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Vallelunga: Haga holds Biaggi for victory

21 September 2008

Noriyuki Haga has won his fifth World Superbike victory of the season after resisting intense race-long pressure from home favourite Max Biaggi at Vallelunga.

A tense race as Biaggi kept Haga honest from lights-to-flag, the pair were never separated by more than half a second, but save for a few feigned moves at various times in the race, the Japanese rider never looked like he would surrender the lead.

Troy Corser would complete the podium, but could have finished better had he not made a mistake mid-way through the race. Nonetheless, with Troy Bayliss finishing down in sixth, Corser keeps his slim title hopes alive for a little longer.

From the start, pole sitter Bayliss got the best getaway, the Aussie sweeping across the circuit to take the initial lead from Biaggi, Haga and Corser.

Haga was on a charge though and after dispatching of Biaggi at the hairpin on the first lap, he swept past Bayliss for the lead at the start of lap two. Bayliss did not look comfortable though and he soon found himself behind Biaggi by the end of lap two, before Corser and Ryuichi Kiyonari followed through a lap later.

Kiyonari's challenge faltered soon afterwards though when he suffered a low-speed tumble at the hairpin in an almost identical fall to that of former Ten Kate man James Toseland a year earlier. Although he got going again, he retired soon after.

Up at the front, Haga, Corser, Biaggi – Corser and Biaggi having swapped places - and now Carlos Checa made up the leading group, while Bayliss was keeping a watching brief in fifth.

Despite Checa's presence though, victory always looked more likely to come from the top three, although when Corser attempted to snatch the lead off Haga, it instead invited Biaggi back through into second place.

Corser remained close up until lap twelve when an attempt to pass Biaggi down the back long-straight caused him to run wide at Campagnano and allow Checa up into third place. However, the Spaniard's hopes of holding the position ended just a few corners later at Semaford when he too ran wide and allowed Corser back through. Although back to third, Corser had lost significant ground to the leaders.

As such, it was left to Haga and Biaggi to dispute victory, but while the Japanese rider looked typically leery at times, Biaggi's best efforts could only ever see him get slightly alongside.

Building up to a grandstand finish, Biaggi – cheered on by the raucous home crowd – tried everything he could to force a mistake from Haga, but to no avail.

Biaggi's hopes would eventually be dashed by the re-emergence of Corser into the equation with just a handful of laps remaining, the Aussie doing a superb job to catch up again after losing a couple of seconds with his error. Latching onto Biaggi, the Italian was distracted enough to allow Haga to edge the win by a meagre margin, followed closely by Biaggi and Corser.

Further back, fourth place eventually fell to Max Neukirchner, who had been enjoying a quiet race up until the final stages when Bayliss, up to fourth after overtaking Checa, made a mistake and slowed up both himself and the Honda behind him. Neukirchner duly took advantage to leap up from sixth to fourth, while Checa managed to capitalise by claiming back fifth.

Bayliss' sixth means his lead over Corser is down to 95 points, making it more likely that the title will be decided in France. Still, victory in the second race would almost do it for Bayliss, provided he can come back strong.

Michel Fabrizio was a very lonely seventh, although the Italian was almost caught by a flying Roberto Rolfo, the Althea Racing rider scoring both his and the team's best result of the season after climbing up from 16th in the early stages of the race to claim eighth.

Yukio Kagayama started strongly but eventually faded to ninth, just ahead of countryman Shinichi Nakatomi who, like Rolfo, was on fine form as he fought up from 19th on the grid to claim a top ten finish.

Lorenzo Lanzi ran inside the top ten for the majority of the race before dropping to 11th, ahead of Fonsi Nieto, who struggled throughout, while Jakub Smz, Gregorio Lavilla and Ayrton Badovini completed the points paying positions.

Meanwhile, beyond Kiyonari, other notable retirements included Ruben Xaus, with an apparent mechanical woe, as well as Kenan Sofuoglu and Karl Muggeridge, the duo coming together in the early stages of the race.


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