Ben Spies came to his home race - or the nearest thing he has to a home race - at Miller Motorsports in Utah looking to get a double and a bundle of points to get himself back into the World Superbike championship race. So when the lights went out at the start of race 1, the Texan set about the task with a gusto bordering on the insatiable. First off the line and first into Turn 1, Spies had gap by the first corner, streaking away to take a lead of over 2 seconds by the time they crossed the line to end the first lap. Spies was gone.
Behind Spies, Shinya Nakano had gotten an outstanding start, leading from Noriyuki Haga and Ryuichi Kiyonari, with Broc Parkes leading Carlos Checa further back. With Spies already disappeared, Ryuichi Kiyonari worked his way past Nori Haga, then set about passing Nakano, the Honda and the Aprilia getting a gap as they fought over 2nd. The two Japanese riders soon had the company of a Spaniard, as Carlos Checa also worked his way past Haga then went on to challenge Shinya Nakano.
Checa was determined to get past Nakano, and did so pretty forcefully, the Aprilia rider losing his concentration as Checa's Honda appeared underneath him, then losing the front and crashing out. Nakano's crash came just a lap too early, as a lap later, Celani Suzuki rider Karl Muggeridge also crashed out at the esses, leaving both bike and rider laying on the track. The stewards had no option but to red flag the race, so they could get to Muggeridge. The Australian was unhurt, but had just had his bell rung, and later walked to the ambulance under his own steam, and was taken off for further medical inspection.
The restart was frustrating for Spies, as the Texan was left to do it all over again. Spies' one consolation was that the race would be decided on aggregate times, which meant he carried a 4.5 second lead into the second heat, and didn't need to win the race.
At the second time of asking, Spies didn't get off the line quite so smartly, beaten into the first turn by Ryuichi Kiyonari. But Kiyo's advantage would only last for a couple of corners, as the Texan soon stuffed his Yamaha R1 ahead of the Ten Kate Honda and was off to the races once again.
Kiyonari was quickly joined by his team mate, Carlos Checa, who had forced his way past Max Biaggi on lap 1. Biaggi then started to drop through the field, soon getting company from the third Ten Kate man, Johnny Rea. But it was Checa who was on the move, passing Kiyonari as he had passed Biaggi, and up into 2nd. Checa soon dropped Kiyonari and went on to chase Spies, though that chase would be in vain.
While the top two spots were settled, there was still plenty to fight for behind. Johnny Rea caught, then passed Kiyonari, the Japanese rider quickly losing touch and falling back into the clutches of Max Biaggi. Further down the field, a huge scrap developed for 6th position, involving the Kawasakis of Jamie Hacking and Broc Parkes, the factory Ducatis of Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio, and the Honda of Leon Haslam. Hacking used his track knowledge to the full, quickly slicing past Nori Haga, clearly suffering from the back injury he sustained during practice on Saturday.
Past Haga, Hacking then set about the Honda of Haslam, disposing of the Briton after a brief scuffle with the Stiggy Honda. His next target was his team mate Broc Parkes, and the rather rash move Hacking tried to get past the Australian pushed both riders wide, and allowed a storming Michel Fabrizio through. Eventually, Hacking passed his team mate, following Fabrizio in the direction of Max Biaggi.
Passed by Fabrizio and Hacking, Haslam quickly found himself holding up a host of bikes behind him, with Nori Haga, Shane Byrne, Yukio Kagayama and Jakub Smrz all swatting at Haslam's back. Haslam's resistance was enough to allow Fabrizio and Hacking to escape, and rule the riders behind him out of contention.
Fabrizio was already past, and caught and past both Kiyonari and Biaggi before the final lap, eventually crossing the line in 4th, but more importantly, finishing 3rd on aggregate behind Spies and Checa. Spies had been unstoppable, an astonishing ride in which he smashed the lap record on his first flying lap, and Checa would have been unstoppable if it hadn't been for Spies. But Fabrizio got some precious points, giving away 2nd place in the championship to Ben Spies, but gaining points on his team mate Nori Haga. Haga had a very tough race, the restart hurting the championship leader, giving up a big chunk of points by only managing to finish 9th.
Race two looked like being a carbon copy of the first start of race 1. Once again, it was Ben Spies who flew off the line, but this time, he had Michel Fabrizio in his wake. Spies had the hammer down just as had the first time round at Miller, but Fabrizio had gambled all his chips on Spies and was determined to follow. In the space of 4 laps, the pair had built up a lead of over 6 seconds, Fabrizio matching Spies pace, though not capable of catching the Texan Terror, as Spies' helmet proclaimed.
The gap between Spies and Fabrizio rocked back and forth around the 1.5 seconds mark, both men hammering out laps in the 1'49s. But by lap 15, the pace became too much for Fabrizio, the Italian's pace dropping back into the 1'50s, then the 1'51s. Ben Spies went on to take the double in imposing fashion, his supremacy in his home race challenged, but entirely unbeaten. Despite Fabrizio's pace slackening in the final laps, by that time, the following pack was 15 seconds behind, and Fabrizio remained comfortably in 2nd place.
The following pack was where most of the action was. At first, Carlos Checa had been chasing Spies and Fabrizio, but trying to match the leaders' pace turned out to be a mistake for the Spaniard. Checa crashed out on lap 4, pushing his Ten Kate Honda faster than it wanted to go.
The chase - such as it was - was left to Johnny Rea, Max Biaggi, Noriyuki Haga, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Leon Haslam, Jakub Smrz and Shinya Nakano. Haga had started well, running in 4th spot for a while, but his injuries were taking their toll, and he slid back through the field, eventually to finish 8th. Rea made most of the running for 3rd, once team mate Checa had crashed out of that position, while behind him, the following pack took turns to challenge.
Biaggi was the first opponent, but the Aprilia rider could not sustain the pace. Kiyonari was next, but the Ten Kate Honda man could not make an impression on his young British team mate. It was not until his fellow countryman Leon Haslam started to test Rea that the Ten Kate man showed signs of weakness. Haslam was the fastest through the slower, twistier sections, but round Miller's fast straights, especially across the line, Rea demonstrated the supremacy of Ten Kate's legendary engine preparation.
The fight went all the way to the last lap, Haslam pushing that little bit harder to try and get close enough for a pass before they headed for the line. But that little bit turned out to be a little bit too much, and the Stiggy Honda man folded the front a few corners from the end, crashing out on the final lap. Rea could cruise home to take the final podium spot in relative comfort, his second podium finish in two race weekends.
Biaggi came home in 4th, finishing ahead of Kiyonari, Smrz, Nakano and Haga. Haga could be thankful to Haslam's eagerness, as the Stiggy Honda rider's crash gave Haga an extra point, one which could be very valuable at the end of the season.
If Jamie Hacking had made a big impression in race 1 for all the right reasons, the opposite was true in race 2. The Kawasakis both got off to a terrible start, crossing the line at the back of the field in the early laps. Hacking fought his way forward, but then a collision with Luca Scassa, caused by Hacking trying an optimistic pass, then nearly highsiding and clipping the Italian, put Hacking at the back of the field. Unlike Hacking, Zemke made little impression at all, for either positive or negative reasons, finishing the race with a solitary point in 15th.
Both Spies and Fabrizio did well out the US round of World Superbikes, grabbing back a big handful of points from series leader Haga. The cruel fate which Haga always seems to suffer at Miller struck again this year, and riding injured meant that the Xerox Ducati man was left to surrender 32 points of his 85 point lead. Spies, meanwhile, is firmly back in 2nd place, but the championship is shaping up to be a three-way fight at the halfway point. Though Haga leads by 53 points, this race isn't over by a long chalk.
The return of the World Supersport championship to the US had been long awaited, with the series providing some of the best racing currently on offer from any international championship. And as the bikes howled off the line, that's just what the fans thought that they would get, as the leading group quickly solidified, and Eugene Laverty and Cal Crutchlow started slugging it out for the lead.
But after three laps, the place swapping ended, and the leaders settled into a set order: Laverty led on the Parkalgar Honda, with Cal Crutchlow probing on his Yamaha R6, but unable to pass, while Joan Lascorz sat watching in 3rd on the Glaner Motocard Kawasaki. At first, the Triumphs of Garry McCoy and Gianluca Nannelli followed Lascorz, with Ten Kate Honda's Kenan Sofuoglu stuck between the two British bikes run by an Italian team. But by lap 7, Sofuoglu was past and chasing Lascorz.
The young Turk was soon with the leaders, and the front three became a front four. Though the balance of power seemed constantly to be shifting - Laverty gaining a gap, then losing it; Sofuoglu closing on Lascorz, then dropping off; Crutchlow pushing Laverty hard, then having to find off Lascorz - the order stayed almost unchanged until the last lap, Sofuoglu taking 3rd from Lascorz the only alteration.
But the last lap turned out to be dramatic: Sofuoglu first stuffed Crutchlow to take over 2nd, the Yamaha man forced to sit up to avoid running off, then on the way into the final esses, the Ten Kate Honda man slammed his CBR600RR underneath Laverty's, the Irishman suddenly finding a white bike on the line he was taking, banging fairings and nearly running off the track. Sofuoglu held on to take the win, his second of the season, while Laverty got back onto the track to hold on to 2nd ahead of Crutchlow. Neither Laverty nor Crutchlow were particularly enamored of Sofuoglu's riding, but neither man lodged a protest over the move.
The result sees Eugene Laverty close up a few precious points in the championship, which Crutchlow still leads, but only by 9 points. Sofuoglu's victory brings him back close to the chase, the title race looking like it, too, will be a three-man contest. Andrew Pitt, who had been forced to start from the back of the grid, put in a sterling performance to finish 7th, and score valuable points.
There was American interest in the World Supersport class as well, and as might be expected, the wildcards ended the day at the bottom of the results sheet. But given the depth of the field, they still put in creditable performances. Melissa Paris was keeping two riders behind her, before she crashed out on lap 7, proving that she earned her place as a wildcard. Paris had improved her lap times in every session, narrowing the gap to the front of the field. If she continues to improve at this rate, she could well be troubling the regulars next year.