Haslam takes stunning photo finish victory
28 February 2010
Leon Haslam has won the first World Superbike Championship race of his career after dramatically holding off Michel Fabrizio's last minute slipstream across the line to win by a mere 0.004secs
Although the pole man led from start to finish, Fabrizio looked to have denied Haslam at the death when he got a better run out of the final bend to pull alongside down the start-finish straight.
Indeed, while Fabrizio was initially declared the winner, the resulting photo finish tipped the result back in Haslam's favour.
His first victory in 61 World Superbike attempts, the win also marks Suzuki's first since Max Neukirchner triumphed at Misano in 2008.
A race that built in tension as the laps counted down, although Fabrizio nosed ahead at the start through the sweeping first corner, Haslam held the throttle around the outside to reclaim the position into turn two.
Just behind, Haga shrugged off his warm-up woes, when a collision with Ruben Xaus sparked a mammoth accident and a rush to get his bike rebuilt in time for the race, to clamber his way up to third place from tenth on the grid.
Jonathan Rea rose to fourth from seventh, ahead of Cal Crutchlow and Carlos Checa, although fifth and sixth place qualifiers Sylvain Guintoli and Jakub Smrz went in the other direction as they completed the first few turns in 15th and 14th.
With Fabrizio and Haga disputing second, the Ducati Xerox team-mates swapping positions twice during laps two and three, Haslam promptly set about putting air between himself and his rivals.
However, despite rallying initially to stretch his advantage to more than half a second over Fabrizio, both the Italian and Haga gamely clung on to establish a three-way fight for victory, with fourth place Rea seemingly unable to maintain the rapid pace.
By the time the riders had reached lap seven of 22, three riders had already fallen by the wayside, with James Toseland, Cal Crutchlow and Chris Vermeulen all crashing out of contention.
A disastrous start to the year for defending champions Yamaha, Toseland lost the rear of his R1 through Lukey Heights, the former champion unlucky to land directly on his already badly injured hand. Causing considerable damage to his bike in the process, Toseland cut a forlorn figure as a walked off circuit clutching his wrist.
Crutchlow added to Yamaha's woes with a tumble at Honda just three laps later, and only two laps after Vermeulen had suffered an identical accident on the Kawasaki having battled his way up to an early seventh position. Shane Byrne was another to get it wrong at Honda, dropping to 20th after running off the circuit early on.
It meant the depleted chasing group of Rea, Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa were left to dispute fourth position, although they would be joined by the recovering Guintoli and Smrz, as well as Leon Camier, by lap ten.
Back at the front, Fabrizio and Haga were beginning to reel Haslam back in, inching closer down the home straight as they benefitted from the GSX-R1000's slipstream. Despite this, Haslam kept his lines clean through the corners ensuring Fabrizio was never in a position to launch a convincing overtaking attempt.
Even so, Fabrizio continued to pile the pressure on, wringing the best from the Ducati 1198 to shadow Haslam as they entered the final lap.
With Haslam erring towards defending his lines, Fabrizio began to form his offense – a last ditch attempt to tuck beneath the Suzuki through the long final bend and slipstream past down the straight.
Although Haslam rebuffed Fabrizio's efforts through the left-hander, it was the Italian who got the better slingshot out of the corner as he pulled alongside his rival down the long home straight. Launching across the finish line with barely anything to separate them, although the timesheets initially had Fabrizio classified as the winner – prompting premature celebrations in the Ducati camp – a quick decision on the photo-finish would see the result reversed just a few seconds later.
A dramatic race to start the season with, a somewhat bemused looking Haslam was left to celebrate an emotional first win at World Superbike level, while a visibly disappointed Fabrizio had to make do with second.
Although he fell no more than a second behind the leaders, Haga wasn't able to build on his superb start as he crossed the line in third. Nonetheless, the podium remains just reward for his team after their mighty efforts to get him out on the grid.
Ten seconds further back, the battle for fourth position went down to the wire, with Rea and Max Biaggi twice swapping spots as the race reached its climax. Nonetheless, it was Rea who would hold on to edge his 2009 sparring partner for the 'best of the rest' title.
Despite his tardy getaway, Guintoli showed impressive pace to work his way up to sixth position, passing Checa late on and capitalising on an error by Camier, who had risen to sixth only to out-brake himself at Honda on lap sixteen, the Aprilia man doing well to avoid collecting his own team-mate in the process.
Checa held off Jakub Smrz for seventh, while Troy Corser and Lorenzo Lanzi endured lonely races on the way to ninth and tenth positions.
Camier recovered to 11th, passing Neukirchner, Tom Sykes and Byrne in just five laps, while Andrew Pitt marked his return to World Superbike competition by claiming the 15th and final point for newcomers Reitwagen Motorsport.