Haga flies to Kyalami double
17 May 2009
A week after being struck by an errant bird at Monza, Noriyuki Haga clinched a double victory in round six of the World Superbike Championship at Kyalami, fending off Xerox Ducati team-mate Michel Fabrizio on the final lap to ensure that he leaves South Africa as he arrived - the only Kyalami winner in the current field.
The Japanese veteran got the holeshot for the second time, but had to give best to polesitter Ben Spies in the early stages. Whether the American could have denied the points leader his double - and joined countrymen Colin Edwards and Ben Bostrom as a winner in South Africa - was never allowed to unfold for the Yamaha coughed and died on lap three, allowing Haga back ahead and into a comfortable lead. Jonathan Rea, meanwhile, held off Max Biaggi for much of the race - as he had in race one - and then survived a late assault from fellow Briton Leon Haslam to claim the final podium spot.
Biaggi appeared to have claimed the advantage heading into turn one - a position he knew he needed if he was to take Aprilia back to the top of the podium - but, once again, the Roman Emperor found himself shuffled back as the pack rounded the turn, exiting in third spot as both Haga and Spies got the better of him, then to fourth as Rea also showed his fighting colours.
By the end of the opening lap, Biaggi was ahead of Carlos Checa, Fabrizio, Leon Haslam - the Stiggy Honda rider getting the flying start he missed in race one - Shinya Nakano, Yukio Kagayama and Tom Sykes - who again went backwards off the line - as the field took on a familiar order.
Before the next tour could be completed, the race had a new leader, as Spies swept past Haga in a bid, no doubt, not to be left behind by the Ducati ace as he had earlier in the day. The American's hold on proceedings only lasted another lap, however, the Yamaha swinging wide to the left at Continental and slowing as the poleman realised that something was amiss. He had enough power to get back to the pits, but his day - and his bid to stop Haga extending his points advantage - was over.
Haga gratefully accepted the chance to move back into the lead as Spies joined the clashing Ruben Xaus and Karl Muggeridge on the sidelines, and was immediately able to open a comfortable gap over Rea, who now had Fabrizio, rather than Biaggi, for company. Despite his best defence, the Ulsterman then left a Ducati-sized hole on the inside at Westbank on lap four, allowing the Italian through into second spot with only his team-mate between himself and a second WSBK win.
Far from responding and going with Fabrizio, Rea dropped back into Biaggi's clutches, the Aprilia rider now bringing Haslam into the equation as the Briton mounted an assault on fourth spot. Neither could make a move stick, however, and the order at the end of ten laps read Haga, Fabrizio, Rea, Biaggi and Haslam, with Checa, Nakano, Sykes - up a couple of spots - Kagayama and Sheridan Morais, the South African again transcending recent Kawasaki performances on his WSBK debut..
With Haga enjoying a comfortable - and apparently unbridgeable - margin to his team-mate, and the battle in the lower reaches of the top hardly befitting of the description, all attention fell onto the scrap for third.
That took a twist as Haslam found a way past Biaggi on lap 13, then proceed to bang fairings with Rea as he sensed an opportunity to join the Ducati twins on the podium. Both survived the brush, with Rea able to hold on to third spot as the trio continued to circulate as one for a few more laps, and it was the Irishman who emerged the strongest over the longer distance, eventually easing away from his pursuers as the race wore on. Biaggi wasn't done but, just as Rea had done in race one, Haslam proved to have enough to frustrate the veteran to the flag.
With few moves being made in the field - Kagayama reclaiming eighth from Sykes notwithstanding - and the order closely resembling that from race one, the race appeared to be heading towards a quiet conclusion - until Fabrizio decided to make one last bid for victory.
With Haga keen not to do anything silly on the final tour, the Italian was able to home in on his team-mate, eventually taking enough tenths out from between them and getting close enough to take a look exiting Westbank. Perhaps distracted by backmarker Shaun Whyte ahead of them, Haga didn't block Fabrizio, but the Italian carried too much speed into the turn to make the move stick.
Undeterred, he gathered himself and launched another assault at the final turn, initially appearing to emerge ahead, until Haga found better drive to the line, completing the third win double in Kyalami's five-round WSBK history.
Rea duly completed the podium on a generally good day for British riders, while Haslam held onto fourth, but needed a little assistance in making it back to parc ferme. Biaggi rounded out the top five for the second time on the day, with Checa, Nakano, Kagayama, Sykes and Jakob Smrz completing the leading ten. Morais, Gregorio Lavilla, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Broc Parkes and Fonsi Nieto completed the scorers once Shane Byrne had joined the list of retirements after seven laps.