With a perfect weekend at Miller Motorsport Park — seventh pole position in a row, fastest lap, and two victories — Ben Spies and his factory Sterilgarda Yamaha moved into closer contention for the 2009 World Superbike title.
The title hopes were aided considerably by a seriously nasty high-side crash suffered in qualifying by series leader Noriyuki Haga on his Xerox Ducati; Nitro Nori was spit high into the air and landed flat on his back like a starfish.
That had to hurt big-time, and although he raced as hard as he could on Sunday, he was clearly not himself and was probably happy to take a ninth and an eighth place finish home with him to save some precious points. Even so, his 88 point lead dwindled to 53, basically two race wins. While it’s still a healthy cushion, the season is only half over and the hot-shot young Texan is certainly far from out of contention for the title in his first year of trying.
Spies said, "Obviously, Haga was not firing on all cylinders, which is unfortunate but that’s racing — there are good days and bad days." He added that he was glad to be back in the U.S. for a race, although he’s greatly enjoyed his cosmopolitan globe-trotting year so far.
Spies’ friend and training buddy, Jamie Hacking, filled in for the injured Makoto Tamada on the Paul Bird Kawasaki team from the U.K., and highly impressed in the first race, running as high as fourth before a red flag stoppage. He still managed a highly-impressive seventh, despite a rather large "oops" when he collided with his team-mate Broc Parkes and ran Parkes off the track — not usually a way to endear yourself to a new team.
In the second race, he again had a collision with a Kawasaki rider, this time Luca Scassa. This time Hacking ran off the track, and did so again later in the race, finishing near the bottom of the order. Still, he clearly impressed the paddock, and is certainly hoping to find a ride in the circus for next season — he’s not at all happy with the way things are going in the U.S. AMA series this season.
While Spies simply checked out and won both races by huge margins, the racing behind him from third through eighth or so was spectacular in both contests. The second one featured Ten Kate Honda rider Jonathon Rea and Stiggy Honda’s Leon Haslam, with Aprilia’s Max Biaggi right in the mix as well, closely followed by Riuchi Kyonara and the hurting Nori Haga. Haslam had a "do or die" moment on the last lap and lost the front end, ceding the position to Rea.
Rea’s team-mate Carlos Checa had been threatening Spies for a while until his old nickname of "Careless Chucker" came back to haunt him when he crashed entering the "Attitude" series of corners. He’d finished second in the first race, and after his double win last year was certainly considered to be a good bet to race for the front this season.
After Checa fell, Haga’s Xerox team-mate Michel Fabrizio took up the chase, closing to within a second and a bit of Spies at one point, but the Texan coolly managed the gap and pulled out a more than safe margin in the final few laps.
So at the half-way point in the series, the top 10 looks like this:
1. Noriyuki Haga, Japan, Xerox Ducati, 265 points; 2. Ben Spies, USA, Sterilgarda Yamaha, 212; 3. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Xerox Ducati, 201; 4. Jonathon Rea, U.K., HANNSpree Ten Kate Honda, 133; 5. Max Biaggi, Italy, Aprilia, 126; 6. Leon Haslam, U.K., Stiggy Honda, 122; 7. Ben Sykes, U.K., Sterilgarda Yamaha, 113; 8. Riuchi Kyonari, Japan, Ten Kate Honda, 96; 9. Carlos Checa, Spain, HANNSpree Ten Kate Honda; 10. Jakub Smrz, Czech Republic, Guandalini Racing Ducati, 82.
The next event is at Misano in Italy, June 21.