Monday, October 26, 2009

Spies wins World Superbike title!

On another gray, dreary ‘N wet day in the Pacific Northwest, I eagerly sat down to watch the final two rounds of this year’s hotly contested World Superbike (WSBK) Championship Sunday afternoon…

As Ben Spies, the latest in a long line of American Road Racers from the Lone Star state of Texas was hoping to make history against 2009 WSBK title favourite “Nitro Nori.” (Noriyuki Haga)

Yet it was the Texan who triumphantly claimed the World Superbike Championship in dramatic fashion, as the series Rookie tallied his (WSBK record) 14th victory Sunday at Portimao, Portugal; as Spies has had an epic season long duel with perpetual Bridesmaid “Nitro Nori,” as the Japanese rider has been unable to close the deal in a decade of trying to win his first World Superbike crown, while leading Spies by as many as 88 points at one point on his Ducati.

After having won three consecutive AMA Superbike crowns for Suzuki stateside, Spies switched to Yamaha this year four his debut outing in the worldwide competition, as a springboard to a future in MOTO GP - targeting his fulltime series debut in 2011; as ironically Spies was riding for the Italian based Yamaha WSBK Team which Noriyuki Haga had previously ridden for before switching to the rival Italian (Ducati) concern in nearby Bologna.

And after having wrestled the points lead away from Haga in the first round of the Magny Cours double-header, Spies faltered in the second race with what appeared to be the wrong tyre choice and thus went into the season finale at Portimao trailing Nitro Nori by ten points, thus needing to win both rounds in the final race to take the title.

Spies started the week off in dramatic fashion by taking Pole position with a record time enroute to his 11th Pole of the season, claiming the SuperPole Award and setting a new record for most Poles in a season… Before the Texan simply motored away from the field at the drop of the Green flag, before title rival Haga crashed out at the tricky course on Lap 7, effectively handing the crown to Spies, who then held off a hard charging Jonathan Rea And Max Biaggi in third place, as it was the Italian who’d “Nerfed” off the Texan Down Under in Australia at the beginning of the season.

Yet by claiming the victory, more importantly Spies gained a valuable 25 points for first place, giving him a 15 point cushion over Haga going into round two, who’d DNF’ed a most pivotal Race 1.

But you must spare a thought for Noriyuki, who came down with the flu on the morning of the season finale, adding insult to injury on his Race 1 performance, which Haga made amends of in Race 2, passing title rival Spies enroute to a second place finish behind Ducati teammate Michael Fabrizio by 1.195 seconds. (So much for Team Orders, eh?)

Although Spies had started on Pole in round two,, the race shortly became a Battle of the Brits, as Shane “Shakey” Byrne And Jonathan Rea became locked in a mighty “Scrum” for the lead with Michael Fabrizio in close pursuit, as Spies simply wanted NO part in the battling Britain’s and decided discretion was the better part of valor in his title quest, ultimately dropping as far back as sixth, before once again passing Biaggi to finish in a secure fifth place and claiming the World SuperBike crown by six points over Noriyuki Haga, who seemed very gracious in defeat while still suffering with flu-like symptoms during the Post-race interviews; while once again Rea made the podium, but Fabrizio’s victory along with Rea’s third place was enough for Fabrizio to narrowly clinch third in the Championship by a scant two points ahead of Rea.

As Y’all may know, earlier this year Yamaha decided to promote Spies to the ranks of MOTO GP one year ahead of its plans, as the newly crowned Champ will join another past World Superbike Champion at the Tech 3 Yamaha Team in 2010 instead, as Tech 3 will effectively become “Texas Tech 3” when Spies will partner Colin Edwards in his Rookie MOTO GP campaign.

Yet, I’m not sure who was more happier with the accomplishment as Yamaha WSBK Team Principal Massimo Meregalli could not hide his jubilation over Spies handing him Yamaha’s very first ever World Superbike title as a grinning Spies said it would take a few days to sink in; before he jets off to Valencia to partake in the MOTO GP season finale as a Wildcard entry…

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