Spies puts one hand on title after Haga fall
25 October 2009
Ben Spies will take a 15 point advantage over Noriyuki Haga into the final race of the 2009 World Superbike Championship after cruising to victory at Portimao, while his title rival crashed out of contention.
Spies fended off the attentions of Max Biaggi and Jonathan Rea to take a comfortable lights-to-flag victory, the American completing the first half of his objective to secure the double he originally needed to guarantee himself the title.
However, it is now just a top six finish he requires in the final race of the season to ensure he wins the trophy in his maiden season after Haga threw away his advantage with a fall on the seventh lap.
The Japanese rider was up to fifth position when he lost the front-end of his Ducati Xerox at turn four, forcing him into retirement.
Indeed, the erstwhile championship leader had been making solid progress up the order from his tenth place starting position, Haga getting a decent getaway to survive the melee into the opening bend and rise up to eighth place immediately.
Spies, however, had executed the start he needed to get out in front, the Yamaha man plunging into the opening turn ahead of Biaggi, Shane Byrne, Rea and Leon Haslam.
With Michel Fabrizio's poor start effectively ruling him out of victory contention, he quickly dropped behind Haga and shadowed him as his team-mate battled it out with fellow Ducati rider Fonsi Nieto.
However, far from bowing to expected team orders, Nieto put up a staunch defence of sixth position on the DFX machine, holding off Haga until the start of lap two when he was overtaken through the opening bends.
Quickly latching onto the British group of Rea, Byrne – the pair having swapped positions at the start of lap two – and Haslam, Haga had an even tougher time working his way past, but was gifted fifth when the Stiggy Honda rider ran wide at turn one whilst under pressure from the Ducati on lap six.
However, Haga's charge up the order would come to a dramatic halt just a lap later when, as he was pushing hard to catch Byrne, his bike got away from him, man and machine sliding forlornly off the circuit as the field swept past. Despite his best efforts, Haga couldn't get going again and was forced to concede.
With Yamaha immediately notifying Spies of Haga's misfortune, attention turned to the front as Biaggi continued to put pressure on the American.
A series of quick laps at the start of the race had helped the pair to put air between themselves and Rea, Biaggi mirroring Spies, even if he never looked close enough to wrest the position off him.
However, when both riders began to experience a slight dip in pace at the half-way stage, it would prompt Rea and Byrne to get back in contention, the duo making it a four-way battle by lap fourteen.
Despite the added attention of his rivals, Spies would ultimately benefit from Biaggi and Rea's feuding, eking out his margin to just over a second.
With Rea's best opportunity to pass down the home straight being scuppered by the Aprilia's superior straight-line speed, it took an error from Biaggi on lap 16 to allow the Ten Kate Honda man through into second position.
Giving him a shot at trying to catch Spies, Rea was almost two seconds behind the leader as they entered the latter stages of the race. However, the gap wouldn't come down, with Biaggi instead slipstreaming past into second place again on lap 19. Not to be outdone, Rea struck back on the penultimate revolution with a daring pass on the Italian at turn two.
It meant Spies was free to ease to the chequered flag with a 1.6sec advantage over Rea, prompting jubilation in the Yamaha garage as they now stand on the verge of winning their first ever World Superbike title.
Having been unable to respond to Rea's decisive attack, Biaggi was instead hounded across the finish line by an inspired Byrne, who put in one of his most convincing rides of the season to come home fourth for Sterilgarda Ducati. The result also means he moves up to eighth in the standings at the expense of Tom Sykes, who has withdrawn from the final round with a shoulder injury.
Fabrizio came home a quiet fifth having been outshone by the privateer Ducati of Byrne, while Leon Camier put in a fine performance to claim sixth on the Aprilia after working his way up from 13th position on the grid.
Mirroring his result on home soil for Airwaves Yamaha at Donington Park, the new British Superbike champion finished ahead of several more experienced riders, including Carlos Checa and Ruben Xaus, both of whom were front runners at Portimao last season.
In a race of attrition that saw just 14 riders finish on the same lap, several top names failed to see the chequered flag, including Haslam, who crashed out on lap eleven whilst running in sixth position, while Jakub Smrz and Yukio Kagayama were others to hit the tarmac during the race. Meanwhile, technical issues cost good results for Sylvain Guintoli, Nieto and Troy Corser.
It meant several riders posted notable results, including Matthieu Lagrive in ninth for Althea Honda, while Guandalini's Matteo Baiocco secured his first World Superbike top ten result after winning out in a battle with the factory Kawasakis.
Broc Parkes and Makoto Tamada followed in 11th and 12th, ahead of David Salom, David Checa and Luca Scassa, the latter scoring despite finishing four laps off the lead after benefitting from a late retirement for Roland Resch, the Austrian having been on course for his first ever points before a spectacular engine blow.