The previous round of World Superbikes at Misano looked to have been a pivotal point in the season. After another dominant win in race 1, Ben Spies lost championship points he could ill afford in race 2, suffering with mechanical problems for the third time this year. For every three steps that Spies took towards Haga, mechanical problems seemed to force him two steps back.
So Ben Spies arrived at Donington with extra help in the garage, in the shape of Greg Wood, his former mechanic with Yoshimura Suzuki, a team where he never suffered a single mechanical DNF in all his time there. The arrival of Woody was meant to put an end to all the costly mistakes that had been sucking the life out of Spies' rookie title challenge.
Spies laid out his statement of intent during qualifying, taking pole for the 8th time in 9 races, and marking Jakub Smrz' pole at Misano out as an aberration rather than a feat likely to be repeated. And off the line in race 1, Spies underlined his determination to turn the title chase around by leaping into Redgate corner first and ahead of the pack, and attempting to make his escape. His plan was only partly successful, in that he left the pack behind him, but he brought Max Biaggi and Noriyuki Haga trailing in his wake.
Like Spies, Biaggi had been vociferous in his complaints about the Aprilia RSV4, the competitiveness of the bike being extremely unpredictable. At Donington, there was no doubt about its performance, Biaggi following Spies early with relative ease.
Behind Biaggi, Haga was having a little more trouble following. The Xerox Ducati rider was on Biaggi in the early laps, and probing for a way past and on towards Spies, but his efforts were not to last, fading after 6 laps and dropping off the back of the leaders.
Lap after lap, Spies tried to shake off the stalking Aprilia, but his efforts were in vain. Both men were stronger in different parts of the track, Spies brilliant through the terrifying swoop of Hollywood and Craner, and the back end of the circuit through to McLeans. But from Coppice through the Foggy Esses and up and down the Melbourne loop, Biaggi was back, showing off the Aprilia's phenomenal stability on the brakes in the tight corners leading back onto the straight.
The gap never dropped under a second, and Biaggi looked set to make a move on the final lap. Anticipating this, Spies pushed extra hard in the first section of the track, extending his lead to just over half a second, making a passing attempt difficult at best for Biaggi. Entering the Melbourne Loop, Biaggi had closed just enough to possibly attempt a last-gasp lunge into the final corner, but on the exit of Melbourne, Biaggi suddenly slowed, then started weaving violently, until his engine fired back into life again. A fuel feed problem had caused the engine to cut out, taking with it any hopes Biaggi may have had for an inaugural win on the Aprilia. Spies went on to take an easy victory, with Biaggi's bike restarting just in time for him to stay ahead of Noriyuki Haga and hold on to 2nd. Haga's 3rd place helped limit the points damage Haga suffered to Spies to just 9 points, leaving him with a 39 point advantage.
Just off the podium, Shane Byrne, Leon Haslam and Shinya Nakano battled all race long over 4th. Byrne looked to have the best cards for most of the race, but the British veteran finally succumbed to his younger compatriot at Redgate as they started lap 17. Haslam went on to take 4th, while Byrne settled for 5th ahead of Nakano.
Spies didn't get off the line as quickly in race 2 as he had earlier in the afternoon. The Texan was swamped by a couple of Aprilias, but Spies was quickly past with a brave move round the outside of Redgate, and normal service had been resumed by the time they reached the bottom of the hill for the Old Hairpin.
Once again it was Max Biaggi chasing after Spies, but instead of Haga on his tail, it was the Aprilia of his team mate Shinya Nakano. Haga had had less luck off the line and been forced to permit Leon Haslam and Johnny Rea to get ahead of him, though Haga was back past Rea at the Melbourne Loop.
But Spies was escaping once again. Biaggi and Haga put their heads down to chase, but on lap 3, Biaggi slid out gracefully entering the Melbourne Loop. Biaggi had gone down uninjured, but impetuous to get back in the race, he leapt aboard his Aprilia RSV4 and rejoined the race without looking behind him, slamming in to Celani's Alessandro Polita and breaking his own foot. His race was effectively over.
A lap later, so was Noriyuki Haga's. In a horrific repeat of Troy Bayliss' accident in 2007, Haga went down at Coppice. Bayliss was injured badly enough - he lost part of his little finger and suffered what the press release referred to eye-wateringly as "groin injuries" - but Haga came off even worse. His Xerox Ducati tumbled through the gravel together with Haga, landing heavily on the Japanese rider several times before coming to a standstill. Haga eventually got up, but was clearly hurt.
At first it was feared that Haga had fractured a couple of vertebrae in the accident, and he was airlifted to a local hospital, but later in the evening CAT scans revealed that the vertebrae had not been injured recently, leaving the Japanese rider to deal with "just" a broken bone in his forearm and suspected broken shoulder blade.
The competition behind him gone, so was Spies. The Texan backed off just enough to hold on to a comfortable lead all the way to the end of the race, his supremacy never challenged. Afterwards, the Texan said it was more difficult to concentrate in race 2 than in race 1, as he hadn't had to push quite so hard.
The disappearance of Biaggi and Haga left Leon Haslam sitting in 2nd with Michel Fabrizio right on his tail. Behind Fabrizio, Shane Byrne was closing once again, arriving with the pair fighting for 2nd on lap 9. The trio could not agree on who was to lead the chase, Fabrizio passing Haslam only to be passed back, before allowing Byrne past to try his luck with the Stiggy Honda rider.
Eventually, an unquiet truce was reached, Haslam leading from Byrne and Fabrizio, the three separated by gaps too large to bridge easily, but too small to be permanent. In the final 6 laps, the three bunched up once again, and with 4 left to go, Fabrizio was back past Byrne at the Esses. The order looked far from settled, no one actually able to pass though this didn't prevent them from trying, and meanwhile, Spies Yamaha team mate Tom Sykes was closing down the trio fighting over 2nd all the while.
In the end, they crossed the line in unchanged order, Leon Haslam taking 2nd and Michel Fabrizio picking up the final podium spot, Shane Byrne forced to settle for 4th. The gap to Byrne had proved too large for Tom Sykes to cross, and the Yorkshireman was left to finish 5th.
Race 2 was marred by crashes, of which Haga's and Biaggi's were only the most prominent in that they took place closest to the front. The sun had started to shine a little during the race, heating the asphalt and making the track slipperier than in the cooler conditions of race 1.
The slipperiness of the track cost Noriyuki Haga dearly. He came into the meeting with a comfortable lead over Ben Spies of 48 points, but he left in a medical helicopter with his lead cut to just 14 points. If Haga's injuries are not as severe as at first feared, there is a chance he could return at Brno in four weeks time, but he is unlikely to be fully fit even under the most positive of circumstances. With Spies in his current voracious form, being fully fit is the only chance that Haga has of withstanding the Texan's onslaught. After Kyalami, Haga had an 88 point lead. By the time the World Superbike Championship leaves Brno, that lead could be gone altogether.
Like World Superbikes, the World Supersport series has been developing into a two-horse race, with Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow and Parkalgar Honda's Eugene Laverty disputing the championship lead. So far, it has been fairly evenly matched, with Crutchlow holding the upper hand thanks to a poor result at Valencia by Laverty. Last time out at Misano, Crutchlow had eked out another 5 points, extending his lead to 14 points and making it crucial for Laverty to beat Crutchlow at Donington.
After breaking an ankle in practice, Laverty's prospects were looking up, but the broken ankle had not prevented Crutchlow from taking his 6th pole of the year. But it was Kenan Sofuoglu who led off the line, only for Crutchlow to dive underneath to take back the lead. Crutchlow's lead was also not to last long, as within a couple of corners, the Motocard Kawasaki of Joan Lascorz was past and into the lead, while behind Crutchlow, Eugene Laverty had wrestled his Parkalgar Honda onto the tail of the Yamaha.
By the end of the first lap, the front three had a gap back to 4th place man Kenan Sofuoglu, Lascorz, Crutchlow and Laverty all lapping faster than the Ten Kate Honda rider. The race seemed set for a three-way fight for victory, but as the trio rounded the Melbourne Loop for the third time, Laverty lost the rear of his Honda, sliding out while desperately grasping on to the clutch of his bike.
The Irishman had managed to keep the bike running, and because it was a low-speed spill, the bike was relatively undamaged. But falling in the early laps meant that by the time he rejoined, he was way down in 26th, 18 seconds off Crutchlow's pace. If Laverty was to avoid giving Crutchlow a huge lead in the title chase, he would have his work cut out for him.
Crutchlow was quick to seize the opportunity. With just Lascorz to contend with, he would not look a gift horse in the mouth. A lap later, Crutchlow was past Lascorz at the Foggy Esses, then off to the races. Lascorz tried to follow at first, but the pace the young Englishman was setting was too much for the Spaniard to cope with.
Crutchlow went on to take victory unchallenged, his 4th of the season, one more than Laverty. If his ankle injury had been troubling him, it was not enough to prevent him from dominating the World Supersport field and taking victory at Donington. The Briton now has four weeks to recover before the next round at Brno.
Lascorz came home a lonely 2nd, the Glaner Motocard Kawasaki rider continuing his string of excellent results. The Spaniard has built on his form from last year, and is maturing into a competitive rider in the Supersport class.
Garry McCoy made a welcome return to the podium in 3rd place, the first for the Triumph 675 in the World Supersport championship. The Australian veteran had gotten past Kenan Sofuoglu at the halfway mark of the race, and soon dropped the Ten Kate man, leaving Sofuoglu in 4th.
After his silly mistake on lap 3, Eugene Laverty set about making amends. For the remainder of the race, the Irishman put on a display of passing which was stunning to watch. From 26th on lap 3, he was up to 18th on lap 6, then 11th by lap 9. Laverty was now 3.5 seconds down on the group scrapping for 6th, and took just 2 laps to bridge the gap. Another lap saw him up into 8th behind Gianluca Vizziello and Barry Veneman, one more past the two Hondas and up into 6th.
By now it was too late to catch the leader, Crutchlow already 25 seconds ahead, while catching Fabien Foret in 6th nearly 9 seconds ahead also seemed too much to ask. But Laverty got a lucky break, and Foret was forced to pull out after his Yamaha caught fire in the closing laps. Thanks to a superb ride, Laverty had cut his losses, conceding just 14 points to Crutchlow in the championship. But at the end of the season, those 14 points through a moment of carelessness could well be very expensive indeed.
After Donington, the World Supersport championship remains a two-horse race. Only now, one of the two horses has taken a clear lead. Eugene Laverty has his work cut out for the rest of the season.