Haga strikes in race one battle
10 July 2000
Noriyuki Haga showed the world why is simply had to race at Laguna Seca with a typically spectacular victory in race one.
Noriyuki Haga took just five laps to justify his Yamaha team's decision to take his suspension appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport therefore allowing him to race at Laguna Seca this weekend. In a race where some of the excitement was lost by the American Superbike regulars not being able to compete, Haga laid on a fantastic display of precision and skill to take his third 'official' win of the year.
The signs had been there all weekend for the opposition, Haga looking smooth and untested during qualifying and still put the West sponsored YZF-R7 machine on the front row of the grid. The Japanese rider was revelling on his Dunlop tyres, the same rubber with which he won a race at Laguna Seca in 1998.
Away from the start, all the front row starters got a decent run down to the first corner, recently dubbed the Andretti hairpin. Colin Edwards really got the drop with his Honda, moving across on pole man Troy Bayliss on the descent to the tight first turn while Frankie Chili endured a lurid moment as his back wheel snaked from side to side, costing him third place which was gratefully received by Haga.
All 23 riders got around the first turn without hassle and as the field snakes its way up the hill towards the corkscrew Haga pulled out from behind Bayliss to take second place away from the Ducati.
A lap later Haga made his move, slicing down the inside of the steep downhill section of the track known as the 'Rainey' curves after the American Wayne Rainey who lost the use of his legs at this track in 1994.
Haga's lead lasted all of two corners as Edwards forced the Yamaha rider slightly off line as they entered the last hairpin, allowing the Honda rider alongside the leader as they crossed the start/finish line and back into the lead by the first turn. Behind these two Bayliss was keeping a close watching brief while Chili had dropped away to the tune of a second a lap and was in obvious discomfort with his collarbone.
On lap three, Haga pulled the same daredevil manoeuvre on Edwards in exactly the same place, forcing the front tyre of the Yamaha to the inside of the corner while Edwards used the camber of the track to take up the normal line towards the outside of the tarmac. This time the Yamaha rider made the move stick, breaking as late as possible into the final hairpin, not allowing Edwards to stick his nose infront as the two turned in..
Also on the move in the early stages were Troy Corser and Ben Bostrom. Both had moved past a fast starting Akira Yanagawa with Bostrom out gunning Aaron Slight going up the hill on lap three. They settled into fifth and sixth places behind Chili while the remainder of the top ten was made up by Yanagawa, Slight, Katsuaki Fujiwara and Peter Goddard.
Sensational in qualifying he may have been, but Troy Bayliss' lack of racing experience at Laguna was already beginning to show. The Australian looked ill at ease on his Ducati and wasn't embracing the most challenging corners as were those with more experience of the track. On lap eight and with a charging Corser on his tail, Bayliss lost the front of the Ducati on the entry to Turn 5, the sharp left hander at the base of the hill, and went skating into the gravel trap, fortunately with no personal harm. Somehow the closely following Corser managed to avoid the tumbling Ducati and continued unabated, now in third place.
Bostrom was also on the move, the American rider using his extensive circuit knowledge to follow Corser past the ailing Frankie Chili moments after Bayliss went down. The Australian and the American then set about catching the two leaders who had already pulled out a one second lead, Edwards quite content to sit behind Haga.
In the absence of several of the more competitive WSB privateers and Alessandro Antonello on the second factory Aprilia, the field looked somewhat thin behind the top half dozen bikes or so. Slight and Fujiwara continued to battle gamely for seventh with Goddard and Giovanni Bussei hotly disputing ninth position. The Australian had been tailing the second Suzuki until his tyres began to go off at an alarming rate, sending the Kawasaki plummeting down the order.
Goddard's place in the top ten therefore went to Juan Borja, the Spaniard making slow progress from the fourth row of the grid after his Superpole crash. The remainder of the field had become fairly strung out and trailed the leaders by well over 20 seconds after just ten laps. Haruchika Aoki, having a quiet run on the R&D Bieffe Ducati, followed Borja with Andy Meklau, Marco Borciani, Lucio Pedercini and Lance Isaacs all following along at regular intervals. Lone wildcard rider Larry Pegram had been mixing it with the above group on his Competition Accessories Ducati until a serious tyre problem dropped him out of contention. Aside from Bayliss, the only other two retirees during the first dozen laps had been Vittoriano Guareschi on the second factory Yamaha and Robert Ulm on the quicker of the two Gerin Ducati's.
Back at the front Bostrom had decided that he wanted to lead the chase of the two leaders and swept passed Corser in a breathtaking move on the inside of the corkscrew. For several laps leading up the mid point of the 28 lap race, the two black bikes chipped away at Haga's lead until the Japanese rider was able to stabilise the gap at exactly two seconds. Edwards meanwhile had slowly fallen away from the Yamaha, the Honda not reacting as well to the heat as the Yamaha and by lap 16 he found himself defending his place against the hungry Bostrom and Corser.
With Colin now becoming more and more preoccupied with Bostrom and less worried about Haga, the gap between first and second grew substantially during the next three laps, growing to nearly four seconds by lap 20.
Despite several last gasp attempts, Bostrom could not find a way around the Honda ahead of him leaving him scampering across the track to defend his podium place from Corser on more than one occasion.
The scrap for second place became one of the few remaining highlights of what was a dull race by WSB standards, Fujiwara finally found a way passed Slight for seventh but could not catch Yanagawa in sixth, who in turn could not quite get on terms with Chili. Borciani, Isaacs and Paolo Blora all disappeared from the midfield tussle at around mid distance leaving a rather depleted field to reel off the remaining laps.
Haga did his best to keep the crowd entertained with a typically forceful ride although even he did not try and push his limits as he knows that he cannot risk losing a single point for the rest of the year until his suspension is finally quashed, or otherwise. Nori took the winners laurels with a great sense of both joy and relief, happy with his bike but also thankful that he was simply able to ride it.
The battle for the bottom two steps of the podium continued until the very last corner as gradually Corser began to test Bostrom, finding his weak and strong points and plotting where best to make his move. The sheer grunt of the Ducati made it impossible for the crafty Corser to slipstream Bostrom out of a corner leaving a spectacular late breaking move as his only option. As Bostrom tried in vain to uproot Edwards, the Aprilia rider chose his moment and waited to pounce. That moment came on the penultimate turn on the final lap when Corser dived down the inside of the NCR Ducati, pushing his way through but leaving himself off-line for the run into the final hairpin. Bostrom quickly gathered his thoughts and counterattacked into the hairpin, forcing his front tyre ahead of the Aprilia. However Bostrom wasn't able to scrub of all the speed he needed to before the turn and ran wide letting Corser tuck the Aprilia onto the racing line and pull away to claim the final podium position.
Bostrom was naturally disappointed on missing out on a top three finish but was still upbeat about his tyres and their performance in the race, and he had learned a valuable lesson for race two.
Chili and Yanagawa crossed the line 15 seconds after Haga, the Suzuki rider having his best ride since Hockenheim but still losing more ground in the championship to Edwards, Corser and Haga.
A further 15 seconds behind Yanagawa, Fujiwara and Slight remained in reasonably close contention with one another although neither rider was particularly thrilled with their performance. Borja crossed the line a further seven seconds later with Bussei, Aoki and Meklau completing the top dozen.
Pedercini, Mauro Sanchini and Igor Jerman scored points by virtue of making it to the finish while Goddard was the only man to miss out on a point, the Australian losing more than an entire lap with his tyres down to the fabric by the end of the race.