WSBK: 2009 Assen results

Haga continues podium streak to extend lead

By Motorcycle.Com Staff, Apr. 27, 2009
Noriyuki Haga’s momentum continued through the Assen TT round of the World Superbike Championship as he earned his eighth podium finish in as many races.

Haga, the winningest WSBK rider to have never won the title, certainly looks to be in championship form after earning his fourth win of the season, April 26 in Assen, Netherlands. Combined with a runner-up finish in race one in Assen, the Ducati Xerox rider extended his lead in the rider standings to 60 points over second-place holder Ben Spies.

Noriyuki Haga sits third on the all-time WSBK wins list but is the only one of the top seven never to have won the championship.Spies may be the only obstacle standing in the way of Haga’s first WSBK title and he once again demonstrated his potential at the Assen TT. The factory Yamaha rider extended his perfect streak of Superpole victories, starting first on the grid in every race this season. The feat is even more remarkable considering Spies has never raced on most of the circuits in the WSBK tour.

The three-time AMA champion took advantage of his starting position to stake an early lead in race one. Suzuki Alstare Brux rider Max Neukirchner followed in second while Jakub Smrz of the Guandalini Ducati team followed in third. Haga finished the first lap fourth but soon overtook Smrz.

Neukirchner stayed in second place until a crash on lap seven dropped him well out of contention. That allowed Haga to set his sights on the lead. On lap 13, a problem with the tires on Spies’ Yamaha R1 gave Haga the opening he was waiting for. Haga passed to take the lead with Stiggy Honda’s Leon Haslam behind him.

Ben Spies (19) keeps in front of Haga (behind) and Leon Haslam (rear).“I was trying to set a really good pace in the first few laps, but just didn’t have the same feeling I had in practice with the bike, and Nori came by and I saw nobody was behind Haslam, so I just sat back and watched,” says Spies.

The three front-runners stayed in that order until lap 20 when Spies caught up to Haslam, running alongside the former British Superbike racer through three corners. Haslam learned up-close why Spies’ nickname is “Elbows” as the two riders made contact, with Spies emerging with the advantage.

With only a few turns left on the final lap, Spies made his final challenge and passed Haga for the lead. The two riders sprinted to the finish with Spies winning by 0.154 seconds. Haslam crossed the finish close behind for the third podium position.

“I was losing a lot of time out of the hairpin and onto the start-finish straight and was trying to match Nori through there and the next minute me and Spies had a good elbow session but it was a fantastic race and again a big thanks to the team to give me a package to do that,” says Haslam.

Michel Fabrizio holds position ahead of Leon Haslam.
Shifting problems cost Michel Fabrizio a podium spot to the benefit of Leon Haslam and Jakub Smrz

Before race two, the Yamaha team worked to correct the tire problems Spies encountered, but their efforts were spoiled by a second-lap highside that sent Spies into the gravel and out of the race.

“I was pushing and got out wide in turn one and touched the Astroturf piece and high-sided,” says Spies. “It’s a shame as I felt really good and the bike felt right. You never know if you can win the race but I felt we could have had a faster race than the first.”

With his main rival out of the way, Haga proceeded unchallenged to take the flag. The win was Haga’s first at Assen TT since 2000.

“We changed the setting of the bike slightly for Race 2 and I was extremely comfortable on it,” says Haga. “I’m sorry that Ben fell as I think we would have had another good battle but for me and my team it’s been a very good day.”

Haga’s teammate Michel Fabrizio and Haslam battled for second with Haslam taking control on lap 13. Fabrizio began having problems shifting his 1198 in the final laps, allowing Smrz to move ahead. Smrz would finish third behind Haslam for his first career WSBK podium position.

“I was just staying behind Michel and he had a problem or something, it was really close but I could just pass him at the finish,” says Smrz. “I’m really happy because everybody said before that I can be fast only in qualifying, so now I showed everyone that I can be fast in the race as well and it’s a great result for me and the team.”

American John Hopkins, who made his WSBK debut for Stiggy Honda at the previous round in Valencia, Spain, missed the Assen races after suffering several injuries including a dislocated hip and a cracked femur from high-siding during the practice session. Hopkins returned to the U.S. for examination.

The 2009 WSBK Championship season continues May 8-10 at Italy’s historic Monza Circuit.

2009 World Superbike Championship top five standings (after seven events)
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1st Noriyuki Haga Ducati 1098R 180
2nd Ben Spies Yamaha YZF-R1 120
3rd Leon Haslam  Honda CBR1000RR 94
4th Michel Fabrizio Ducati 1098R 80
5th Max Neukirchner Suzuki GSX-R1000 58