Noriyuki Haga has won a stunning first World Superbike race of the season after a late smattering of rain denied Max Neukirchner victory just two corners from the finish.

An outstanding performance by both Haga and Neukirchner, up from 13th and 14th on the grid respectively, Neukirchner snatched the lead off Haga at the start of the last lap, but drizzle around the back of the circuit caused him to have enough of a moment to allow his rival back through.

Although the German got close to re-taking the lead on the finishing straight, Haga would be classified the winner by just 0.032secs.

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A race full of drama after many of the expected front runners fell by the wayside in a frantic opening lap, Haga and Neukirchner took advantage of the chaos around them to end the first revolution second and fifth.

Moving to the front by lap seven, Haga and Neukirchner shadowed one another for the remainder of the race as they broke away from the chasing pack, the pair twice swapping positions before Neukirchner appeared to have made the decisive move at the start of the final lap when he slipstreamed his way past.

However, a combination of damp conditions and evidence of rear tyre wear were taking its toll on the Suzuki, prompting a massive moment for the German at turn nine and allowing the close following Haga back through.

Not that Neukirchner was completely finished, fighting back on the exit of turn 12 and using his Suzuki's engine power to very nearly nip back ahead on the line. It wasn't enough to deny Haga though, the Ducati rider coming good on his promise to ignore his lowly starting position and enjoy a 'pressure free' race.

As expected, the closeness of the competition ensured the order at the end of lap one was very different to how it had started. Confidence among the riders wasn't helped by the decision to classify the race as wet following short shower a few minutes before the start.

Nonetheless, the front row got away evenly, with Jonathan Rea snatching the lead into turn one, ahead of Max Biaggi and pole sitter Ben Spies. However, Biaggi and Spies were about to see their races take a turn for the worse when the Italian ran too deep at turn two and was forced to sit up.

Catching Spies unawares, he was left with nowhere to go but around the outside of the drifting Aprilia, Taking a long trip across the grass, Spies rejoined the circuit at the very back of the field. Biaggi recovered better, but would never get back into the reckoning.

Yamaha's tough start was further compounded when Tom Sykes was delayed by a collision at turn three, one that saw Ruben Xaus and Ryuichi Kiyonari come together, the latter falling off his bike and into retirement.

With Spies and Biaggi allowing Rea to make a quick break at the front, the Northern Irishman held onto the top spot for three laps before Haga made his move down to the first turn. Seemingly keen to protect his tyres and attempt a late race attack, Rea found himself dropping down the order quickly, losing out to Regis Laconi, Neukirchner, Yukio Kagayama Leon Haslam and Michel Fabrizio at just beyond the midway stage.

His tactic worked for most part when Laconi and Haslam paid the price for an inspired start to the race, one that had them up to second and fourth briefly. However, they couldn't sustain their pace to the finish, pair getting overtaken by a recovering Rea.

Further up the road, Kagayama joined Neukirchner in proving Suzuki's race pace is substantially better than their qualifying results, battling his way up to third position and breaking away from the battle for fourth. Although he didn't have the pace to keep up with the leaders, third place does still mark Kagayama's first podium in two years.

Fourth fell to Fabrizio, the Italian fighting back from one of his trademark tardy starts to time his late race assault to perfection and move away from Rea, Haslam and Laconi in the latter stages.

It meant Rea had to be content with fifth on his full-time WSBK debut, while Haslam held off Laconi for sixth to score good points for the rookie Stiggy Honda team.

Given the hype surrounding Aprilia following qualifying, BMW will be delighted to have beaten their fellow debutants after Troy Corser finished a fine eighth, the Australian making the most of an aggressive start to the race from 17th on the grid. Furthermore, Corser made a bit of history by scoring the fastest lap of the race for the brand new team.

Front row sitter Jakub Smrz clung onto a top ten finish in ninth, ahead of Sykes, who staged an impressive recovery to tenth position after his earlier delays dropped him to as low as 18th.

Biaggi held onto 11th in what was a tougher race than expected for Aprilia, his team-mate Shinya Nakano going on to grab a point for 15th.

Between them, Carlos Checa showed signs of his shoulder injury as he fell outside the top ten as the race progressed, the Spaniard finishing 12th, just ahead of Roberto Rolfo and Tommy Hill, the British rider doing an excellent job to score points on his first WSBK outing.

Elsewhere, Shane Byrne's miserable weekend continued when he crashed out on lap seven, while Spies' recovery was only good enough for 16th.