Sterilgarda Yamaha’s Ben Spies is the 2009 World Superbike champion after winning the title in this, his rookie season. Earning a championship in his first year is certainly impressive, but it 's the first World Superbike title for Yamaha as well. Spies entered the final round at Portimao with a ten-point deficit to Xerox Ducati’s Noriyuki Haga, but fate would not smile on the Japanese ace on this Sunday afternoon.
Instead, Haga found himself watching Spies take the win in the first race from the paddock after crashing out while running alone in fifth-place. Then, in the second race, Spies was able to do exactly what he needed to earn the title by staying upright while Haga battled from his tenth-place starting position all the way to second by the checkered flag. His teammate, Michel Fabrizio would take the win in Race Two, leaving Haga just seven points shy of that elusive championship.
Sterilgarda Yamaha's Ben Spies ends his World Superbike career on a high note as the American takes the 2009 Championship. The 25-year old Texan will move to the Yamaha Tech 3 MotoGP team for 2010 where he will join fellow Texan Colin Edwards II, the last American to win a World Superbike title prior to Spies’ championship,
Ben Spies grabbed the holeshot from his pole starting position and went on to claim a wire-to-wire victory over Hannspree Honda's Jonathan Rea and Aprilia's Max Biaggi in the opening race at Portimao.Weather conditions were near perfect and everything simply fell into place for the American star.
Once the lights went green it was Spies who darted to the front on his R1 ahead of Biaggi. Ducatis' Noriyuki Haga found himself in seventh at the end of the first lap after getting a decent start from his tenth place position on the grid. The Japanese rider worked his way to fifth place and was tracking down the trio of Biaggi, Rea and Byrne in hopes of minimizing the damage to his title hopes since it appeared Spies was going to hold on for the win.
About the time it looked like Haga was ready to start making a move for fourth he tucked the front and crashed out of the race. That left Spies with the opportunity to take over the championship lead with Haga stewing about his bad luck back in the paddock.
Spies kept the heat on while running away with his 14th win of the year. Behind the Texan an epic battle between Hannspree Honda's Jonathan Rea and Aprilia's Max Biaggi saw the two riders swap positions over and over before Rea finally made a pass stick in the final few laps.
Rea went on to finish second with Biaggi close behind in third. Spies had started the day with a 10-point deficit to Haga but was heading into the final race with a 15-point advantage. The championship was now his to lose.
World Superbike Portimao Race 1 Results:
Noriyuki Haga will have to settle with second-place in the 2009 Championship. Perhaps 2010, will be the year for Nori.
1. Ben Spies (Yamaha) - 38'15.390
2. Jonathan Rea (Honda) +1.697
3. Max Biaggi (Aprilia) +2.113
4. Shane Byrne (Ducati) +2.757
5. Michel Fabrizio (Ducati) +14.753
6. Leon Camier (Aprilia) +20.044
7. Carlos Checa (Honda) +25.634
8. Ruben Xaus (BMW) +31.104
9. Matthieu Lagrive (Honda) +36.689
10. Matteo Baiocco (Ducati) +39.331
After the two-hour break between races, the contest to ultimately decide the 2009 World Superbike championship was set to begin. Shane Byrne on the privateer Sterilgarda Ducati nailed the holeshot ahead of Spies, who was followed closely by the trio of Max Biaggi, Jonathan Rea and Nori Haga. Rea obviously had his CBR1000RR dialed in as he battled with the RSV4-mounted Max Biaggi in the opening laps. The Honda pilot finally made a pass stick around four laps in but wasn't satisfied with third as he quickly dispatched Spies a few laps later. Next up was race leader Byrne who was having an amazing afternoon at the front of the pack.
Meanwhile, Biaggi was all over Spies for third place with a determined Haga hot on his tail and hoping for a break. Biaggi ended up running wide, which allowed Haga to move into position behind Spies for a moment only to have his Xerox Ducati teammate Fabrizio stuff him and take over the position. Fabrizio had designs on going out with a bang though and got past Spies a lap later. The move had some effect on Haga because Biaggi overtook him shortly after which put him in a bad spot once again.
Hannspree Ten Kate Honda rider Jonathan Rea had an impressive rookie season with eight podium finishes.
Out front, Rea was in a wicked battle with 'Shakey' Byrne. The two riders were swapping places back and forth which allowed both Fabrizio and Biaggi to close in on them. With fifteen laps to go Haga finally got around Spies with a bold inside pass but there were still four riders between him and the much needed points that would come from a first place finish.
The lead-trio had broken away with Biaggi running alone in fourth on the Aprilia and Haga trying hard to reel them all in. Spies appeared content to let them all go so he could stay focused on staying upright. The leaders were racing nose to tail with Byrne looking impressive out front while Rea and Fabrizio battled behind him.
With 12 laps to go it wasn't looking too good for Haga. About that time Rea had overtaken Byrne only to have the hard-charging Fabrizio stuff him and immediately start putting heat on Rea for the lead. The two battled for first as Biaggi and Haga were now closing in. The race had become a fierce battle across the top five positions with everyone riding with their own agenda. Fabrizio attempted to make the moves stick time after time but Rea had answers lap after lap. Eventually his constant pressure paid off with nine laps to go when he made a bold inside pass on Rea for the lead.
After that move Fabrizio started to build a gap while Haga was trying desperately to find a way around Biaggi, who was holding onto fourth-place. Behind them Spies was watching the laps count down as he moved closer and closer to the world title he has been seeking since he was a kid. The only chance Haga had of spoiling the dream would be if Camier and Smrz, who were closing in on the Texan with six laps left, could actually make a pass and hold him off. But that never materialzed. Haga eventually made his way past Biaggi and aimed for Byrne. He needed a miracle but rookie Spies seems destined at this point.
Veteran racer, Shane Byrne has only one podium finish in World Superbike for 2009, but during 2003, Shakey captured a double-podium win during a single race entry on the Brands Hatch circuit.
Haga was giving it hell though and before long was all over Byrne for third place with five to go. He had made an amazing run from his poor grid position but he still needed some divine intervention if he was going to pull it off. Out front his teammate Fabrizio lead Rea but there was no reason to think he would do anything to help Haga's effort. Behind them Byrne returns the favor and passes Haga, keeping the Japanese rider honest and forcing him to work hard to make his way toward the front.
With Biaggi slipping backwards, Spies suddenly found himself in a battle with the Italian. It got a little dicey as the Roman Emperor gave him some hell but it looked like Ben simply poured it on for a few turns in an effort to get away from the erratic-riding Aprilia pilot. Imagine if Max took Spies out at this stage? It would have been classic, but Spies was not going to take any chances. Haga managed to regroup and get back around Byrne with four laps to go while Rea moved past Fabrizio. The two front runners were putting on quite a show as they struggled for the top spot which allowed Haga to reel them in and make things interesting in the closing stages. The drama is at a fever pitch. Would Fabrizio allow Haga to pass and gain points on fifth-place Spies? Could Haga pull out the win in the final race? With Biaggi all over Spies in their battle for fifth with two laps to go...anything could have happened.
With one lap remaining, Rea lead Fabrizio across the line only to cave under the pressure and run wide a few turns later. That allowed both Fabrizio and Haga to move past him, with Nori taking over second place. Unfortunately the gap between the two Xerox riders was too big for Haga to overcome and without team orders, Fabrizio took the win followed by Haga, Rea, Byrnes and your 2009 World Superbike Champion, Ben Spies.
This is the first ever World Superbike title for Yamaha. Now Spies sets his sights on MotoGP where he will make a wildcard appearance at the season finale in Valencia before moving to the Tech 3 squad for 2010.
World Superbike Portimao Race 2 Results:
Just a little over a second separated the team of Xerox Ducati at the finish line, but Michel Fabrizio crossed the line before Haga.
1. Michel Fabrizio (Ducati) 38'19.654
2. Noriyuki Haga (Ducati) +1.195
3. Jonathan Rea (Honda) +1.494
4. Shane Byrne (Ducati) +5.553
5. Ben Spies (Yamaha) +5.842
6. Max Biaggi (Aprilia) +7.374
7. Leon Camier (Aprilia) +9.658
8. Jakub Smrz (Ducati) +10.434
9. Troy Corser (BMW) +17.010
10. Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki) +24.509
World Superbike Portimao Race Rider Quotes:
Ben Spies - Sterilgarda Yamaha:
"I've got to thank Yamaha for giving me the bike I need to win. We had a really good first race, in the second we did what we had to do to win. It was quite difficult to keep it in check as the pace was pretty fast, I saw I had a couple of people behind me and I knew that if Nori won I had to be in sixth and that's where I was so I tried to get a bit of a gap on them and stay out of trouble. Max came through the inside of me and ran off a couple of times which really freaked me out so I went to get past him and then settled in for some nice fast laps to the end. It's been a spectacular day and I can't thank those people enough that have been behind me. It's been incredible to do it for Yamaha, and especially in my first year here. I don't think I really realize what's happening right now but I'm sure it's going to hit e in a couple of days."
Noriyuki Haga - Xerox Ducati:
"All weekend I have had problems with the set up of the bike, mainly with the tires that didn't give me total confidence. Usually we have a package that works well at every track and here too we didn't change so much with the regard to the setting, only really tires. In Race 1 we mounted two hard tires and they didn't perform as we'd hoped, they didn't give me the necessary grip so it was hard to brake and unfortunately I fll even though I wasn't pushing so hard. We changed bikes for Race 2, just to be sure, as well as changing tires of course. This time I had ore grip and was able to make a good race. Unfortunately second in the race was not enough to take the title and it's a real pity, but I ust say that I have had a great first year with this fantastic team that always provides me with a good bike. I thank my whole technical tea, Ducati, the sponsors and the Clinica Mobile who have taken good care of me thoughout 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. This week we'll start testing in preparation for next year. This year was a new adventure with Ducati and we'll continue to give 100% in 2010."
Michel Fabrizio - Xerox Ducati:
"The first race was very difficult. I didn't make the best start but immediately started to push to make up time. Then, following behind Nori, I lost concentration for a minute when I saw him go down. I then tried to catch the leading group but I didn't have great feeling with the front tire and then, about eight laps from the end, the rear tire started to drop off too. In Race 2 on the oter hand I was able to fight hard against Rea. The last we raced together, as Misano, he got past me so it was my turn to do the same to him today. It was only for the fact that Rea made a mistake on the last lap that I was able to pass him as he was very strong today. I am very sorry for Nori of course but we demonstrated that we are strong and, for me, both Ben and Nori are winners because they have given us a fantastic season's racing, fighting until the very end for the title."
Jonathan Rea - Hannspree Ten Kate Honda:
"I enjoyed the first race, although I was on my own for a lot of the time util I caught Biaggi and he ended up running wide. That was good for my championship position and it's what I was going for in the secoond race. I ended up in a bit of a fight with Michel [Fabrizio] but ended up making a mistake on the last lap and allowing him past. All in all, it's been my best Superbike weekend with a double podium and I'm really happy because the bike's in good shape to go into next year. I'd like to congratulate Ben on his fabulous job this year and thank my team for working so hard to make this season fantastic for me, too."