looks back at the second round of the 2009 World Superbike Championship in Losail, Qatar team-by-team...
Ben Spies – 1st, 1st
Tom Sykes – 7th, 5th
Pole position and two wins around a circuit you have never raced on before – for Ben Spies, it doesn't get much better than that! Having proved in Australia that he was a World Superbike front runner straight out of the box, the only remaining question was whether he could get up to speed just as quickly around a completely new circuit. He answered that by the end of the first free practice session when he emerged with the second quickest time – he would go on to top each session from then on, including the races. The races themselves were probably closer than his record-breaking lap in Superpole had led many to believe, the new R1 seemingly not too quick off the line compared to its rivals.
Nonetheless, Spies says he was always confident in the bike and after showing a few smart overtaking skills, sprinted away once he had clear air in front of him. Four races in and Spies' reputation has already been assured – all that remains to be seen is whether both he and the R1 can maintain their advantage in Europe. With possibly the best bike on the grid beneath him, Tom Sykes made good headway in Qatar as he emerged with seventh and fifth place finishes. Although not as headline-grabbing as his team-mate, Sykes was closer to Spies on pace than he has been all season, including testing. With more recognisable circuits coming up, that first podium with the team can't be too far away.
Noriyuki Haga – 2nd, 2nd
Michel Fabrizio – DNF, DNF
After a great start to his season in Australia, it is a measure of how impressive Ben Spies has been that it is now a case of when, not if, Noriyuki Haga
will have his championship lead overhauled in the coming races. Indeed, away from the drama of Spies' magnificent start to his WSBK career, it is the Japanese rider who is still in charge – comfortably too – following one win and three second places. For Haga, these results are a revelation, his reputation of launching title challenges with a snowball effect meaning this is probably his best chance ever of winning the trophy he has come so close to on previous occasions. Qatar was a tough race to judge Haga on, simply because both he and Ducati don't have the best record there, but he will have expected to beat a rookie riding for his former team – Valencia will be a crucial race for him. Michel Fabrizio's hopes of building on a solid start to the year came crashing down, literally, in Qatar after he was caught out by an accidental electronic shutdown on his bike. With tyre problems prompting him to retire for being 'two laps down' in the second race, Qatar certainly wasn't a bright moment for Fabrizio and is unlikely to have done his reputation much good amongst the Ducati team.
Max Biaggi – 3rd, 3rd
Shinya Nakano – 4th, 7th
Just in case anyone else needed further evidence that Aprilia are in World Superbikes to win, Max Biaggi
and Shinya Nakano proved they will be standing on top of the podium sooner rather than later after a marvellous showing in Qatar. Having anxiously expected to struggle somewhat at Losail given they were unable to test there prior to the event, nothing could be further from the truth with either Biaggi or Nakano – or both – proving competitive in each session. While teams will grumble the new RSV-4 leans too close to a prototype to be considered a Superbike (the production version won't be seen until June), the compact machine is proving to be quick in a straight line and agile in the corners, while Biaggi's tenacious defence of the lead in race one shows both bike and man are working well in harmony. While slightly sloppy final laps for Biaggi prevented what could have been a pair of second places, two podiums – and a breakthrough fourth for rookie Nakano - so early in the Aprilia project suggests they will be joining Italian counterparts Ducati in challenging the Japanese stronghold.
Ten Kate Honda
Ryuichi Kiyonari – 8th, 4th
Carlos Checa – 5th, 13th
Jonathan Rea – 12th, 8th
On paper, Ten Kate Honda enjoyed a fairly prosperous meeting in Qatar, with a four top eight results between their three riders. However, it is a somewhat inconsistent trend, with both Carlos Checa
and Jonathan Rea backing up good top ten results in one race with otherwise frustrating performances in the other. After a dismal weekend in Australia, Ryuichi Kiyonari
was the team's lead rider this time as he enjoyed two impressive outings in Qatar, running up to fourth position in the second race, while he would have finished better than eighth in race one had he not been down to 20th by the end of the opening lap. The only downside was his rapid ride up to the battle for second, one that seemed to go no further than that as he kept a watching brief, rather than launch an attack. Nonetheless, he fared better than Rea, who did an admirable job of battling his way up to 12th and eighth after being the victim of the new Superpole system and qualifying 17th. A tough lesson to learn, but Rea can at least take positives away from his prolific overtaking through the field. Checa, meanwhile, gave a glimpse of his front running status in race one with a run to fifth, but was simply nowhere in race two, crossing the line 13th. Between them, Honda has shown they have pace – but they are yet to string it together consistently…
Shane Byrne – 6th, 12th
After a weekend to forget in Australia, Sterilgarda Ducati's season started in Qatar, with Shane Byrne getting some important points on the board. Although still nowhere near as quick as his form in testing had suggested, Byrne was a confident top ten performer at Losail, a circuit he has not ridden before. Making the top eight shootout in Superpole, but having used his allocation of qualification tyres, he did a solid job in race one to finish sixth following a race long battle with Carlos Checa. He could have finished better in race two had the tyre not started spinning on the rim, but with two fair finishes now under his belt, Byrne has a good foundation from which to progress when the series returns a bit closer to home in Europe.
Suzuki Alstare Brux
Max Neukirchner – DNF, 6th
Yukio Kagayama – 22nd, 15th
Take away Max Neukirchner's aggressive charge to sixth place in race two – which was in part probably motivated by an erratic and painful few days to that point – and Suzuki Alstare Brux could have barely had a worse weekend in Qatar. Early indications had suggested that Suzuki would be on the pace at Losail after Neukirchner went quickest in free practice, but events took a dramatic downturn from there. Suffering from a seemingly incurable rear grip issue, the normally stable Neukirchner had three falls over the course of qualifying, warm-up and the races, leaving him bruised and the bike battered. Nonetheless, he fought back for a sixth place finish in race two, a decent achievement given the previous couple of days and the 19th position on the grid he was lumbered with when he didn't get to start his final Superpole lap in time. Although for once the least patched up of the two, Yukio Kagayama's also endured brief 'down-time' in race one, before struggling to 15th in the second. A very difficult weekend for a team that promised much in Australia, qualifying better will undoubtedly be their target for Valencia – the rest should follow.
Troy Corser – 9th, 9th
Ruben Xaus – 13th, 10th
Having bemoaned the new Superpole format on Friday, Troy Corser
was in a much better mood on Saturday after he led BMW to three top ten finishes in Qatar. Although the efforts of Aprilia make their run to ninth place seem fairly underwhelming, it is easy to forget their fellow 'newcomers' are old hands at both motorcycling and racing – this is very much new territory for BMW as a company and a team. With that in mind, it would be interesting to see what Corser and Ruben Xaus
could be capable of if they qualified better and BMW could give them a bike that was a little quicker in a straight line. Corser produced their star turn in race two, running as high as fourth for some time before eventually fading as the race progressed. Nonetheless, with Xaus getting his first top ten on the S1000RR too, bike, rider and team are looking well placed to move forward when they return to Europe – not least Valencia, where they have conducted a lot of their pre-season development work…
DFX Corse Ducati
Regis Laconi – 10th, 14th
Although he wasn't quite as prolific in Qatar as he was in Australia, Regis Laconi
and DFX Ducati went some way to proving they will be a 'privateer' force in 2009 after another pair of good points finishes. A good start in the first race contributed to Laconi's eventual tenth place finish, while 14th in the second means the Frenchman remains a heady seventh in the overall standings. Sterilgarda and Shane Byrne got the better of him this time, although you shouldn't bet against Laconi attempting to readdress the balance in Valencia.
Stiggy Racing Honda
Leon Haslam – 11th, 11th
Roberto Rolfo – DNF, DNF