Spies edges Haga in final lap thriller
4 October 2009
Ben Spies has inched back into the lead of the World Superbike Championship standings after recovering from a mistake on the final lap of the race to win at Magny-Cours.
Spies led from start to finish, but very nearly threw it away at the final time of asking when he ran wide at the 180 bend. However, while it would allow Haga into the lead very briefly, the American would calmly regain the position to win by just over a tenth of a second.
Haga had been on a charge in the latter stages after getting bottled up behind Max Biaggi for much of the race, the erstwhile championship leader's lap records not quite enough to snatch victory from his great rival. It means the pair have swapped positions again in the standings, with Spies two points up on Haga.
Starting from his tenth pole position of the season, Spies got away well to lead into the sweeping first turn right-hander, with Biaggi's quick getaway from fourth being hampered by a tighter line into the opening bend.
Haga, however, found himself shuffled down to sixth position through the opening bends, even if a bit of savvy team play by Ducati Xerox counterpart Michel Fabrizio would help him up to fourth position by the end of the first lap.
Promptly latching himself onto the lead group of Spies, Jonathan Rea – who passed Biaggi at the Adelaide hairpin – and Biaggi, Haga's hopes of being aided further by team-mate Fabrizio was being hampered by the Italian's difficulty in getting past Leon Haslam, the Briton delaying the Imola winner sufficiently enough to rule him out of race win contention.
Any slim hopes that Spies' Yamaha team-mate Tom Sykes could come into play were also ended on lap two when the Briton suffered an accident on the run down to Lycee. Sykes lost the front-end of his R1 at high-speed, sending his bike flipping down the track, just missing the Suzuki of Karl Muggeridge.
Back up front, Rea and Biaggi traded fastest laps as they attempted to get on terms with Spies, who in turn was maintaining the gap with a series of consistent times.
However, Rea's hopes of challenge Spies for victory were ended on lap seven when, after seemingly out-braking himself rather innocuously at Lycee, he simply chose to ride into the pit lane and retire.
Promoting Biaggi and Haga up to second and third, attention turned to whether the Japanese rider could get past his sparring partner and launch a challenge on Spies.
Just as he showed at Imola though, Biaggi was proving a difficult obstacle for Haga to overcome, the Aprilia's superior pace out of the corners negating the Ducati's seemingly better braking ability.
Indeed, with Spies just beginning to creep away out front, Haga's mid-race assault would see him get an overlap on Biaggi into the Adelaide hairpin on numerous occasions, only for the RSV-4 to hold its position on the exit of the bend.
Running out of time to make his move, it was Haga's trademark tight line into the 180 left-hander that would eventually see him past Biaggi, the Italian leaving a Ducati sized gap on lap 17 to allow Haga through into second position.
An attempt to fight back at Adelaide hairpin the very next lap would see Biaggi simply run on after out-braking himself, freeing up Haga to chase down Spies, whose capitalisation of the situation had seen him extend his lead to 1.3secs.
With just six laps remaining, Haga, cheered on by team manager Davide Tardozzi from the pit wall, immediately signalled his intentions with a series of quick laps, most notably his record-breaking effort on the penultimate revolution. Nonetheless, with Spies also visibly pushing hard to repel any last lap challenge, it was evident that the American would need to make an error to allow Haga through.
Remarkably, however, this is exactly what occurred when Spies missed his apex into 180 and was forced to take a wide line around the bend. Haga pounced on the error, slipping up the inside to snatch the lead of the race.
Nonetheless, Spies kept his cool to cut back up the inside of Haga on the exit of the corner, his superior drive out of the bend eking him back ahead as they sprinted into the high-speed Imola right-left.
Having survived one scare already, Spies and Haga were left almost side-by-side on the long run down to Lycee, but with the Yamaha getting through the bend first, there was no chance for his rival to take back the position.
A 13th win of the season for Spies, the result moves him back into the lead of the standings by a mere two points with just three races remaining this now.
Dropping away following his failed attempt at regaining second from Haga, Biaggi settled for third position for his and Aprilia's seventh podium finish of the season, the Italian also able to capitalise on Rea's retirement to take fourth position overall.
Losing touch early on after taking five laps to get past Haslam, Fabrizio couldn't regain any ground on the way to a lonely fourth on the second Ducati.
Haslam crossed the line fifth for the ailing Stiggy Racing team, the Briton's impressive start allowing him to just hold off the attentions of Honda counterpart Carlos Checa late on, the Spaniard making solid progress up the order from 12th on the grid to cross the line in sixth position and bring some smiles to the disappointed Ten Kate team.
Suzuki also had reason to be pleased after Yukio Kagayama delivered them their best result since Misano in seventh position, the Japanese rider using his experience of the French circuit to run as high as sixth at one point.
He just held off Shane Byrne, who paid the price for a poor start to finish just one position higher than he started, Troy Corser and Jakub Smrz, the quartet having spent much of the race in formation to cross the line just two seconds apart.
The group had included Leon Camier too until three laps from the end of the race when a technical problem forced him out of what was likely to be 11th position on his Aprilia debut.
Camier was one of several riders to retire during the first race, Fonsi Nieto, Broc Parkes, Ryuichi Kiyonari and Muggeridge all being forced out of points paying positions.
It meant Ruben Xaus was a solid 11th on the second BMW, Matteo Baiocco and Luca Scassa produced their best results of the season in 12th and 13th respectively, while David Salom and David Checa scored their first points of the year in 14th and 15th.