Spies makes amends with race two win
1 January 1901
Ben Spies has taken victory in the second World Superbike race of the season at Phillip Island after resisting the attentions of a charging Noriyuki Haga.
Going a long way to making up for his disastrous opening race, victory from pole position seals an otherwise magnificent maiden weekend in World Superbikes for the three-time AMA champion.
Spies' win was notable for the way in which he soaked up pressure from Haga throughout the race, the two possible title rivals indulging in some close, but clean, racing as they swapped the lead on several occasions over the course of the race.
The initiative initially seemed to be with Haga after the Japanese rider repeated his outstanding start from 13th on the grid to end the first lap in fifth place, before disposing of three more rivals for second by lap four.
From here, Haga immediately set his sights on Spies, who had led the way from turn two after being out-dragged by Max Biaggi down to the first corner.
Haga didn't take long to resume his place at the head of the field, passing Spies on the run down to turn one at the start of lap five. However, despite his rapid ascension up the order, neither Spies nor Biaggi were allowing him to get away. Indeed, the Italian rider was putting in a fine showing on the new Aprilia RSV-4, going with the leaders as they made a break away from those directly behind.
With the Ducati and Yamaha bikes seemingly favouring different parts of the circuit, the gap between Haga and Spies swung continuously before Spies finally grabbed back the lead on lap 11. Even so, it was only good enough for two laps when a slight error at MG allowed Haga back through.
Haga even managed to break away from Spies briefly, but seemed to be feeling the affects of tyre wear in the final laps, thus allowing his rival back into contention. It meant Haga barely posed a threat when Spies attempted a move at the start of lap 18.
Having nursed his tyres better, Spies gradually broke the tow of Haga to come home in front by a comfortable margin in the end, much to the delight of his Yamaha team and his family.
Despite missing out on a double victory, a win and a second place marks a fine start to the year for Haga, not least when his lowly starting positions are taken into consideration. The results also see him lead the championship by a fair margin heading to the second round in Qatar.
Behind the leaders, the battle for third place proved to be equally engrossing as Biaggi began to fade into the clutches of Michel Fabrizio, Leon Haslam and Regis Laconi.
Fabrizio, Haslam and Laconi had all been satisfied to sit on the fringes of the fight at the front until the final few laps when Fabrizio made his move on Biaggi. Quickly taking advantage, Haslam launched his assault on the Italian too, the pair swapping positions twice before the British rider moved up into fourth.
Haslam wasn't done though, instantly latching onto the back of Fabrizio, who, like Haga, also seemed to be having tyre wear issues, as they entered the final lap. Initially overtaking at turn one, Fabrizio regained the place at turn two before Haslam finally completed the move at Honda.
Holding on to the chequered flag, third place and a podium marks a superb return to WSBK competition for Haslam, as well as suggest newcomers Stiggy could be a threat to Ten Kate's superiority over at Honda.
Laconi enjoyed a stealthy run up the order to fourth, the Frenchman posting his best WSBK results in some time on the DFX Ducati after also overtaking Fabrizio on the final lap.
Biaggi, meanwhile, saw his hopes of a good result on the Aprilia come to nothing when he ran off the circuit on the final lap. Having been swamped by Haslam, Fabrizio and Laconi at Honda, Biaggi attempted to regain his position, but instead misjudged his braking point and took a trip across the grass. Snatching the final point in 15th, Biaggi has nonetheless shown just what the RSV-4 could be capable of this season.
Having almost won the first race, Max Neukirchner was a very distant sixth, the German paying the price for his 14th place starting position as he made slow progress up the order. Nonetheless, coupled to his earlier second place, Neurkirchner has done enough to take an early second position in the overall standings.
Jakub Smrz completed his second top ten result of day in seventh, ahead of Yukio Kagayama, while front row sitter Jonathan Rea was a disappointing ninth after gradually dropping down the order. A tough race all round for Ten Kate, Rea's team-mates Carlos Checa and Ryuichi Kiyonari didn't fare any better down in 13th and 23rd.
Tom Sykes was once again forced to make up ground following a poor start, but did enough to sneak into the top ten, ahead of Ruben Xaus, the Spaniard putting in his most convincing performance on the BMW for five useful points.
Shinya Nakano ran as high as sixth early on before sliding down to 12th, ahead of Checa, the impressive Tommy Hill and the recovering Biaggi.
Shane Byrne, meanwhile, comes away from Australia empty-handed after crashing for the second time today.