After eight of 28 races, the Ben and Nori Show is definitely the centre ring attraction in the World Superbike circus. Ben Spies, who jumped from U.S. competition to join the world Yamaha squad, has taken pole at every race so far and has either won or had a disaster. Sounds a bit like a Japanese rider named Haga about 10 years ago …
Meanwhile, the highly-experienced Noriyuki Haga, this year taking Troy Bayliss’ place on the factory Ducati, has won every race that Spies hasn’t, and has finished second every time Spies has won.
That consistency has given Haga a huge points lead at what is almost the one-third point in the series (really?! And it’s still April …), with a surprising Leon Haslam from England third on a brand-new team (Stiggy Honda, out of Sweden), followed by Haga’s team-mate Michel Fabrizio, then the first Suzuki in fifth in the hands of lanky German Max Neukirchner.
At Assen this weekend, Spies again took pole, then won the first race with a breath-taking pass of Haga on the last lap; it was close, tight, tough, but fair. Great stuff. In the second race, Spies lost the front end and crashed heavily. He was unhurt but the bike bounced and flipped so much it ended up over the fence in a spectator area – it was a big one.
After that, Haga just checked out and basically ran his own race.
Behind him, Haslam did a great job in both races, carding a third and a second for the new Honda superbike team (Stiggy has previously run the Supersport 600 class). Haslam’s new team-mate, ex-Moto GP rider John Hopkins, had his second WSB race end in grief when a huge practice crash dislocated a hip, ending his weekend early. Hopkins has an unfortunate history of getting hurt, usually fairly seriously, when he crashes, and this accident does nothing to change that story.
Perhaps the most popular result of the day was Czech rider Jakub Smrz on the private Guardalini Ducati team, run by former star rider Frankie Chili (who still has the most gorgeous wife in the paddock …). Like Hopkins, Smrz has a bit of an unfortunate history, in that he has tended to be superbly fast in practice and qualifying, then either fading or having hugely entertaining accidents in the race (although unlike Hopper, the bouncing Czech doesn’t seem to get hurt).
Anyway, Smrz carded an excellent sixth in the first race, and as the laps ran down in the second he found himself closing up on Michel Fabrizio on the second Xerox Ducati. He was right on the Ducati’s tail but couldn’t find a way past until on the final lap Fabrizio’s gearbox went south and Smrz went past for his first WSB podium. Fabrizio was beside himself, but managed to coast through for fourth and a reasonable haul of points.
WSB Standings after eight of 28 races:
1. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, Xerox Ducati, 180 points; 2. Ben Spies, USA, World Superbike Yamaha, 120; 3. Leon Haslam, U.K., Stiggy Honda, 94; 4. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Xerox Ducati, 80; 5. Max Neukirchner, Germany, Alstare-Brux Suzuki, 75; 6. Tom Sykes, U.K., World Superbike Yamaha, 70; 7. Max Biaggi, Italy, Aprilia Racing, 65; 8. Regis Laconi, France, DFX Corse Ducati, 64; 9. Jonathon Rea, U.K., HAANspree Ten Kate Honda, 53; 10. Jakub Smrz, Guardalini Ducati, 44.