Despite suffering during the new knockout Superpole system, which left him just 13th on the grid, Noriyuki Haga emerged from his first weekend as a Ducati Xerox rider with 1-2 race results and the 2009 World Superbike Championship lead.
Haga, who had apologised to his fans team after qualifying, made his grid position irrelevant with a storming start to race one; the Japanese star sitting second by the end of the opening lap.
Main rival and pole sitter Ben Spies ran off track on the same lap, but Haga soon found himself facing a less expected rival in the form of Alstare Suzuki's Max Neukirchner.
The pair battled fiercely for the rest of the race - the GSX-R gapping the 1198 on the straights, but losing ground through the corners - and Max took the lead back from Haga as the last lap began.
Haga looked short of options, but kept pressure on the German and a 'moment' for Neukirchner on the approach to MG allowed Haga to dive back ahead. Neukirchner regrouped, and was gaining quickly on the #41 as they raced to the line, but a delighted Haga held on by just 0.032sec.
“My qualifying was not so good but in race one my start was strong, and I started to fight with Max up at the front almost immediately,” recalled Haga. “There was the possibility of rain so I started attacking right from the first lap. On the last lap Max got past me again but I kept trying and then he made a mistake and I was able to pass him.”
Neukirchner wasn't a factor in race two, but Spies - who took Haga's vacant Yamaha ride - certainly was. Haga and the American rookie disputed the lead for most of the race, before tyre-wear problems for Haga help Spies secure a debut victory by 1.2sec.
“In race two I was again fighting, this time with Ben [Spies] but he was very fast and by the last five laps my rear tyre was finished, so I had to settle for second,” said Haga. “I really enjoyed the race and I am very happy; my team has done a great job this weekend and I am feeling very comfortable on my 1198.”
After the opening round of the championship Haga tops the rider's classification with 45 points, followed by Neukirchner(30) and Leon Haslam (25). Spies sits fourth with 25 points.