Haga saves his best for race day

The Japanese rider takes a 45 point haul in the opening round of the 2009 FIM Superbike World Championship at Phillip Island.

Noriyuki Haga, right, leads Max Neukirchner around the Phillip Island circuit in the first race of the day.
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PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA // Noriyuki Haga shrugged off a poor qualifying performance to claim the early lead of the 2009 FIM Superbike World Championship after a near-perfect display at the Phillip Island circuit in Australia. The Ducati Xerox ace won the first race of the day from 13th on the grid and nearly repeated the trick in the second only to miss out by just over a second after being held off by Yamaha's Ben Spies, who claimed his first WSB victory.

Haga's double podium puts him top of the embryonic championship standings with 45 points, 15 clear of Suzuki Alstare's Max Neukirchner who also recovered from a lowly starting position to finish second in race one before taking sixth in race two. The first race got under way amid the threat of rain but mercifully the heavens only delivered a light shower in the closing laps. By then the Superpole winner Spies had already thrown away his advantage as he sailed off on the second corner. The American regained the track but the damage had been done and he limped home 16th at the flag.

That left Haga to make his way through the pack, the Japanese picking off riders with ease before beating Neukirchner in a thrilling run to the flag that saw the German relinquish the victory after making an error on the final lap. Neukirchner's teammate Yukio Kagayama claimed third while Michel Fabrizio (Ducati Xerox) was fourth. Max Biaggi, who started second on the grid in Aprilia's first race in the series for seven years, dropped to 11th at the flag. "I'm very happy for the win, I have just switched to Ducati, I already had four crashes with the bike, but our team did a great job," Haga said. "In the last two laps it started to rain a bit then on the last lap Max passed me but I put big pressure on him thinking where to pass him. He made a mistake and I won." The second race was no less dramatic with Spies managing to keep the bike on the island for the opening lap before embarking on a race-long tussle with Haga which ended in the rookie's favour when the Ducati's tyres went away allowing the American through. The British rider Leon Haslam (Stiggy Racing Honda) was hugely impressive on his way to third place, ahead of Ducati duo Regis Laconi (DFX) and Fabrizio. Biaggi's miserable day was completed when he slid out of third place late on.

"The second race was really tough, we had a couple of goes in the lead and tried to break but couldn't do it so I sat and watched Nori," Spies said. "We were strong in the first half but really slow in the back two corners and I couldn't stay with him, then when the tyres went off we just went to the front with four to go and I put my head down. "WSB is so tight, people don't understand how many fast riders there are here, and it was really great out there today." *PA Sport