track since I quit, even though I've been enjoying riding my Ducati Diavel and trials bikes. The instinct is still there, but I no longer have the mentality to go back in full swing. You only live once, and there are many new things for me to discover. The opportunity to observe the racing world from an outside perspective is mentally stimulating, and it is more than enough for me."

Not surprisingly, Checa is keeping a close eye on the championship that granted him his sole world title in 2011. "I went to Jerez last week-end for MotoGP, but the WSBK paddock is like a second home for me, and the people I've worked with are like family. I think Tom Sykes is still the number one favorite, but Marco Melandri and Sylvain Guintoli have lots of potential as well. Clearly, in my heart I'm cheering for Ducati riders. The Panigale has improved a lot this year, both with the engine and electronics. Both Davide (Giugliano) and Chaz (Davies) look really comfortable on the bike."

As, some might say, he does in plain clothes. While his old, usual attire comprised of leathers and helmet is collecting some dust in the closet – the injured hip still hinders his overall mobility – Checa has been experimenting with a different kind of thrill.

"I'm in the process of getting a (pilot’s) license to fly light aircraft," he confessed. "I'm taking the exam on Monday, but Melandri (who shares the same passion) is already pushing me to fly together (laughs). It feels weird, after all these years on track, to come back and relive all the successes and failures, all the lessons I've learned and all the people I've met. I realized I've established some pretty strong ties."

Those bonds, as shown by the tokens of affection from the public and insiders, are more than likely to last for quite a while, with or without Checa's presence on track. After all, being a racer is a life-long affair.