looks back at the sixth round of the 2009 World Superbike Championship at Kyalami, South Africa team-by-team...
Noriyuki Haga – 1st, 1st
Michel Fabrizio – 2nd, 2nd
For all the talk of the 2009 World Superbike season being a closely fought thing, the reality is looking remarkably different. Two more wins for Noriyuki Haga (his fifth and sixth of the season), coupled to more troublesome luck for Ben Spies, means his lead in the overall standings is an eye-watering – for his rivals at least - 85 points. Haga claims not to be thinking about the title, but with the half-way mark in the season arriving next time out at Miller Motorsports Park, it will surely now be in his sights. History is most certainly on his side too. At this stage in the season last year Troy Bayliss' advantage wasn't nearly as comprehensive before he went on to win by three figures. Again achieved without having really given much away in practice and qualifying, Haga's lead – over Michel Fabrizio now - means he can guarantee to be leading the standings for the next three races. Somehow, you get the impression it'll last longer than that…
It is remarkable what a race win can do for your confidence. As a passionate man who races with plenty of heart, victory at Monza is likely to have had a big effect on another fine performance in South Africa. Picking up where he left off in testing six months ago, Fabrizio dominated up to Superpole, although getting to within 0.001secs is easily the closest anyone has gotten this season to Spies on a single lap. He raced well too, more than having the legs of the American, and while the chasm of experience told in his fight with Haga, at least he was game enough to have a go. He's come in for criticism in the past, but a new best of second in the standings is rich reward for a rider that is rapidly beginning to show why Davide Tardozzi has retained his faith in him.
Ten Kate Honda
Jonathan Rea – 4th, 3rd
Carlos Checa – 6th, 6th
Ryuichi Kiyonari – 12th, 13th
It was all about Jonathan Rea in the Ten Kate Honda camp at Kyalami, the Northern Irishman picking up his maiden World Superbike podium after an impressive performance throughout the weekend. On the pace from the word go, Rea took advantage of having experienced the circuit on a Superbike in testing to show that he is probably the team's top rider when the playing field is even. Excellent over a single lap, while Rea bridged the gap between the leaders and those behind in the races, his entertaining duals with Max Biaggi and Leon Haslam are a sign that, on a slightly better sorted bike, Rea has an excellent future at this level. Elsewhere in the team, Carlos Checa enjoyed his most consistent weekend of the year, posting a pair of sixth place finishes. Although overshadowed by Rea, the Spaniard's competitive showing throughout the weekend will steady some nerves heading to the USA – the scene of his superb double triumph twelve months ago.
At Monza he celebrated his first two podiums of the season. One week later and Ryuichi Kiyonari is well outside the top ten. In some ways, a mediocre performance in Italy prior to South Africa would have probably been more beneficial, for this simply raises the question as to why a rider can go front to back in less than a week… It's certainly the question Ronald ten Kate should be asking him.
Ben Spies – 3rd, DNF
Tom Sykes – 10th, 9th
It is possibly just as well that USA is the next stop for Ben Spies on the World Superbike trail as a return home should give him the motivation he needs to forget a weekend in which his title challenge took another potentially fatal blow. Spies will be the first to admit he made errors at Valencia and Assen, but this is the first time mechanical woes have entered into the equation (fuel consumption irregularities not included). Given its 'technological pioneer' status, it is a little surprising this is the first R1 breakdown of the season during a race, but while there is no ideal time for this to happen, this puts a big strain on Spies' title hopes. On the other side of the garage, Tom Sykes maintained his run of top ten finishes – but only just. With the Yamaha seemingly not at its best around Kyalami, this hasn't been a weekend to remember for the either the Briton or the American.
Stiggy Racing Honda
Leon Haslam – DNF, 4th
Although not the overall result either himself or the team would have hoped for, Leon Haslam can be satisfied to have come away with another top five result at Kyalami. By far the quickest of the riders who weren't present during a pre-season test in December, Haslam quickly shrugged off the cobwebs to match the leaders from free practice on the Friday. Although qualifying didn't go to plan and race one ended in a hail of gravel stones, a fighting ride to fourth in the second – possibly motivated by a bit of the red mist – at least brought the weekend to a close on a high. Maintaining fourth in the standings, Haslam now leads a trio of British riders overall.
Max Biaggi – 5th, 5th
Shinya Nakano – 7th, 7th
After a few flashes of brilliance in recent rounds, Aprilia returned to form at Kyalami, with both Max Biaggi and Shinya Nakano putting in their best collective performance since the second round at Qatar. Biaggi was their star representative again, qualifying well in third position, although his race pace wasn't quite so strong. Nonetheless, Biaggi battled hard with Jonathan Rea in both races, even if he would eventually just finish off his tail on both occasions. Still, the performance of both Biaggi and Shinya Nakano, who also put in his best showing since Qatar too, is indicative of the progress made by the RSV-4 since making its group test debut at the same circuit some six months ago. With Biaggi just 13 points adrift of fourth in the standings, Aprilia can be proud of what they have achieved as the half way mark in the season approaches.
Suzuki Alstare Brux
Yukio Kagayama – 8th, 8th
Fonsi Nieto – 16th, 15th
Suzuki Alstare Brux courted plenty of the headlines on the run up to the Kyalami event, partly due to the confirmation that Max Neukirchner is likely to be sidelined for some time with a broken leg and partly also because his replacement for the time being is Fonsi Nieto. Although the circumstances surrounding his 'drop' from the team after just one season last year made him a slightly surprise candidate, it was nonetheless a welcome return for the former race winner. Not that the weekend went to plan for him, Nieto struggling to learn the bike and the circuit, leaving him outside the top twenty during practice and qualifying. Still, he did look more competitive in the races, giving him something to work on when he is expected to fill in again at Miller Motorsports Park, a more familiar venue for him. Yukio Kagayama, meanwhile, kept the points ticking over with a pair of eighth place finishes. Although it leaves him in a better position now than he did at this stage last year, the noises coming from the former British Superbike favourite are that he is struggling to make the K9 bike work at each venue. Roughly translated, the bike is quick, but isn't easy to set-up…
Shane Byrne – 9th, DNF