Spies snatches victory in Qatar
14 March 2009
Ben Spies has swept to victory in the first World Superbike race of the day in Qatar after prevailing in a tense fight with Noriyuki Haga and Max Biaggi
A second triumph for the Texan in only three races, although Spies completed the win from pole position on paper, the reality saw him forced to work hard for victory after a tardy start dropped him out of contention initially.
In fact, Spies led just four of the 18 laps, the Yamaha rider forced to trail Biaggi and Haga for much of the race before making his decisive move for victory in the latter stages.
Indeed, with Spies having previously admitted the new R1 is not easy to make good starts with, he proved his point by entering the first corner in fourth position having been swamped on the outside of the turn.
It allowed Biaggi, from third on the grid, to sweep into the lead on the Aprilia, ahead of Haga and Jakub Smrz, the Czech rider getting an uncustomary good start from the front row of the grid.
Spies even ran as low as fifth when Shinya Nakano got the better of him on lap two and it wasn't until lap five that he made it back through. To his credit though, Spies did pass Nakano in style, slipstreaming both him and Smrz to surge through from fifth to third in one go.
Setting off in pursuit of Biaggi and Haga, who had eked out a small gap to the field behind, Spies quickly reeled them in with a series of quick lap times.
Still, once there, Spies's ominous progress would go no further as he retained a watching brief in third position for the next eight laps. Instead, Biaggi and Haga were embarking on a subtle dice for the lead, Haga never really putting a determined move on Biaggi, but occasionally getting a little too close to the Aprilia to show he was trying.
With the laps ticking down gradually, Spies's hopes of leapfrogging both Haga and Biaggi looked as though they were dwindling until all three riders entered the long home straight at the end of lap 13 line astern for the first time.
For Haga, it was the ideal opportunity to try and slipstream the rapid RSV-4, but for Spies it was an even better chance to capitalise on the draught from both bikes. So when Haga gave up on passing Biaggi, he was caught off guard long enough for Spies to instead sweep through into second place.
With a new rival to contend with, Biaggi kept up his momentum but he too was caught unawares when a slight error into turn six allowed Spies to dive up the inside, forcing the Aprilia to sit up and scramble back into second position.
Once in the lead, there was no going back for Spies as he used the clear circuit ahead to put in some strong late lap times and forge a gap between himself and Biaggi and Haga, the pair still squabbling, but now for a less prestigious second place.
That battle raged until the chequered flag, with Haga finally sweeping past Biaggi at the start of the penultimate lap. It was a move that was replicated by his rival on the final lap, but not so well executed, Biaggi running wide into turn one and gifting the place back.
Neither could do anything about Spies though, who wound up a fairly comfortable two second winner, although Haga's decisive second means the gap between them in the standings sits at 15 points in the Japanese rider's favour.
Although disappointed to have ended up third having led for the majority of the race, Biaggi and Aprilia will be delighted to be up on the podium so early on in their World Superbike endeavour. Furthermore, it was a joy that was compounded when Nakano held on for a similarly impressive fourth position.
The former MotoGP rider's cause was aided by a fall for Smrz, who looked to be on course for a career best result when he crashed from fifth position on the final corner of lap seven.
He wasn't the only rider to suffer problems, Michel Fabrizio crashing out of seventh position, while Max Neukirchner endured a spectacular high-side on lap six having already fallen to the back of the field with a trip across the gravel on lap two.
Their mishaps allowed Carlos Checa to record a good top five result for himself and Ten Kate Honda, the Spaniard having to work hard for the position as he resisted the attentions of British pair Shane Byrne and Tom Sykes.
Byrne enjoyed a steady race in sixth position, a considerable improvement on his double DNF in Australia, although Sykes will be frustrated that a poor first lap – one that dropped him from fifth to 12th – prevented him from finishing any better than seventh in the end.
Countrymen Leon Haslam and Jonathan Rea enjoyed differing fortunes in the first race, with the former having to battle his way up from outside the top twenty when he was one of three riders to run off the track at the start of lap two, the other two being Brendan Roberts and Yukio Kagayama.
Nonetheless, a series of quick laps and overtaking manoeuvres got him back into the hunt for a top ten finishing position, the Stiggy rider ultimately just falling just short in 11th when he finished behind Ryuichi Kiyonari, Troy Corser and Regis Laconi, the latter dropping back after running as high as fifth early on.
Rea, meanwhile, made swift progress up the order having qualified a lowly 17th, but while he reached a high of eighth at one point, an error in the closing stages dropped him to eventual 12th position, behind Haslam.
Still, with Tommy Hill sneaking another point in 15th, all five British riders would be classified inside the points, the Althea rider finishing behind BMW's Ruben Xaus and the sole Kawasaki of Broc Parkes, the Aussie scoring the team's first points of the season in the process.