Haga dominates race two for dream SBK return
29 February 2004
Noriyuki Haga marked his return to World Superbike in dream style this afternoon at Valencia, the Samurai of Slide taking a lights to flag race two victory - and providing his new Renegade Ducai team with a debut SBK win.
With the earlier damp surface having been dried by the returning Spanish sun, although the weather remained cold and windy, race two was to be run with full dry spec machines and tyres, and would provide pole sitter Regis Laconi to make up for his early race one exit.
Or maybe not. When the red lights went out the Frenchman was within the lead group - compromising of Haga, Haslam, Toseland, McCoy and Martin - but his race would last just a few turns before the unlucky Laconi ground to a halt with mechanical problems.
Meanwhile, Toseland was pushing hard to get past Haslam asap, but in his eagerness ran wide and dropped back behind the two Renegade machines. So as the field crossed the start/finish line for the first time the order was: Haga, from Haslam, Toseland, McCoy, Martin, Walker, Chili, Borciani, Corser and Sanchini.
Haslam would hold the Renegade one-two until being passed by countryman Toseland on lap two, but the Ducati Fila rider could make no impact on Haga ahead - the Japanese inching ever further away with every lap and held a 2.5secs advantage over the #52 by the eighth circulation of the 4km circuit.
Further back, Chris Vermeulen was starting to make an impact after a poor start - which left him 12th at the end of lap one - and made up five places from laps four to seven to put him in seventh place, just behind Garry McCoy and ahead of Chrs Walker.
But while Haga and Toseland reached a stalemate up front - neither able to either extend or decrease the 3.5secs gap to the other - by lap 11 the fight for third between Haslam and Martin was becoming more and more intense.
There was never more than a second between the pair for the next five laps as Leon produced a solid defence against the experienced Aussie, but Martin would push past on lap 15 then Haslam, eager to regain the position, ran wide on a tight left hander - forcing him through the gravel. That mistake left Leon back in tenth, and he would gain just one place by the finish.
Martin, although free from Haslam, now had Frankie Chili crawling all over the rear of his DFX Ducati 999, but despite constant pressure from the Italian, Martin would ultimately keep the podium position he was robbed of by mechanical failure in race one.
But up front the story was all Haga and Renegade Ducati as the popular Japanese returned to the top step of the podium after claiming what was his 12th WSBK victory, and first since 2000. In doing so, Nori also surely signaled that the facory Ducati riders won't have things all their own way this year.
However, Haga's race one DNF after technical problems means that it's Toseland who will lead the championship heading to round two at Phillip Island.
Another rider/team sure to impress in Oz will be home hero Vermeulen and Ten Kate Honda; Vermeulen recovered to a fine fifth today, behind Chili, for a solid points finish.
Another Australian, Garry McCoy, slipped two places to sixth by the flag, but at least knows he can already run top five race pace, while Walker followed his emotional race one third with a more down to earth seventh, four places ahead of team-mate Troy Corser.
Full results to follow...