WSBK: 2009 Portimao preview

Haga vs. Spies in season finale

By Motorcycle.Com Staff, Oct. 21, 2009
The 2009 World Superbike Championship comes to a head in Portimao, Portugal, with the veteran Noriyuki Haga trying to fend off the rookie Ben Spies.

A mere 10 points separate Ducati Xerox’s Haga from Yamaha’s Spies as the series enters its double-header finale Oct. 23-25 at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve.

For American racing fans, Spies from Longview, Texas, is an obvious favorite. The three-time AMA Superbike Champion has exceeded expectations in his rookie WSBK season. Spies has tied a WSBK record of 10 Superpoles in a single season, including a record seven in a row. With 13 wins heading into Portugal, Spies is tied with New Zealand’s Aaron Slight for 14th overall in all-time WSBK wins. Going 13 for 26, Spies’ 50% winning percentage is also a record, matched only Italian Marco Lucchinelli, who had only two wins in four WSBK races in 1988. The only racer to win more WSBK races in his rookie season was Doug Polen with 17 victories, but unlike the pure rookie Spies, Polen competed in four races before his 1991 rookie season.

Ben Spies can capture the 2009 WSBK crown with a strong performance at Portimao.

“I can’t wait to get to the circuit and get set up for Sunday’s races,” says Spies. “We’ve been fighting hard for race wins all year, and as a rookie on a new bike I think we’ve achieved some pretty good results.”

Spies will move on to the Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP team in 2010, but he has one more goal before he leaves. A Race One win in Portimao will push Spies past Haga, and a second would clinch the title, but if they finish tied in points, Spies holds the tie-breaker with 13 wins to Haga’s eight.

“My focus is completely on going for two race wins on Sunday, I would love to be able to deliver the title for the team as they really deserve it and have worked so hard to make it possible,” says Spies. “We do go well on the Portimao circuit, so I’m going to give it everything I’ve got to challenge Nori for the wins. There will be a few fast guys up there as always so it should be an exciting race day.”

Over in the Ducati paddock, Haga is preparing for his elusive first WSBK title. With 41 career wins, Haga is the winningest WSBK racer to have never won the championship. Haga has finished either second or third in the previous five WSBK seasons, so the 2009 title can finally put an end to his perennial bridesmaid status.

“My strategy won’t be any different from normal; I always go out with the aim to win and I always give 100%,” says Haga. “I’ve finished second or third in the last five editions of the Superbike championship and so all I am missing is the title win, a title I hope to be able to bring home to Ducati and to Japan this weekend.”

258 races, 41 wins, 105 podium finishes, 0 championships. Is Noriyuki Haga finally due?

Haga led for most of the 2009 season, and the title may already have been his if it weren’t for injuries from crashes at the Utah and Donington Park rounds.

Last year’s Portimao round did not go well for Haga. A technical problem took Haga out of Race One and a ride-through penalty in Race Two dropped him to 14th. Haga does have a few advantages going into the final round.

Haga’s biggest advantage will be his teammate Michel Fabrizio. The Italian sits third in the points standings and his job will be to take points away from Spies.

“I’ve very happy with how my season’s gone and I would like to finish the year with two more podiums,” says Fabrizio. “I hope Noriyuki can take the title for Ducati and I’ll be backing him all the way this weekend.”

Haga’s second advantage is his ten-point cushion. Haga doesn’t need to win both races to claim the title, just finish comfortably ahead of Spies.

The x-factor in the 2009 championship could be Aprilia’s Max Biaggi. In his first season on the Aprilia RSV4, Biaggi sits fourth in the standings and has been coming on strong of late with six podium finishes in the last five rounds.