Haga rules, Ben cools


Haga en route to the double worldsbk.co

The dream of American Ben Spies to start his first WSB season came back to earth in Valencia April 5. His previous three wins in a row ended in the Spanish gravel as he lost the front end while chasing Alstare Brux Suzuki’s Max Neukirchner, both of them well behind Noriyuki Haga who went on to a comfortable win.

Spies’ result in race two was a good second place, but Haga was untouchable on the plain in Spain (the rain hit between races but didn’t affect either race). So, after the third of 14 rounds (sixth of 28 races), the 2009 World Superbike season is living up to expectations, including that of retired series champion Troy Bayliss. "It will be between Nori and Spies," said Bayliss before the start of the season.

At this point, Haga and his factory Xerox Ducati lead Spies and his Yamaha Motor Italia R-1, 135 points to 95. Neukirchner is third with 65, Michel Fabrizio on the second Xerox Ducati fourth with 60, and a hard-riding Leon Haslam doing a great job on the Stiggy Honda for fifth with 58, the best Honda by far.

And yes, that is indeed four different manufacturers in the top five spots, with Aprilia making it five in the top seven spots under Max Biaggi. Competitive ‘R Us, for certain.

The race for the wins at Valencia weren’t up the usual standard, as Haga was in a world of his own, simply checking out and winning comfortably with huge margins in both races after running behind Regis Laconi for two laps in race one and Neukirchner for five laps in the second contest. The Sultan of Slide also set a new lap record and was consistently the fastest rider on the track. It was a spectacular show. After it all, Haga joked that, "We did a great job this weekend. I think one of the reasons is that after Qatar I did some ‘age’ training!" This crack was in reference to Haga’s 10 years on the youthful Spies.

Behind Haga both races were dogfights, with great battles going back down past the top 10. The BMWs continue to impress, Troy Corser making an unbelievable jump from 14th to fourth on the first lap of race one before catching a false neutral and crashing. Max Biaggi on the Aprilia also went well from a bad starting position after Superpole, going from 18th to two eighth-place finishes.

Moto GP exile John Hopkins made his first WSB start, partnering Haslam on the Swedish Stiggy team, and did well to collect an 11th and 12th on a bike he’d only ridden for the first time the weekend before. Also continuing to impress is Aussie Broc Parkes, pulled from the Supersport (600 cc) ranks to ride Kawasaki’s unruly ZX-10 for the Paul Byrd team out of the U.K. Parkes is making the Kwakker go faster than anyone thought it could, finishing 10th in the first race after running as high as eighth. Byrd better be careful other teams aren’t looking to poach the kid for the 2010 season.

The next round is set for Assen in the Netherlands April 26.

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