The Longview, Texas, resident arrived at Portimao, Portugal capped off a phenomenal rookie campaign with 14 wins to become Yamaha’s first WSBK Champion.
Ducati Xerox’s Noriyuki Haga led going into the round, as he has for most of the season, but gave up the lead after a first-race crash and was unable to overcome Spies.
“I’ve got to thank Yamaha for giving me the bike I need to win,” says Spies. “We had a really good first race, in the second we did what we had to do to win.”
Saturday’s qualifying session foreshadowed the eventual results, with Spies taking his record 11th Superpole while Haga qualified well back in tenth.
Spies jumped out in front at the start of Race One with Aprilia’s Max Biaggi on his tail.
Meanwhile, Haga tried to make his way back among the race leaders. Disaster struck the Ducati rider on lap seven however as Haga lost his front end while racing in fifth place.
With Haga out of contention, Spies pushed onwards knowing the championship lead was his to take. Spies stretched his lead up to two seconds while Biaggi battled Hanspree Ten Kate Honda’s Jonathan Rea for second. At the end of the race, it was Spies first across the line with Rea beating Biaggi.
The win gave Spies a 15-point lead and a big advantage heading into the second race. Spies needed only a sixth-place or better result in Race Two for the title.
“It was actually a really tough race, at first I was just going for the win, getting to the front and not worrying about anything,” says Spies. “Then when Haga was out I had to win to get as many points as possible for Race Two. Once you have a gap, you don't want to be stupid and throw it all away.”
Haga was one of many riders who appeared to have front tire problems. For Race Two, Haga switched to his second Ducati 1198.
The move appeared to pay off as Haga made up five places after the first two laps. Spies however remained in front for the first few laps.
Spies was not as dominant in the second race as he was in the first however, knowing he did not need to win to claim the championship. Spies lost the lead to Sterilgarda Ducati’s Shane Byrne.
In the second half of the race, however, the factory Ducati Xerox bikes managed to overtake Byrne’s satellite machine, with Haga and teammate Michel Fabrizio moving up among the leaders.
Fabrizio moved ahead on the final lap as Rea lost his line and entered a curve too wide. Not knowing his Haga had also overtaken Rea behind him, Fabrizio held onto the lead all the way to the end, finishing over a second ahead of his teammate, giving Haga 20 points instead of the maximum 25. But even if Haga had won Race Two, the title was out of reach as Spies finished fifth to claim the title by a 462-456 margin.
For the veteran Haga, the WSBK championship continues to elude him. Despite falling short of the championship once again, Haga remained a good sport, congratulating his friend and rival, Spies.
“Unfortunately second in the race was not enough to take the title and it’s a real pity, but I must say that I have had a great first year with this fantastic team that always provides me with a good bike,” says Haga. “I thank my whole technical team, Ducati, the sponsors and the Clinica Mobile who have taken good care of me throughout the season. My compliments go to Ben who has been such a strong rival this year and even though he is going to MotoGP next year, I am sure we will remain friends.”
Haga will try once more 2009, while Spies tries to continue his success with Tech 3 Yamaha in the MotoGP championship series.