Monday, April 06, 2009

WSBK Valencia: Nitro Nori Doubles

Noriyuki Haga took a double victory when the World Superbike circus visited Valencia, keeping up his championship challenge on the Xerox Ducati.

The Valencia track is far too tight and twisty for big, heavy Superbikes to race on. In fact, it's only really suited to tiny 125cc machines. However, if you have to choose a Superbike to race at Valencia, it would be a Ducati, whose grumbling V-twin engine is perfect for accelerating out of the Spanish track's slow corners.

Ben Spies had taken pole position on his Yamaha, but a qualifying lap and a race lap are two different animals. He would have three Ducatis alongside him on the front row.

Race One
The surprise leader into turn one was crazy Frenchman Regis Laconi, who won a 500cc Grand Prix here 10 years earlier. However, his satellite Ducati ran wide on the exit, letting Haga past. Suzuki rider Max Neukirchner popped up into 2nd place, and Troy Corser rose as high as 4th place before lowsiding out of the race from 5th a couple of laps in.

Ben Spies was a little ragged, but climbed to 4th after making a poor start, though he was being harried by the evergreen Yukio Kagayama. They were still in touch with the leaders, with Neukirchner briefly taking the lead before Haga snatched it back. Laconi kept watch in 3rd.

Nori Haga can be infuriatingly inconsistent, but when he has one of his good days, it becomes blindingly obvious why his suport is so fanatical. This was one of his good days. The Japanese star started stretching away from the following bikes, setting fastest laps as he went.

Haga's Xerox Ducati team-mate Michel Fabrizio is even more inconsistent, but he was working his way through the field, getting up to 4th place. This became 3rd when the shine came off Ben Spies' start to the season. The gangly Texan was pushing to stay with Neukirchner when he hopped off at the super-fast turn one. The bike was trashed, but Spies was straight on his feet, trudging disconsolately back to his garage after his first major mistake of the season.

Haga led over the line to take the victory on his Xerox Ducati. In 2nd place was his younger team-mate Fabrizio, just fractions ahead of Max Neukirchner's Suzuki. Regis Laconi's Ducati was right with them in 4th. Leon Haslam was by far the best Honda rider, taking his Stiggy machine to an excellent 5th place ahead of Kagayama's Suzuki, Tom Sykes on the second Yamaha Italia machine, and the Aprilia of Max Biaggi in 8th, recovering from a truly disastrous 18th position on the grid.

Race Two
Once again it was Regis Laconi's Ducati that took the lead into turn one, and once again he ran out wide, letting Neukirchner and Fabrizio past. Haga too passed the Frenchman, and Ben Spies overtook him on the second lap. Haga wasn't keen to sit looking at his team-mate's rear tyre, and outbraked the Italian a lap later. Almost immediately, Haga was on the back of Neukirchner.

Ben Spies was showing no ill effects from his race one tumble when he outbraked Michel Fabrizio into turn one to take 3rd place. He started to close on Haga in 2nd, but the Samurai of Slide managed to make a great exit from the last turn and slipstream alongside Neukirchner's missile-fast Suzuki on the start/finish straight, outbraking the German into turn one. The Japanese rider then proceeded to stretch out into the lead. Ben Spies stole 2nd place from Neukirchner in the twisty outfield, but the Texan simply couldn't match Haga's pace, and had to watch the Ducati gradually disappear into the distance.

Neukirchner was now falling back through the pack, his Suzuki better suited to fast tracks where it can stretch its legs. The German was soon losing 5th place to Leon Haslam, who was fastest Honda yet again. Ahead of him the fight for 3rd place was between two Ducatis, with Michel Fabrizio just holding off Regis Laconi.

Carlos Checa was running in 7th, and behind him was a four man battle for 8th. MotoGP refugee John Hopkins had the place on the second Stiggy bike, but was eaten up by the squabbling trio of Tom Sykes, Max Biaggi and Ryuichi Kiyonari. It was Sykes who blinked first, running wide and letting Biaggi and Kiyonari past. With the bickering bunch slowing each other down, Shane Byrne joined the back of this group on his Sterilgarda Ducati. The tiny Roman Emperor, Max Biaggi, took his tiny Aprilia V4 to the front of the mini freight train in 8th place, finishing ahead of Kiyonari, Sykes, Byrne and John Hopkins.

Nori Haga made it a double as he wheelied across the line, with Ben Spies 2nd and Michel Fabrizio bagging the last podium spot. Laconi took 4th, with Haslam in another great 5th place, top Honda rider once more, ahead of Checa and Neukirchner.

It was a great day for Haga, who stretched out a championship lead of 40 points over Spies. Just 11 points cover the next 5 championship positions from Neukirchner to Biaggi.

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