WSBK: Magny Cours Notes -- Eye of the Tiger

Motorcycle racers, journalists and fans tend to talk about the sport in terms of a physical struggle. Riders and teams are always fighting or battling for the lead, championship or what have you. To be sure, there are parallells between the sweet science and racing; fighters and racers both spend endless hours training to be in top condition and both have to ply their trade hurting as often as not. Strategy is important too, as the combatants look to defend their position or deliver a knock-out blow that will defeat their opponent.  The two men that are left in the ring in the 2009 World Superbike series championship, Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga, came into the next to last round at Magny Cours, nearly too close to call on points, each looking for the advantage that would KO their rival or serve to let them live to fight another day.

Race 1: Don't Look Back, Something Might be Gaining on You

Ben Spies got a rare hole shot and led all but a millisecond of the race en route to his 13th victory of the season. Jonny Rea was pressuring Spies ahead of Max Biaggi and Noriyuki Haga until with 16 laps to go, Rea got in too hot, ran wide and subsequently retired with some sort of mechanical problem. Biaggi and Haga beat on each other hammer and tongs for the next ten laps, Haga unable to get by the suddenly wide-bodied Aprilia until 7 laps to go. Spies was maintaining his lead over the pair +/- one second but couldn't stretch it out due to a series of what he called small mistakes. After Haga managed to get by Biaggi, he was the fastest man on track, taking a tenth or two out of Spies on every lap. On the last lap, exhorted on by a wildly gesticulating Davide Tardozzi atop the pit lane wall, Haga closed the gap by over 4 tenths and when Spies made another small error, Haga pounced and passed Spies with a half-lap to go. Spies immediately returned the favor por fuero and held off Haga at the line by .181.

Race 2: Enter the Samurai

If  Ben Spies was dominant in race one, Noriyuki Haga was more so in race two. Max Biaggi got a great start and slotted into the lead, which lasted for about a half lap, then the master of Magny-Cours took over and the race was, for all intents and purposes, over, although Rea and Biaggi passed Haga (very) briefly on separate occasions. Biaggi and Rea fell into a battle between themselves while Haga maintained a lead a second or so in front of the scrappy duo. Ben Spies shadowed the top trio in fourth, unable to push hard enough to make a move. In the second half of the race, Spies dropped back from the leaders at an alarming pace, coming perilously close to falling into the clutches of eventual 5th Place finisher Leon Haslam. Spies blamed his front tire, claiming it felt like something that belonged on the front of his motorhome. Haga crossed the line nearly a second and half ahead of Biaggi, the 5th win at the French track for the Rider Formerly Known as Nitro and the 8th for Ducati.

Rumble in Portimao

Like a couple of heavyweights answering the bell, worn out and weary from the long battle, Ben Spies and Nori Haga will meet in Portugal in 3 weeks time to decide who'll claim the title. Both have the same goal -- win at all costs. Spies' goal is simple -- he has to win both races to ensure a championship in his rookie season. Even if Haga places second in both races, thereby tying Spies, the Texan will win the title by virtue of his surfeit of race wins. If Haga wins race one, it's all but over and he only has to finish in fifth place or better in race 2 to become the first Japanese World Superbike World Champion, a goal that he's striven and sacrificed for over a decade. The stage is set for a barn-burner, be sure to reserve your ringside seat.

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Comments

When did Biaggi become Spies' best friend? When it's for the lead or if the position means a championship for both riders, a display like Biaggi's efforts in race 1 would be exciting. But his position was insignificant in both regards. Biaggi had every right to ride like a rolling wall, but it sure makes it less exciting and makes me dislike him even more. I was very much looking forward to Rea being a bit rash in race two. But, sadly, the move/torpedo never materialized.

Total votes: 8

Pressure is on Ben now. Win both races = win, any less = lose.

Of course you never know what might happen, but that has to be the way he approaches the race. With his rotten luck, I have to think this might be Nori's year after all.

Total votes: 4

Wow, Portimao is going to be sick!

If Nori lost in a tie break, man, that'd probably more crushing than all the other years combined...

I just hope everyone stays the hell out of the way!

Total votes: 2

This will be the most electric finish to a championship I can remember. Two Titans battling to the finish. And then meeting up for Sushi and Beer afterward! This season would make a great DVD!

Total votes: 4

I haven't yet heard what exactly went on with Ben in race 2. Apparently he's blaming his front tyre. Does that mean it was one of those rouge ones that don't perform in the manner expected from qualifying - if so that's very unfortunate. I thought Steve Martin said he went from an A spec rear to a D spec rear in race 2 - that's a pretty extreme move if so.

Brookspeed. Biaggi was no rolling wall - what a ridiculous comment. It's racing, he was out there for himself and put in a couple of very strong clean rides.

Motorcycles fall over if you don't go fast

Total votes: 6

I meant he was so hard to pass that it was if he was a wall. And did you miss the part right before that phrase? Or the sentence before that?

Total votes: 6