The armchair pundits may have written Noriyuki Haga’s 2009 World Superbike Championship prospects off following a string of misfortune that saw him squander an 80 plus points lead, crash and injure himself at Donington Park, and lose the series points lead for the first time during the last round in Germany to rookie sensation Ben Spies. However, Haga wasn’t following the script as he showed his hunger for victory by winning race 1 in style and following that up with a 2nd in the 2nd race behind his young team-mate.
Haga’s victory in the 1st race came after a 10 race drought which must have buoyed his spirirts and his chances of taking the title for the first time. Perhaps the strangest thing was Michel Fabrizio not relinquishing the lead to Haga in the dying stages of the second race given their relative positions in the championship and the relatively poor showing of Spies (for him)who could finish no higher than 4th and 5th. No doubt being caught up in Marco Simoncelli’s stunning wild card debut ride on the Aprilia RSV4 to take 3rd after running his teammate Max Biaggi and Spies wide in a chicane contributed, but so did the apparent unforced error a little later that saw him run off the track for a second time in almost as many laps.
Max Biaggi bested his teammate in the first race by taking 2nd after leading for most of the race. Marco looked fast but fragile and fell off whilst 5th. Another rider who looked on the verge of crashing in almost every session was Jonathan Rea on the Ten Kate Honda, who did fall off in the first race, narrowly missing taking Haga out for the second meeting in a row but remounted to finish impressively in 7th. He almost repeated the same trick in the second race, running in way too hot in a chicane, but this time kept it rubber side down and ultimately crossed the line time around for 6th.
Noriyuki Haga (Race 1 -winner , Race 2 – 2nd):- “It’s great to have won again, having not been in this position since Kyalami and having had some tough rounds after the Donington accident. It was a very long race, I thought it would never end, and with all that happened, I don’t even remember when I overtook Max! Over this weekend we have gradually improved and I am especially happy with the result because my father has travelled to Europe for the first time to see me race. For Race 2 I unfortunately had to go out on the second bike as we had problems with the first and we couldn’t get it fixed in time. It was a hard race and I am very tired at the end of it all. Congratulations to Michel in Race 2 of course and also to Marco (Simoncelli) and thanks to my engineer Ernesto, to my team and to Ducati. We are now back in the lead with a three point advantage but there are still four races to go so there’s still a fight ahead. We need the best possible bike for Magny-Cours and Portimao!”
Michel Fabrizio (Race 1 – 3rd, Race 2 – winner):- “What races! I really wanted a win today so I am extremely happy. In Race 1 the problem was that after just a few laps I was having problems with my left arm and it was hard to change gear, I had kind of cramps in my hand. By the end I was really hanging on by two fingers with no feeling in my arm. So all things considered third place was a good result. After the first race I got my trainer to do some work on my arm and it obviously did the trick because it wasn’t a problem in Race 2, and when I got past Noriyuki I knew I could win. I’m happy also for my son, who is here and always asks me why I don’t win more! Thanks to the whole team, to my trainer Leigh “Rok” Bryan, to Ducati, to Xerox and to the spectators who have been amazing this weekend. All of Ducati’s top management were here today too so I hope that our results demonstrate that Nori and me deserve to have had our contracts renewed for next year.”
link: World SBK
Spies, of course, had a weekend to largely forget not standing on the podium in either race and droping to 3 points behind Haga with just 2 round to go. After the race he seemed philosophical about it, declaring himself the best rider in the series even if he doesn’t ultimately win the championship signaling pretty clearly that he intends to be on a MotoGP machine next year regardless of the World Superbike Championship outcome. He give his comments about the races in the video below.
The championship is starting to play out a little like 2002 when it was all decided between Colin Edwards and Troy Bayliss in the final round (ironically then Imola). The penultimate round is next weekend, October 4th, at Magny Cours in France. Last year Haga finished 1st and 2nd in the two races and will likely be looking to win twice. If he can then he would need to finish no better than 2nd to Spies in the final round at Portimao, Portugal assuming that Spies would finish second to Haga in France. Game on!