The South African round of the World Superbike Championship will be one that Yamaha's Ben Spies will want to quickly put out of his mind, after title rival Noriyuki Haga capitalised on a poor weekend for the American to claim two race wins and an extended points advantage.
After qualifying for a record-tying sixth straight pole, Spies battled valiantly with Ducati rivals Haga and Michel Fabrizio in the first 24-lap race and, while the Yamaha squad never quite found optimal settings for its new R1 at Kyalami, Spies overcame the disadvantage with some unrelenting riding.
Although he fell behind the Ducati duo early on, he methodically closed the gap and, on lap 17, actually pushed past Fabrizio into second place - and began closing in on Haga. Coming out of the Yellow Pages section for the 20th time, however, the rear tyre stepped out as Spies gunned his machine and the resulting hard snap threw him out of the saddle and sent the bike into a high-speed wobble.
Spies sat up and was able to bring the R1 back under control but, by then, he'd lost second place and had been sufficiently gapped by Fabrizio to make recovery a tough task.
“I was just struggling,” Spies admitted after the race, “I was trying to hang on for all I was worth, but then I had that moment and that was it. I knew I was pushing past the limits and there was nothing else I could do, so I made the only decision I could and that was to back it off and finish third.”
Disappointed, Spies was determined to make a strong comeback in the second race and, after following Haga on the first lap, looked to be taking control as he moved into the lead next time around.
“We made some major changes to the set-up for race two, and I had a completely different motorcycle,” he revealed, “I figured that, if it worked, I might have a better shot at running with the Ducatis and, if it didn't, I was still confident I could put it on the podium. However, I think we actually found something with the changes.
"Then, no sooner had I gotten into the lead when I went into a turn and started hitting my normal downshifts and the shift lever broke. By the time they would have fixed it and got me back out on the track, there would have been no chance to ride back up into the points, so I got off the bike and watched the rest of the race from pit-lane.”
It was an unfortunate and frustrating end to Spies' day, and one that makes the climb back to championship contention a steep one. Second place in both races for Fabrizio was enough to take the Italian past the 24-year old into second standings, while Haga extended his lead over the American to 88 points as the series heads to his home race in Utah.
“I've made a couple of mistakes but, basically, we've given away a couple of races worth of points and you can't do that and stay in the championship chase,” Spies sighed, “However, I'm going to wake up tomorrow and train just as I would if I were leading the title. We're just going to keep going for wins like we have all season.
“It going to be good to be on a track I'm familiar with [next time out], and I'm confident we can have a good result at Miller. I want to do what I can to win as many races as possible and see if, by some miracle, we can make a comeback in the series.”