Ben Spies has moved to within two points of the World Superbike Championship lead after catching, passing and resisting Noriyuki Haga to win the opening race at the Nurbirgring.

The American recovered from an early delay during an exchange with Jonathan Rea to haul himself back into contention and pass his rival mid-way through the race. Once there, Haga battled hard to try and regain control, but save for a failed move three laps from the finish, he was unable to find his way back through.

A potentially pivotal moment for this year's title race, just two points now separate the pair with seven races remaining, the closest anyone has gotten to Haga since the start of the season.

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Spies was made to work hard for victory, however, the American not getting the best of getaways from fifth on the on the grid.

The race itself was being started for the second time following a red flag on the opening lap of the first start, prompted after a nasty accident involving John Hopkins and the Kawasakis of Broc Parkes and Makoto Tamada. Hopkins had fallen from his Stiggy Honda and was then clipped by another bike running off the circuit, both the American and Tamada requiring medical attention and forcing the race to be halted.

At the restart, Haga got away well from pole position, holding off Leon Haslam into the opening turn, the Briton choosing an opportunistic line around the outside before being baulked and sucked back into the mid-field.

It was Troy Corser who inherited the position instead, ahead of Rea and Spies, although both would be past the BMW by turn four when the Northern Irishman dived inside his rival and pulled Spies through.

Behind Corser, Max Biaggi made it five different manufacturers in the top five, while Michel Fabrizio and Fonsi Nieto followed in sixth and seventh, the pair going on to have an enjoyable tussle for the position before it was eventually decided in the factory Ducati rider's favour.

Up at the front, Haga's quick getaway was being reeled in through the opening laps, the championship leader having Rea latched on to his Ducati, while Spies himself was having to contend with the attentions of a feisty-looking Corser.

Rea's challenge, however, would be limited to nothing more than the odd feigned look at turn one, Haga seemingly more confident on the brakes into the tight hairpin. It meant Spies was able to pounce in the same spot on lap five, moving into second, and although the Honda rider struck back with an identical move just a lap later, a mistake at turn three would reverse the positions again in Spies' favour.

With Rea's victory challenge fading as he ran wide at turn one on lap seven to fall into the clutches of those behind, it freed up Spies to begin hunting down Haga, who had moved 1.5secs clear as he capitalised on the exchanges behind him.

Nonetheless, Spies immediately signalled his intentions by undercutting Haga's lap times, chipping away at the margin until he was on the back of the 1198 by lap ten.

Once there, Spies wasted no time in stamping his authority, tucking beneath Haga down the back straight before scything his way through under brakes for the left-right Esses.

Now able to control the pace out front, Spies attempted to build on his advantage, but Haga was not to be shaken off, matching his moves corner for corner and never falling more than half a second behind.

Seemingly prompting Haga to begin pushing again, a new lap record on lap 15 was indicative of the pressure he was applying to Spies. Their tussle was made all the more enticing by the different race lines being adopted through turn one, which would prompt sharp intakes of breath from the enthralled crowd as they came remarkably close to touching.

After laps of threatening to do so, Haga eventually got a tow down the home straight three laps from the close to pull alongside Spies and dive into the lead at the hairpin. Nonetheless, Spies calmly placed his Yamaha back up the inside of Haga as he ran wide, immediately reclaiming the advantage.

It would prove to be Haga's final convincing act, with Spies turning up the pace again to put some air between them, Haga having concede on the final lap and dropping back to give his rival a flattering four second victory.

Not the first time Spies has prevailed in a straight fight with Haga following his last lap victory at Assen, this puts him in an ideal position to snatch the initiative when the second race gets underway.

Several seconds behind, the battle for third raged until the chequered flag, with Carlos Checa eventually getting the nod over team-mate Rea following an impressive route through the pack on the Ten Kate Honda.

The Spaniard started eighth and ran in the same position in the early stages, before gradually picking his way through the order to catch Rea. Signalling his third podium of the season, it comes at a crucial time when Checa is believed to be fighting for his place in the team.

Rea settled for fourth, more than five seconds ahead of Biaggi, who came away with fifth after a race-long battle with Corser, Haslam and Fabrizio. Corser had held fourth for much of the time, but began to fade as the race progressed, slipping into the clutches of his rivals and eventually finishing in eighth position.

As such, Haslam was able to benefit, finishing a solid sixth having fallen from third to eighth at the start on the Stiggy Honda, while Fabrizio was a quiet seventh as he watches his slim title hopes slide away.

Unable to replicate the pace of his team-mate, Tom Sykes was a lonely ninth on the second Yamaha, while fellow Briton Shane Byrne completed the top ten.

Outside the top ten, Matthieu Lagrive, Karl Muggeridge, Jakub Smrz, Ryuichi Kiyonari and Yukio Kagayama were the remaining point scorers. Briton Richard Cooper, meanwhile, crashed out of 15th position, seven laps into the race.