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Spies crowned World Superbike champion

25 October 2009

Ben Spies will go to MotoGP as the new World Superbike Champion after doing exactly what he needed to do in order to secure the title in the final race of the season at Portimao.

Having dominated the opening race to open out a 15 point advantage over Noriyuki Haga heading into the decider, the American produced a comparatively tentative performance to simply ride for the chequered flag in fifth place.

Finishing within where he needed to, regardless of where Haga finished, the Ducati rider rallied hard in the latter stages to finish in second, but it wasn't enough to deny Spies, the two rivals and friends concluding their epic season-long battle separated by just six points.

An outstanding weekend for Yamaha having secured the MotoGP and World Supersport titles on the same day, Spies' win is also a first for the Japanese manufacturer at World Superbike level.

The race itself was won Michel Fabrizio, the Italian taking his third victory of the season, but the focus from the start was entirely on Spies and Haga.

Following Haga's failure to finish in race one, Spies went into the season finale requiring simply a sixth place finish, but his hopes of controlling the race from the front were scuppered at the lights when he was beaten down to the first corner by Shane Byrne.

Despite a couple of nervy moments through turns two and three, Byrne held it together to lead Spies, Jonathan Rea, Max Biaggi, Leon Haslam and Haga, the 'hunter' already up to sixth from his tenth place starting position.

Desperate not to get embroiled in a fight for position, Spies was certainly favouring a safe approach as he defended from Rea, the Northern Irishman getting through on lap three when the American looked over his shoulder, only to find his rival surprising him by passing on the other side. Biaggi briefly followed through before Spies snatched the position back, Italian going on to overtake again on lap five before promptly running off the circuit and dropping to sixth.

It meant, for the first time this weekend, Spies and Haga were together on track, Haga having overtaken Haslam on lap three himself. Also joining them was Fabrizio, who was recovering from a terrible start that had left him outside the top ten through the opening bends.

However, the Italian was on a charge and was up to fifth behind Haga on lap five, just as he was attempting to find a way past Spies. When his first attempt was rebuffed, Fabrizio took advantage and moved past his team-mate.

Fabrizio would go on to relieve Spies of third by lap six, just as Haga himself was being overtaken by a recovering Biaggi for fifth. Biaggi's push would take him past Spies just a lap later, the Roman this time making the pass stick.

Leaving Haga and Spies to dispute fifth position now, the Japanese rider made his move at turn three on lap eight by dipping beneath his rival and forcing him to sit up. Luckily for Spies, the seven-strong field had already been reduced to six following Haslam's second retirement of the day, his departure leaving a sizeable gap to Leon Camier in seventh.

Back at the front, Byrne was continuing to hold steady in the lead, the Briton showing some fighting spirit to keep Rea behind after the Northern Irishman nosed ahead briefly on lap five.

However, after ten laps out front, Byrne was overtaken by Rea into turn one after giving up a slipstream to his rival, the Sterilgarda man being demoted to third a lap later when he was passed by a flying Fabrizio.

His relentless rise up the order continued on lap 14 when he slipped past Rea into the lead, before proceeding to slow the pace down in order to allow Haga to make up some ground on the front runners.

The strategy was certainly helping Haga as he took fourth from Biaggi, who made a mistake on lap 15, before getting the better of Byrne for third with just four laps of the race remaining. At the same time, though, Rea had fought his way back into the lead after slipstreaming Fabrizio down the home straight and out-braking him into turn one.

There was a further change of position just behind when another error by Biaggi on the ailing Aprilia allowed Spies up to fifth position. Biaggi would go on to try and get past Spies on repeated occasions, only to run off the circuit as he struggled to get his RSV-4 slowed down in time.

As the field headed into the final lap, Rea led Fabrizio over the finish line, but an error out of the final turn had allowed the Ducati onto the back of the Honda, Fabrizio's tow proving enough to get him past as they dived down the hill for the final time.

Rea fought back at turn five, but would simply out-brake himself into the bend, forcing him to run off the circuit, allowing both Fabrizio and the close following Haga through into first and second.

It meant Ducati Xerox would end the season with a 1-2 finish, but it wasn't enough for Haga to keep the title in their hands for a second successive season as, just a few seconds behind, Spies was crossing the line in fifth position to confirm himself as the 2009 Superbike World Champion in his rookie year.

With a MotoGP debut for Tech 3 Yamaha beckoning next month, Spies's title win follows up Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow's success earlier in the day. Furthermore, having never won a World Superbike title in 21 years, this could be considered the sweeter triumph.

As it stands, Spies won the title with 14 race wins, 11 pole positions and 462 points, a record-breaking feat that even puts him 14th on the all-time list after just one season.

A dejected Haga finishes as runner-up for the third time in his career (and inside the top three for the seventh time), but is likely to start as hot favourite for the 2010 title following Spies' defection to MotoGP.

Elsewhere, Rea's final lap error cost him the chance to pass Biaggi for fourth in the overall standings, the pair settling for third and sixth in the race to give the Italian the advantage at the end of an impressive season for series returnees Aprilia.

Away from the drama at the front, Camier posted his second excellent result of the day in seventh, just two seconds behind Biaggi, to give himself a good chance of remaining with Aprilia into 2010.

He was finished ahead of Jakub Smrz, Troy Corser and Sylvain Guintoli, who signalled his arrival to World Superbikes with a fine run to tenth, ahead of the man he replaces at Suzuki 2010, Yukio Kagayama.

Broc Parkes signed off for Kawasaki with two points' finishes in 12th, ahead of Matthieu Lagrive, Luca Scassa and David Checa.


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