local boy comes good

SBK Miller Motorsporst Park, Salt lake City, USa, 31st May 2009

Words: Simon Bradley, Pics as credited

That man Spies. He's quick, y'know...Last year Miller Motorsports Park was new to the calendar and it gave us a few notable firsts. It was the first time that Carlos Checa had really shown what he was capable of ona superbike as he did the double. It was the first (and only) time that the likeable Japanese rider Shuhei Aoyama put the Alto Evolution Honda into Superpole. And it was the first time that Nori Haga broke something other than motorbikes and lap records, when he smashed his collarbone up in impressive style. Even more impressive was his ability to race with it two days later.

The circuit itself is difficult to love from a photographer's point of view because everything is so far away. But it's certainly fast and beautifully laid out, and the riders seem to like it as well. Oh, and there are some truly fabulous backgrounds for really artisitic shots, too. But I digress.

Ben Spies is ever so familiar with Miller, having competed for the last few years in the AMA Superbike championship which comes here regularly. Being a Texan ithahrdly counts as home - there are those who would dispute it even being the same country - but at least he has the advantage of familiarity. Jamie Hacking, another AMA regular, has been drafted in to replace the injured Makoto Tamada, so we might expect good things fom him, too. Surprising, then, that we never saw any of the American riders at the top of the timesheets through practice and qualifying. Yukio Kagayama was up there, along with Biaggi, Fabrizio and Checa, but he closest the locals came was Ben Spies' brief foray to second place in the first timed session. One incident of note was the unscheduled and painful departure of the perennially luckless Tommy Hill, who was spat off the Althea Honda and broke his right foot. Hopefully he'll be fit again for Misano. And I guess it's a surprise that BMW, despite making huge advances this season and having two of the best riders in the paddock, found themselves floundering near the back after qualifying ended. Haga also managed to make a visit to the medical centre, caught out by changing conditions as a light rain began to fall in the second timed session and highsiding in a spectacular style. Fortunately the championship leader was only bruised and appeared unaffected by the adventure.

Kagayama leads Smrz and Hacking through one of the few really interesting bits of the track...As we've discussed before, practice and qualifying don't really mean a great deal any more. They are just an entry ticket to Superpole, where grid positions are decided. And in the first session it was Jamie Hacking who took the honours on the Paul Bird Kawasaki. Something especially sweet for us as Hacking, despite being a US resident and regular AMA competitor, is British. The second session saw Spies back at the top, while Haga continued his run of mediocre results in the USA (if two rounds counts as a run) and failed to make the final cut. He was in good company, though, as Jonathan Rea, Leon haslam and Max Biaggi failed to make the cuut. all Nobody fell off their chairs in amazement when Ben Spies took his Yamaha to his seventh consecutive Superpole, over half a second faster than last year's double winner Carlos Checa, with Checa's Ten Kate Honda team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari and Xerox Ducati's Michel Fabrizio joing them on the front row. Row two saw Ducati mounted Jakub Smrz ahead of fellow Ducati pilot Shane Byrne, with the Kawasakis of Broc Parkes and Jamie Hacking just a under a tenth of a second apart closing the row off. Row three, then, was Haga, Shinya Nakano on the first Aprilia, Johnny Rea on the last Ten Kate Honda and Leon Haslam on the Stiggy Honda.

Race day was dry and sunny, as usual.When the lights went out for Race One. everyone got off to a clean start, but it was Spies who got the holeshot leaving a massive bunfight behind him. Shinya Nakano made an outstanding start to slot into second, tussling with Kiyonari and Haga who came from the third row with Nakano to havean all-Japanese bundle. By the second lap, Haga was dropping back while Fabrizio, who had presumably been dreaming of something else entirely when the lights went out, was recovering from his appalling start. But Spies had already opened a two second lead over the follwing pack, and was Fabrizio is maturing into a capable rider, at last showing his merits...showing no sign of getting caught. Kiyonari had slotted up into second, with Nakano still in hot pursuit ahead of Checa and Fabrizio when on lap five the red flags came out. Karl Muggeridge had suffered an enormous highside and was lying, winded, on the track. The likeable Australian was not seriously injured but was taken to the medical centre as a precaution and played no more part in the day's proceedings. Co-incidentally and in an unrelated incident, Nakano also slid off when pushing the Aprilia in an attempt to get back past Kiyonari thouygh his departure had no bearing on the rest of the race and he would have been able to restart had the rules allowed it.

The restart saw everyone taking their grid positions based on their track position before the flags came out. So Spies, Kiyonari, Nakano and Checa on the first row, Haga, Parkes, Hacking and Biaggi on the second and Rea, Haslam, Smrz and Byrne on row three. In an identical start, again it was Spies who went off the line first and led straight into the first corner, with Kiyonari, Checa and Nakano tripping each other up behind. And to be honest with you, that was about it for excitement as well. Spies got his head down and reeled off a string of devastatingly quick laps tomake sure he stayed clear. Fabrizio and Haga both got duffed up in the start and had to fight their way back through, Fabizio being somewhat more successful than Haga who got caught in serious scrap after serious scrap. Broc Parkes started brilliantly before suffering a mechanical derangement that pushed him back down the field before retiring on the last lap. Biaggi fought hard and ended just a few tenths behind Fabrizio on the road, but when the results from the two legs were aggregated, Spies was the runaway winner, by a yawning nine seconds, from Checa and Fabrizio. Rea was pushed down to fifth despite beating third and fourth placed Fabrizio and Kiyonari on the track, ahead of Biaggi and an impressive Hacking. Jakub Smrz finally managed to convert his qualifying into a respectable finish ahead of Haga and Haslam.

Ben Spies. Great to watch and devastatingly fast but he makes races boring when he goes as well as this...Expectations were high among the locals for Race Two, though less high among the rest of the audience who had not been gripped by the thrilling spectacle of race one, primarily because there wasn't one. And Race two turned out to be more of the same. Spies got the holeshot again and immediately set about extendinga massive lead. Fabrizio got the drop on the rest of the pack, slotting into second ahead of Checa and Haga who again made an excellent start. Biaggi, Rea and Kiyonari came next, ahead of Byrne, while Nakano wasn't able to replicate hislightning start, thrashing around for a while midfield before climbing back up the field. Precious little happened then until the last few laps. Leon Haslam had been steadily working his way throughthe field and with a couple laps to go had closed up with third place Jonathan Rea. A flurry of activity saw some enjoyable sparring, which sadly finished when Haslam appeared to lose both ends of the Stiggy Honda at the same time and slid out on the last lap.

So Ben Spies rolled off and coasted home, again nine seconds ahead of second placed Fabrizio who in turn was over five secons clear of Rea. Biaggi followed a second later, with Kiyonari a second after that and Smrz close behind. Nakano was two seconds further back, with Haga four seconds behind and Sykes a further nine seconds adrift. Shane Byrne rounded out the top ten, another second behind Sykes.

Not exactly a classic round, with a lack of really close racing, but the end result was good for the championship, allowing Spies to close up slightly and at least leaving the faint possibility of Haga not winning. Haga could still afford to sit a whole round out and remain in the lead, but with the season just halfway complete and the rest of the rounds in Europe I'd say the likelihood of not seeing Ducati and Haga lift the title this season is extraordinarily small.

We're back in the Europe in a couple of weeks' time, as we visit Frankie Chili's back garden in the delightful Italian coastal town of Misano. It's an interesting circuit and has always been exciting to watch in the past. Hopefully this time will be no exception. But as the championship closes up, this looks like a good time to get your Fantasy Superbikes team in...

Nori Haga didn't have the best weekend, though he took some valuable points away...and this is a lovely picture.Race One

1 Ben Spies (Yamaha)
2 Carlos Checa (Honda)
3 Michel Fabrizio (Ducati)
4 Ryuichi Kiyonari (Honda)
5 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
6 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
7 Jamie Hacking (Kawasaki)
8 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)
9 Nori Haga (Ducati)
10 Leon Haslam (Honda)

Race Two

1 Ben Spies (Yamaha)
2 Michel Fabrizio (Ducati)
3 Jonathan Rea (Honda)
4 Max Biaggi (Aprilia)
5 Ryuichi Kiyonari (Honda)
6 Jakub Smrz (Ducati)
7 Shinya Nakano (Aprilia)
8 Nori Haga (Ducati)
9 Tom Sykes (Yamaha)
10 Shane Byrne (Ducati

Championship Standing after seven rounds:

1 Nori Haga 265
2 Ben Spies 212
3 Michel Fabrizio 201
4 Jonathan Rea 133
5 Max Biaggi 126
6 Leon Haslam 122
7 Tom Sykes 113
8 Ryuichi Kiyonari 96
9 Carlos Checa 93
10 Jakub Smrz 82


PS Don't forget to register for Fantasy Superbikes and get playing for a chance to win great prizes!


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