Australian WSBK race 1: Haga steals a nail-biter from Neukirchner

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Nitro Nori can always be relied upon to provide an entertaining race - and in the first race of the 2009 World Superbike series, the Japanese superstar pulled out a stunning charge from 13th on the grid to beat Max Neukirchner (who started from 14th) by just 32/1000ths of a second in a last-lap scrap that set the tone for 2009.

American Ben Spies, whose impressive qualifying performance led many (including us) to back him for a race win here today, got a harsh welcome to the international stage. He was muscled off the track in the second turn of the race, ran right out to the fence at Southern Loop, and despite an impressive effort keeping his Yamaha R1 upright in the sand trap, rejoined the race in last place. He put on some speed through the race, but only managed to finish 16th, out of the points and wondering what else he could have done.

Team Alstare Suzuki, who rarely featured in qualifying, made amends on race day, with Max Neukirchner fighting his way into second place behind Haga by lap 6. Teammate Yukio Kagayama, starting from 11th, got the better of the scrap for third against Jonny Rea, Regis Laconi, Michel Fabrizio and Leon Haslam - but when Neukirchner used the superior straightline speed of the GSX-R1000 to grab the lead from Haga into turn one on lap 7, the pair started to pull a gap on the field.

Haga’s never so happy as when he’s shadowing an opponent, and the Ducati rider spent ten laps giving Neukirchner a virtual colonoscopy, using the Duke’s superior traction control to stay within an arm’s length of the Suzuki, showing Max his front wheel at nearly every corner and tucking into the slipstream on the straights. He finally put a move on the German, diving into the lead into the 250kmh+ turn one at the start of lap 17, setting up an epic fight for the last few laps.

Neukirchner, who had somewhat of a breakout season last year, gave Haga no room to breathe, sticking right on his tail as the rest of the field fell away, and then blasting past onto the straight at the start of the final lap. Haga took a couple of desperate looks up the inside and outside through Honda hairpin and the Hayshed, but eventually it was a near-highside coming over the Hayshed into the turn 10 hairpinĀ  that gave Haga the chance he needed. He ducked up the inside and held the narrowest of leads through to a 0.032 second win.

Australian Troy Corser showed admirable tenacity to work his BMW into 8th place from 17th on the starting grid. He also finished with the fastest race lap, forecasting a competitive season for BMW. Biaggi and his new Aprilia slipped back at the start of the race and finished up 11th.

Folks, the race was a balltearer, everything we’ve been anticipating from WSBK 2009 - and when race 2 kicks off in a couple of hours, you can bet that Ben Spies will have a score to settle.

Full race results (1) from the opening round of the World Superbike Championship in Phillip Island, Australia.

1. Noriyuki Haga JPN Ducati Xerox 1098R 34mins 22.631s
2. Max Neukirchner GER Alstare Suzuki GSX-R 1000K9 +0.032s
3. Yukio Kagayama JPN Alstare Suzuki GSX-R 1000K9 +5.347s
4. Michel Fabrizio ITA Ducati Xerox 1098R +6.587s
5. Jonathan Rea GBR HANNspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR +8.491s
6. Leon Haslam GBR Stiggy Motorsport Honda CBR1000RR +8.523s
7. Regis Laconi FRA DFX Corse Ducati 1098R +8.766s
8. Troy Corser AUS BMW Motorrad S1000RR +11.589s
9. Jakub Smrz CZE Guandalini Racing Ducati 1098R +11.721s
10. Tom Sykes GBR Yamaha Italia YZF R1 +11.761s
11. Max Biaggi ITA Aprilia Racing RSV-4 +12.609s
12. Carlos Checa ESP HANNspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR +19.096s
13. Roberto Rolfo ITA Stiggy Motorsport Honda CBR1000RR +24.149s
14. Tommy Hill GBR HANNspree Althea Honda CBR1000RR +27.416s
15. Shinya Nakano JPN Aprilia Racing RSV-4 +28.173s

16. Ben Spies USA Yamaha Italia YZF R1 +28.235s
17. Brendan Roberts AUS Guandalini Racing Ducati 1098R +37.348s
18. Makoto Tamada JPN Kawasaki SRT ZX-10R +37.401s
19. Ruben Xaus ESP BMW Motorrad S1000RR +42.614s
20. Luca Scassa ITA Team Pedercini Kawasaki ZX-10R +1mi 03.794s
21. David Salom ESP Team Pedercini Kawasaki ZX-10R +2 laps

Not Classified

22. Matteo Baiocco ITA PSG-1 Kawasaki ZX-10R 14 laps completed
23. Broc Parkes AUS Kawasaki SRT ZX-0R 8 laps completed
24. Vittorio Iannuzzo ITA SCI Honda CBR1000RR 8 laps completed
25. Shane Byrne GBR Sterilgarda Ducati 1098R 7 laps completed
26. Karl Muggeridge AUS Celani Suzuki GSX-R1000 4 laps completed
27. Ryuichi Kiyonari JPN Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR 0 laps completed

28. Ayrton Badovini ITA PSG-1 Kawasaki ZX-10R Did Not Start

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