Haga mugs Vermeulen in race one thriller
13 June 2004
Noriyuki Haga won a thrilling first World Superbike race at Silverstone today, the Japanese star shadowing race leader Chris Vermeulen for almost the entire event – before staging a shock last turn pass.
Haga and Vermeulen stormed past pole sitter Regis Laconi at the start, and would never be troubled by the rest of the field in the twenty laps that followed. The pair traded the lead several times in the opening circulations, before the Australian held the front from lap three to sixteen.
In between, Haga's Renegade Ducati was glued to the reigning World Supersport champion's rear wheel, with Nitro Nori regularly rehearsing overtaking manoeuvres as he studied the class rookie's race lines.
Haga's first attempt came on lap sixteen when he dived ahead through the sweeping Bridge turn, but Vermeulen instantly retaliated and after braving out a bar-to-bar struggle through the rest of the infield the Ten Kate Honda star regained the advantage by the ultra tight Woodcote chicane that completes the lap.
The two would then start the final circulation locked together, with Haga unleashing his planned slipstreaming move as they entered Hanger Straight for the final time. Haga duly powered around the outside, but Vermeulen waited ultra late on the brakes, held the inside and retook the lead.
Thereafter, Chris put several bike lengths between himself and Haga – and looked set for his first ever World Superbike victory, in his debut season, as he entered the twisty infield section for the final time.
But then, on the curved approach to the all deciding Woodcote Chicane, Vermeulen seemed to bobble slightly – while Haga squared the approach off, grabbed a huge amount of drive and surged inside Vermeulen by the entry apex.
Contact was somehow avoided through the awkward left-right flick, and with only a short blast to the finish Haga was unstoppable, much to the gut wrenching disappointment of Vermeulen and his Ten Kate team - by then lining the pitlane to celebrate an expected first SBK victory.
Meanwhile, crowd favourite Frankie Chili fought his way up from an unrepresentative 16th on the grid (after an engine failure in Superpole) to an excellent third.
By contrast, both Ducati Fila riders James Toseland (who'd faded from an early third to seventh) and Regis Laconi (who'd spent most of the race battling Chili) had a diasterous opening race - crashing out on laps 11 and 17 respectively.
Worryingly for world championship leader Toseland was the fact that although able to walk away from his accident, he was soon seen in the medical centre... Laconi's error was less physically costly, but after tipping over at an embarrassingly low speed midway through the Woodcote Chicane Regis had lost his chance to take the points' lead.
Already injured Foggy Petronas rider Chris Walker also fell, on lap 7, the brave Brit losing control of his FP1 after a mechanical problem through the infield section - while battling for fifth with Toseland, Haslam, Martin, team-mate Troy Corser and Garry McCoy.
Fortunately, 'The Stalker' didn't appear to inflict any more damage to add to his suspected three broken ribs sustained yesterday.
The demise of Toseland, Walker and Laconi left Steve Martin, fellow Aussie Garry McCoy and Brit Leon Haslam (who'd battled back from a poor start) disputing fourth place – the trio having left Corser in a safe seventh by the later stages of the race.
But just as victory would be decided at the final turn, so too would fourth place, with Slide King Garry McCoy just emerging on top for NCR Ducati, from Renegade rider Haslam and DFX run Martin.
Full results to follow...