Noriyuki Haga showed the world why is simply had to race at Laguna Seca with a typically spectacular victory in race one.
Noriyuki Haga took just five laps to justify his Yamaha team's decision to take his suspension appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport therefore allowing him to race at Laguna Seca this weekend. In a race where some of the excitement was lost by the American Superbike regulars not being able to compete, Haga laid on a fantastic display of precision and skill to take his third 'official' win of the year.
The signs had been there all weekend for the opposition, Haga looking smooth and untested during qualifying and still put the West sponsored YZF-R7 machine on the front row of the grid. The Japanese rider was revelling on his Dunlop tyres, the same rubber with which he won a race at Laguna Seca in 1998.
Away from the start, all the front row starters got a decent run down to the first corner, recently dubbed the Andretti hairpin. Colin Edwards really got the drop with his Honda, moving across on pole man Troy Bayliss on the descent to the tight first turn while Frankie Chili endured a lurid moment as his back wheel snaked from side to side, costing him third place which was gratefully received by Haga.
All 23 riders got around the first turn without hassle and as the field snakes its way up the hill towards the corkscrew Haga pulled out from behind Bayliss to take second place away from the Ducati.
A lap later Haga made his move, slicing down the inside of the steep downhill section of the track known as the 'Rainey' curves after the American Wayne Rainey who lost the use of his legs at this track in 1994.
Haga's lead lasted all of two corners as Edwards forced the Yamaha rider slightly off line as they entered the last hairpin, allowing the Honda rider alongside the leader as they crossed the start/finish line and back into the lead by the first turn. Behind these two Bayliss was keeping a close watching brief while Chili had dropped away to the tune of a second a lap and was in obvious discomfort with his collarbone.
On lap three, Haga pulled the same daredevil manoeuvre on Edwards in exactly the same place, forcing the front tyre of the Yamaha to the inside of the corner while Edwards used the camber of the track to take up the normal line towards the outside of the tarmac. This time the Yamaha rider made the move stick, breaking as late as possible into the final hairpin, not allowing Edwards to stick his nose infront as the two turned in..
Also on the move in the early stages were Troy Corser and Ben Bostrom. Both had moved past a fast starting Akira Yanagawa with Bostrom out gunning Aaron Slight going up the hill on lap three. They settled into fifth and sixth places behind Chili while the remainder of the top ten was made up by Yanagawa, Slight, Katsuaki Fujiwara and Peter Goddard.
Sensational in qualifying he may have been, but Troy Bayliss' lack of racing experience at Laguna was already beginning to show. The Australian looked ill at ease on his Ducati and wasn't embracing the most challenging corners as were those with more experience of the track. On lap eight and with a charging Corser on his tail, Bayliss lost the front of the Ducati on the entry to Turn 5, the sharp left hander at the base of the hill, and went skating into the gravel trap, fortunately with no personal harm. Somehow the closely following Corser managed to avoid the tumbling Ducati and continued unabated, now in third place.