looks back at the third round of the 2009 World Superbike Championship in Valencia, Spain team-by-team...
Noriyuki Haga – 1st, 1st
Michel Fabrizio – 2nd, 3rd
It had been speculated before the weekend's races in Spain that Valencia would prove a bigger turning point for the season than the previous round at Qatar was. True, Losail was also an unknown circuit for Ben Spies, but Valencia, with its tight, twisty layout is the perfect playground for the Ducati and its unique characteristics. If Spies won here, then Noriyuki Haga
may as well be looking at the runners-up spot – again! Of course, a scintillating time in Superpole gave the impression that Spies was a certainty for victory, but come Sunday, Haga proved why he is a racer through and through. The Japanese has never been an outstanding qualifier, yet third on the grid was all he needed to prove that he is difficult to beat when it comes to swapping paint. Biding his time in both races before edging in front, once Haga had a clear track in front of him, he scampered away. Helping to allay some fears that Spies would run away with this year's title, Haga's 40 point margin probably means the pendulum has actually swung the other way. Given Haga is renowned for his pedestrian starts to the season, the fact he already has seven points more than Troy Bayliss
did at this stage last year makes you wonder what more there could be to come…
Sporting a new shaggy beard, possibly in a superstitious attempt to improve his fortunes, Michel Fabrizio
regained some composure in Valencia with a run to two podiums, including a second place in race one. Qualifying and racing well, it was an important weekend for Fabrizio to show he means business, even if the 75 points gap to Haga is likely to have already consigned to the role of 'second' rider in the Xerox team. It remains to be seen if his attempts at Samson will see him record that long-awaited first win.
Ben Spies – DNF, 2nd
Tom Sykes – 7th, 10th
Having reaped the plaudits from his superb double win in Qatar, Ben Spies got an idea of how difficult it is to beat Noriyuki Haga
and Ducati when both are on top form at one of their favourite circuits. You wouldn't have blamed Spies for being slightly complacent following free practice and qualifying as he secured his third consecutive Superpole, but with Haga showing a much better turn of speed in the races, Spies, for the first time, looked a little more flustered. A bad start in the first race put him behind his main rival and he was visibly pushing hard up to the moment that he was sent spiralling into the gravel trap at turn one. The sight of him picking himself up out of the gravel trap was certainly a surprise for many, not least Spies himself… Treating race two with a little more trepidation, Spies was a distant second to Haga – still a great result in isolation, but not probably what he and many would have expected. Then again, this is only his fifth WSBK race.
Over on the other side of the garage, a disappointing qualifying performance defined Tom Sykes' weekend and left him playing catch up in both races. Although he was far from happy with his seventh and tenth place finishes, they weren't bad efforts given his 17th on the grid, and it at least gave him the chance to prove, again, that he is a fine example of how to ride cleanly – only he and Haga have finished every race inside the top ten this year.
Suzuki Alstare Brux
Max Neukirchner – 3rd, 7th
Yukio Kagayama – 6th, DNF
A couple of top ten results in Valencia would have signalled an improvement for the Suzuki Alstare Brux team following their disastrous Qatar weekend, but a podium for Max Neukirchner was enough to consolidate his third position in the championship. Not that he was entirely happy with his performance, particularly in the second race when he finished seventh, having led in the early stages. Still, the German was able to go some way to overcoming his Superpole hoodoo with sixth on the grid, while he was typically impressive at the start of the races. He fared better than team-mate Yukio Kagayama, who actually out-qualified Neukirchner in fifth, but faded to sixth in the first race, before crashing out of the second and hurting his back. However, the Japanese rider joined Neukirchner in admitting the new GSX-R1000 isn't quite as good as it could be – they'll be hoping that there is more to come at Assen…
DFX Corse Ducati
Regis Laconi – 4th, 4th
An early contender for 'surprise package of the year', Regis Laconi
happily proved his performance in Australia was by no means a fluke, his pair of fourth places for DFX Ducati proving once again that it was machine – not man – that was at fault at PSG-1 Corse all those years. Qualifying second on the grid, although it wasn't quite the first podium in four years that he was hoping for, Laconi can be thrilled with his performance at Valencia, which came ten years after he won his one and only 500GP race at the same circuit. As well as reviving his career, Laconi is also doing wonders for the DFX Corse team, which many thought had seen its best days. Up to sixth in the standings, these performances are a great reminder of why Laconi is an 11-time race winner.
Stiggy Racing Honda
Leon Haslam – 5th, 5th
John Hopkins – 11th, 12th
For a rookie privateer team, Stiggy Racing have certainly courted their fair share of headlines in the three events they have competed in so far. Following on from Leon Haslam's podium in Australia, Johan Stigefelt's team arrived in Spain having pulled off the major coup of signing ex-MotoGP rider John Hopkins. A big name for a relatively small team, Hopkins may have been making bold claims prior to the weekend, but the reality was something a little more ordinary. Two solid results of 11th and 12th may not be fitting for his reputation, but given it was achieved on a bike he hadn't ridden before and in a field that has never been closer, it wasn't a bad effort for the American. With a bit of practice and race experience now behind him, Hopkins' form will be easier to judge at Assen. In the meantime, Stiggy had plenty to celebrate with Leon Haslam, who was continuing to show up his factory Ten Kate Honda counterparts with a run to fifth in both races. Although qualifying was a disappointment and his fastest race lap put him only eighth on the list, Haslam's ability to maintain a consistently quick pace is paying huge dividends. Two top five finishes are a rich reward for a rider that is likely to be catching the eye of some rival teams before long.
Ten Kate Honda
Carlos Checa – DNF, 6th
Ryuichi Kiyonari – 12th, 9th
Jonathan Rea – DNF, 13th
Ronald ten Kate said it himself: 'There are no excuses for these results'. You can probably understand his frustration, particularly considering their performance on Sunday was nowhere near what they had expected just a couple of hours earlier. Indeed, with two riders qualifying on the second row and one buoyed by competing in front of his home crowd, Mr ten Kate would probably have hoped for a podium at worst. Sadly for him, a best of sixth place from Carlos Checa
would prove their biggest single haul. Returning to the scene of his indiscretion twelve months earlier, a quick time in first free practice would flatter to deceive as the local hero would crash in the first race and watch the lead battle from a distance in the second. Jonathan Rea, who joined Checa on the second row, fared even worse after being nudged into the gravel on lap one of the opening race, before plummeting down the classification with set-up problems in race two. Ryuichi Kiyonari
gave the team two finishes, but 12th and ninth were mediocre at best. For ten Kate though, the most frustrating thing is likely to the independent Stiggy team, which seems to be proving that the detrimental factor in their set-up, isn't necessarily the bike…
Max Biaggi – 8th, 8th
Shinya Nakano – DNS, DNS
Proof that dropping the ball in qualifying can have a major effect on the rest of your weekend, Max Biaggi
was the latest high profile victim to find himself in the dreaded 'bottom four' during Superpole. A big surprise given his speed so far that weekend, not to mention his mighty turns in qualifying in Australia and Qatar, Biaggi blamed problems with the rear of his bike for underperforming. Shinya Nakano would have probably said the same thing, but he was sidelined with a broken collarbone following a crash in qualifying. Nonetheless, Biaggi kept his head down in the races and meticulously worked his way into contention, eventually finishing with a pair of eighth places and proof the taut RSV-4 can overtake. Biaggi's podiums in Qatar may have skewed their initial objectives slightly, but given that Aprilia remain on a learning curve this year, a good fight back from a precarious position can now be ticked off their to-do list.
Shane Byrne – 9th, 11th