Spies storms to wet-to-dry win at Misano
21 June 2009
Ben Spies has taken his eighth World Superbike victory of the season at Misano after unleashing a searing pace when it mattered in an entertaining wet-to-dry race.
Spies looked to be out of contention in the early stages of a race that was begun in damp conditions, with Shane Byrne instead taking the initiative and pulling out a huge 15 second gap over his nearest rival.
However, as the circuit dried rapidly and the flag-to-flag rule came into effect, Spies was mesmerising on his second bike as he quickly caught and passed Byrne to win by a clear eight seconds.
An eventful race that was defined by the tumultuous weather conditions, all riders began on treaded rubber, but the arrival of sun meant most were swapping their bikes over by the mid-way point. It didn't take long for drama to strike though, with Troy Corser tumbling on the warm-up lap and being unable to take the start – he joined John Hopkins on the sidelines, the American having decided not to race.
From the start, first time pole sitter Jakub Smrz got away well, but was no match for Byrne, who slingshot his way into the lead at the opening bend, ahead of the sister Guandalini machine, Spies, Carlos Checa and Michel Fabrizio.
In what has been a dismal season thus far for the reigning British Superbike champion, Byrne was wasting no time in attempting to make amends, at one stage lapping more than a second faster than anyone else on the circuit as he excelled on the treacherous surface.
Still, despite the slippery conditions, all riders were staying upright, even if some were coping with the rigours better than others. Amongst those scything their way up the order were Gregorio Lavilla, up to eighth by lap three, and Yukio Kagayama in ninth, although both Aprilias were finding conditions tougher as they slipped out of contention
Meanwhile, Jonathan Rea, who had intended to start in second position before being forced to get away in the pit lane, found himself back in the pit lane when he was given a drive-thru penalty.
Up at the front, Byrne was continuing to extend his advantage at a remarkable rate, pulling out an 8.6secs advantage over Smrz by lap six. Smrz himself was also enjoying a good gap over Fabrizio, Spies and Checa behind at this stage.
Haga, however, was slipping back rapidly as he continued to struggle with the handling of his Ducati Xerox on the drying tarmac. Dropping from sixth to tenth in just one lap, it was apparent the circuit was beginning to reach a stage where riders could switch to their slick-shod second machines.
First to take a punt was Shinya Nakano, who ditched his struggling Aprilia in favour of a new one at the end of lap nine, the Japanese rider becoming the man other teams would watch with great interest.
With Haga following soon afterwards, it kick-started a flurry of activity in the pit lane as riders switched machines, although it was Spies would be the first of the lead riders to go first.
Up to that point Spies had slipped to fifth position behind Checa, the Spaniard finding some remarkable speed to pass the American, Fabrizio and Smrz within two laps to move into second position.
With Fabrizio pitting on lap 13 – getting out in front of Spies on his return to the circuit –, Checa and Smrz followed on lap 14. However, Checa's chances were effectively ended when his Ten Kate Honda refused to fire up, leaving the visibly frustrated Spaniard to drop several seconds as his crew attempted to jump-start him down the pit lane. A similar problem had afflicted Rea earlier too.
Eventually Byrne pitted on lap 15 to emerge back on track in a provisional first place, with only Ruben Xaus – yet to pit – ahead of him.
However, on a level playing field, it was Spies who was setting a remarkable pace, lapping considerably quicker than the riders ahead of him to dispatch of Fabrizio and Smrz quickly before destroying Byrne's advantage.
With the Sterilgarda machine seemingly unable to sustain the pace it showed in the damp, Spies simply drove around Byrne to take an effective lead.
Just a few seconds up the road, Xaus was leading for BMW, the first time the German brand has ever led a WSBK race. The Spaniard had been a marvel in slippery conditions, scything his way into contention having started in 18th position. He was pulling along Jamie Hacking and Leon Haslam too, who filled the top spots for a brief time as they attempted to make their waning rubber last as long as possible.
It didn't take long for Spies – lapping around ten seconds faster than Xaus – to relieve the BMW of the lead, moving ahead on lap 19 and simply romping away over the remaining five laps to claim another superb victory around a circuit he previously hasn't visited.
As the remaining pack bore down on him, Xaus lasted as long as the end of lap 19 before eventually pitting and dropping to the bottom end of the top ten. A drive-through penalty, however, would see him cross the line in 14th position.
Victory was Spies' though, the American cruising across the line to continue in his quest to close the gap on Haga, who otherwise managed to battle his way up to fifth position – passing Yukio Kagayama on the final lap – having run as low as 19th at one stage. The gap between the two riders in the standings is now down to 39 points.
Although disappointed to miss out on winning, Byrne held off Fabrizio and a charging Smrz, who was the fastest rider in the latter stages, to finish as the best Ducati on home ground in second - easily his best result on the Sterilgarda Ducati.
Behind Haga, Kagayama defied his injury woes to finish a heroic sixth, ahead of Rea, who deserves plaudits for producing a good result despite his various problems throughout the race.
Tom Sykes prevailed in a lengthy battle with Nakano to finish eighth, with the Japanese rider finishing well up on team-mate Max Biaggi in ninth. Matthieu Lagrive rounded out the top ten on his WSBK debut aboard the Althea Honda.
Checa recovered to a frustrated 11th, ahead of Haslam, who left it too late to pit, while Biaggi, Xaus and Alessandro Polita, on his return, completed the points paying positions.