WSBK: 2009 Losail race preview

New track, new challenge for Spies

By Motorcycle.Com Staff, Mar. 11, 2009
The 2009 World Superbike Championship continues March 14 at the Losail International Circuit in Doha, Qatar.

Yamaha’s Ben Spies made an impressive debut in the season opener, winning race two at the Phillip Island Circuit in Australia. Spies also won the Superpole, putting to rest any doubts about whether he’d be competitive in his rookie WSBK season.

“We knew we had the pace to battle at Phillip Island, not necessarily to win, but it was important to get the first win out of the way” says Spies. “I’ve kind of been like trying to prove myself on Superbikes for quite a long time, so my win in Australia felt like it had been a long time coming. Qatar is a track where I’ve never turned a wheel on, it seems OK, I’ll just have to go out and learn it.”

Ducati Xerox’s Noriyuki Haga, another early season favorite and the other Phillip Island race winner, will try to increase his lead in the rider standings.

“Well I can say that I’m very happy with how things went at the first races at Phillip Island and I’ll be trying my best to have an equally successful weekend at Qatar,” says Haga. “I am very pleased with the performance of the 1198 and my team has been fantastic so we’ll be working hard to repeat our Phillip Island success. Each of the fourteen rounds will be a big challenge for me, and I will face each one in the same way, with the aim being always to win.”

Ben Spies' biggest challenge will be to learn new tracks such as the Losail Circuit.Another competitive pair at Phillip Island was the Suzuki Alstare BRUX team of Max Neukirchner and Yukio Kagayama. Neukirchner fell a hair short of victory in the first Phillip Island race and heads into Qatar second in the standings.

“It was good to start the year with a podium and now I am looking forward to more podiums,” says Neukirchner. “The 2009 (GSX-R1000) K9 is a very good bike and my team has worked hard over the winter and the bike is very competitive. Of course, because the bike is new, I think that there is still more to come from the K9 and it will get better and better and hopefully the results will be good also.”

Former British Superbike racer Leon Haslem was another competitive WSBK rookie in Australia, capturing a third place finish in race two. Racing for the new Stiggy Honda team, Haslem currently sits third in the standings.

“If we can quickly adapt the base setting we found in Australia to the Losail circuit then we’ll be well under way with an excellent starting point for the three days ahead,” says Haslem. “I don’t think we’ll be miles away from the front but in the World Superbike Championship this year one tenth of a second can separate four or five places so it’s really important to be focused from the first lap of practice to the last lap of the second race.”

Phillip Island was a learning experience for BMW’s new WSBK team. Australian native Troy Corser recorded the fastest lap in finishing eighth in race one on his home track, but tire problems hampered his performance in race two, leading to several near-spills. The former champion says Qatar will present a bigger challenge for the fledgling squad.

Max Biaggi earned his first WSBK victory in Qatar in 2007.“Getting an eighth in Phillip Island was a fantastic result and gave us all great hope for the season. But now we are going to a track and we have no data about for our bike and that is going to be a big disadvantage,” says Corser. “The race weekend in Phillip Island was real eye-opener for our team and things happened during the three days that don’t happen in tests, so the team gained a lot of experience. We all have to build on that but all the guys are very committed and are working hard to push this project forward as quickly as possible. Qatar will be an interesting test for us all, but we're going to give it 100% and see what happens.”

Aprilia’s Max Biaggi was also a podium-contender in Australia, even if the results didn’t show it. Biaggi currently sits 13th with six points but the veteran qualified second in Phillip Island and was a lap away from a podium finish in race two before a crash dropped him to 15th. Biaggi earned his first career WSBK win at Qatar in 2007 but he says the new team has a lot of work to do to be equally competitive in Losail.

“Phillip Island was high performance on qualifying, nobody expected to see us on the front row and fighting for pole position until the end” says Biaggi. “But something at the moment is still a bit ‘raw’ and we need to find the right conditions to make it ‘well done’ and explore different ways to go for development. At the moment we’re in early stages.”

2009 WSBK top ten standings
Pos. Rider Team Points
1st Noriyuki Haga Ducati Xerox 45
2nd Max Neukirchner Suzuki Alstare 30
3rd Leon Haslam Stiggy Honda 26
4th Ben Spies Yamaha WSBK 25
5th Yukio Kagayama Suzuki Alstare 24
6th Michel Fabrizio Ducati Xerox 45
7th Regis Laconi DFX Corse Ducati 30
8th Jonathan Rea Hannspree Ten Kate Honda 26
9th Jakub Smrz Guandalini Ducati 25
10th Tom Sykes Yamaha WSBK 24