Noriyuki Haga claimed victory in the opening race of the Kyalami WSBK weekend, fending off Ducati team-mate Michel Fabrizio
and Yamaha polesitter Ben Spies to the line.
Showing little effect of the birdstrike injury that he feared could compromise his performance, the Japanese veteran got the jump at the start, but had to give best to Fabrizio mid-race before returning to the front and making the most of the ensuing battle between the Italian and Spies by building the cushion he needed to secure victory.
Spies and Fabrizio scrapped over second until the American made a mistake and allowed the Ducati back through, while Jonathan Rea kept his nerve to deny a determined Max Biaggi
on the run to the flag to round out the top five.
Spies initially appeared to have the holeshot, trying to convert his record-equalling sixth straight pole into the early lead, but found Haga sweeping across from the opposite side of the front row to claim the advantage, while the Yamaha attempted to fend off the equally fast-starting Biaggi through turns one and two. Fabrizio, meanwhile, tucked into fourth, before quickly picking off the two men ahead of him to leave Xerox Ducati sitting 1-2 at the end of the opening lap.
Carlos Checa initially held fifth spot, but soon lost that to Ten Kate team-mate Rea, who had ended the first tour with Shinya Nakano, Jakob Smrz, Sheridan Morais and Yukio Kagayama
right behind him. Smrz's presence was not long-lived, however, the Czech disappearing to the rear of the field, but at least he was still running, which is more than could be said for Ruben Xaus, whose race ended on lap two with his BMW buried in the dirt.
Fabrizio, perhaps keen to underline his early weekend dominance, swept to the front a lap later, while Rea followed suit by leading Checa past Biaggi for fourth and fifth. The rest of the British contingent wasn't fairing quite so well, meanwhile, with poor qualifying positions condemning Leon Haslam and Shane Byrne to tenth and eleventh respectively, while a poor start had seen Tom Sykes drop even further back, the Yamaha man unlucky 13th, with Tommy Hill mired towards the rear of the field.
While Checa and Biaggi traded fifth place on lap nine, Haslam began to make a move, passing Kagayama for ninth as the first ten laps were ticked off and then engaging in a spirited dice with local favourite Morais for eighth that the South African stand-in just managed to keep control of.
Approaching halfway, Haga tired of chasing his team-mate and duly returned the #41 Ducati to the front of the pack. Almost immediately, Spies appeared to raise his game, the American keen not to allow the points leader to make too much of a break lest he extend the gap between them on paper as well as tarmac. Having to deal with Fabrizio, however, Spies progress was not dramatic, and Haga did indeed ease out a gap back to the squabbling pair, initially four tenths but later growing towards a second.
Having finally disposed of the stubborn Morais, Haslam appeared on course to edge closer to the top six as he unearthed the race pace that the Stiggy team had spoken of after qualifying. However, the Briton's charge almost as soon as it had begun, Haslam being forced to pick himself out of the dirt as he joined Xaus as the race's only retirements.