Sunday, March 15, 2009

WSBK Qatar: Spies Double - Oh, Heaven!

Ben Spies continued his breathtaking dominance of the World Superbike series by taking pole position and winning the double at Qatar, but Noriyuki Haga kept his championship lead with a pair of second place finishes.

Race One
Max Biaggi made his customary lightning start on the V4 Aprilia, with Noriyuki Haga's Xerox Ducati slotting into second place. Polesitter Ben Spies could only manage 4th place into turn one on his Yamaha, with Jakub Smrz impressively slotting his privateer Ducati into 3rd in front of the Texan. Shinya Nakano on the second Aprilia was keeping Spies in sight, and there was soon a battle for 3rd between Nakano, Smrz and Spies, with the Texan struggling to pass his rivals. 

Biaggi's Aprilia was very quick in a straight line, certainly quicker than Haga's factory Ducati, as the Japanese contender was just a tad too slow to slipstream past the late-braking Roman Emperor. Spies woke up and dispatched Nakano and Smrz, who suffered a big highside shortly afterwards. The American had now woken up and was travelling faster and faster, slipstreaming past Haga then passing Biaggi for the lead on the same lap, at two-thirds of race distance.

Behind the leaders, Nakano's Aprilia was in 4th place, which he would hold to the end of the race. Ten Kate Honda's Carlos Checa came through the pack into 5th, but couldn't quite hunt down his old MotoGP rival. It was an encouraging race for Shane Byrne on the underfunded Sterilgarda Ducati, taking a very respectable 6th after a pair of DNF's in Australia, while Tom Sykes on the second Yamaha Italia machine continued his learning process with 7th.

Back at the front, Spies got his head down and reeled off some fast laps that the following pair just couldn't keep up with, stretching out a 1.8 second lead by the end of the race. Biaggi and Haga, who have never really seen eye to eye, battled closely for 2nd place. Using his Ducati's superior handling, Haga made an excellent entry onto the straight, and managed to slipstream past Biaggi's Aprilia to nick 2nd and relegate the Italian to 3rd place.

Overall it was a fairly unexciting race, largely due to the Losail circuit's dull, F1-esque design. Ben Spies was shockingly quick on a track that he has never raced on before, while the usual suspects of Haga and Biaggi rounded out the podium. The Aprilia was especially impressive for a brand new bike, taking 3rd and 4th places and holding its own on the endless start-finish straight. One of the biggest disappointments was Max Neukirchner, who struggled for pace all weekend on his Suzuki and ended up with a DNF, despite being fastest down the straights at 200mph.

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