Winston Ten Kate Honda's newest recruit, James Toseland, has taken a shock win in the opening race of the 2006 Corona Extra World Superbike Championship in Qatar - after a last lap clash between Noriyuki Haga
and Yukio Kagayama.
"Not a bad start to the year really," smiled James, who charged through the field after a poor start. "With Bayliss, Xaus, Rolfo and Barros coming back here, it was good to stay in the background and just concentrate on my training."
Toseland admitted that when initially on the Honda he wasn't very fast, "I came to the team with an open mind, and when we first tested I wasn't very fast, but I knuckled down and got on with the job. Considering I had no job and was looking at AMA or BSB, to be back here in Worlds is great."
Joining Toseland on the podium was another former World Champion, Troy Bayliss, and in third place was Yamaha's Andrew Pitt. It was the first time that Pitt had made it onto the podium in World Superbikes.
Initially it looked like the two Yamaha Italia riders, Haga and Pitt, had the race sown up as they battled between themselves for first and second. However Kagayama, on the Alstare Corona Extra Suzuki, was on a charge and eventually worked his way into the lead.
The Kagayama, Haga battle that ensued was amazing to watch, with the riders trading places frequently. Unfortunately, Haga lost the front whilst diving under Kagayama and wiped both of them out on the last lap. That left the way clear for third place man, Toseland to take the lead and hold off Bayliss for a debut Fireblade victory.
"I was happy to take the lead, but I wouldn't have caught them if they hadn't crashed," explained Toseland. "I really needed to concentrate when I took the lead as I could feel my heart rate going up and I could hear that flaming Ducati behind me!"
Meanwhile, Pitt had thought he and Haga could make a clean break at the front early on: "I thought we might have snuck away but the front tyre went off. I'm over the moon to be on the podium as I've been knocking on the door for a while. We just need to make the front tyre last," he said.
For Bayliss, returning to his former hunting ground proved tough. "I knew it wouldn't come easy and I was worried about using up the front too much at the start," said the Qatar pole sitter. "There was a lot of action out there and it was hard to pass. But on my second last lap I put in my best lap, so my tyre was still good to push with, and I'll push harder next race."