Magny-Cours: Haga's race, Bayliss' title
5 October 2008
Troy Bayliss has wrapped up the 2008 World Superbike Championship in his swansong season after a comfortable ride to third in the first race at Magny-Cours.
Bayliss needed just to keep both Troy Corser and Noriyuki Haga in sight in order to secure the crown three races in advance. It was an easy task though because while Haga went on to win the race, Corser could only finish sixth.
His third World Championship win, the triumph is all the more poignant as Bayliss prepares to bring the curtain down on an illustrious motorbike career, one that he has ensured will glitter right up to its climax next month in Portugal.
The race itself didn't quite go Bayliss' way as an early lead gave way to an eventual third place finish behind Haga and a charging Fonsi Nieto.
The Aussie rider got away quickly from third on the grid, slipping into the quick first left-hander ahead of Nieto and Haga, although the Japanese rider would get the better of his Spanish rival just a few corners later.
Haga quickly latched onto the back of Bayliss and, knowing it would be potentially dangerous to embark on a dual with a gaggle of bikes just behind, he allowed him to pass up the inside at the Adelaide hairpin.
It was a shrewd move as Haga's searing pace saw him pull away, while Bayliss was able to be dragged along with him. Nieto, meanwhile, couldn't live with the pace and was embroiled in a heated tussle with Carlos Checa, team-mate Max Neukirchner, Troy Corser and Michel Fabrizio.
Checa got past on lap three, initially passing at Adelaide before Nieto punished him for running wide on the exit by overtaking again. However, the Honda was through again before the end of the lap with a neat move at Lycee.
Checa did rally for some time, gradually reeling in the top two riders just as Bayliss was beginning to lose ground on Haga. Far from relaxing, Haga was riding his Yamaha visibly hard as he struggled for grip around the chilly French circuit.
Nonetheless, the method was working and he was getting a gap between himself and Bayliss, who in turn was now under pressure from his team-mate Michel Fabrizio. The Italian was providing much of the entertainment as he battled back from a ninth place starting position. Passing Corser, Neukirchner and Nieto with the same move into the 180 left-hander, Fabrizio pulled off an identical pass on Checa for third place on lap 13.
Checa's fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse soon afterwards as he seemingly struggled with tyre woes. Plummeting down the order, Fabrizio was now third, with Nieto tailing him in fourth having seemingly found some late-race pace.
Passing Fabrizio on lap 18, the Italian's attempts to wrestle it back ended rather abruptly four laps from the end when he under-sided off the track and out of the race at Estoril.
With his rear-gunner now missing in action, Bayliss simply decided to allow Nieto through into second place and concentrate on completing his title endeavour with a spot on the lower step of the podium.
It was a task he completed comfortably as he crossed the line to the cheers of his Ducati team and the thousands of spectators descending on Magny-Cours to celebrate with him.
Bayliss' replacement in the team for 2009, meanwhile, was a comfortable winner by almost seven seconds, with Nieto claiming his best result since winning at Qatar earlier this season in second place.
Max Biaggi followed Bayliss in fourth after a late spurt in the closing stages, while Neukirchner was a quiet fifth after an error early on in the race saw him lose two places. Corser's title hopes faded with in sixth, the Aussie rider's strong start leading to what otherwise proved to be an unspectacular race.
Checa held on for seventh after a terrible final few laps that eventually saw him finish 16 seconds off the leaders.
The battle for the remainder of points remained open right up until the final stages of the race as the close mid-pack disputed the difference between eighth and 15th.
Leading the way was Yukio Kagayama, who completed a good start to the day for Suzuki in eighth, while Kenan Sofuoglu produced his best result of the season aboard the Ten Kate Honda in ninth.
Gregorio Lavilla was tenth, although not before Roberto Rolfo, David Checa, Ruben Xaus and Lorenzo Lanzi all retired from having briefly occupied positions inside the top ten.
Their demise allowed Regis Laconi to finish a notable 11th from 21st on the grid, ahead of Karl Muggeridge in 12th, Sebastian Gimbert in 13th Shinichi Nakatomi in 14th and Chris Walker grabbing the final point in 15th.