Noriyuki Haga may not have been much of a factor in yesterday’s Superpole competition at Phillip Island, but the Japanese star more than made up for that today by winning a classic duel with German Max Neukirchner in race one to start the 2009 World Superbike Championship.The race, which was declared wet yet started in the dry, saw Haga and Neukirchner battle to the bitter end. With two laps to go, Neukirchner was .222 of a second behind with just the lead duo lapping in the 1:33s. The Alstare Suzuki rider than passed Haga and the Xerox Ducati down the front straight on the penultimate lap and the battle was on. On the final lap, Neukirchner had a big slide at the top of Lukey Heights and Haga barged past. And that was all she wrote, with Haga holding the lead to win the race by just .032 of a second.Third went to Neukirchner’s teammate Yukio Kagayama, the Japanese rider some five seconds down on the front two as the Suzuki men rebounded strongly after a less than stellar qualifying performance.Haga’s teammate Michel Fabrizio ended up fourth with series rookie Jonathan Rea fifth on the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR.And what of Ben Spies? The three-time AMA Superbike Champion was involved in a run-in with another rider on the opening lap in turn two, the Texan forced to the gravel and rejoining the race at the very back. The pole sitter would fight through to finish 16th in his World Superbike debut – just missing out on earning a championship point. He was just .062 of a second behind Shinya Nakano, who finished 15th on his factory Aprilia to earn the final point.The lead initially was taken by Rea with one of his teammates, Ryuichi Kiyonari, crashing out at Honda corner and failing to get his bike to fire back to life. Haga, after starting from the third row of the grid, was through to second after just one lap.The leading three were Rea, Haga and Regis Laconi, with five close behind – led by Leon Haslam, with Neukirchner, Kagayama, Fabrizo and Jakub Smrz in tow. Three seconds behidn the leader was Aprilia-mounted Max Biaggi with Troy Corser and the factory BMW in 10th place.Haga went to the front for the first time on the fourth lap with Laconi and Rea tucked in behind. Neukirchner went to third on lap five, with Rea and Kagayama behind him.Karl Muggeridge, meanwhile, pulled in on lap five with a technical problem.Corser set the best lap of the race on lap three, with a 1:32.726 almost a second from his lap record of 1:31.826, set on a Yamaha in 2008.Haslam, Corser, Fabrizio and Smrz were in a loose group some 2.4 seconds behind the lead. Up front, Neukirchner was hunting for Haga and he took the lead on the ninth lap in the first turn. At that point, the German, Haga, Lagoni and Kagayama were all on the same second.Shane Byrne crashed out of the race on the ninth lap.It didn’t take much longer for Neukirchner and Haga to distance themselves from their pursuers with Kagayama riding alone in third by the 14th lap. Behind him, however, there was a fight between Laconi, Haslam, Fabrizio and Rea.Fabrizio, Rea, Haslam and Laconi made it a close battle for fourth with Fabrizio getting the nod. Rea barely bested Haslam and Laconi with those three all within the same second.Corser ended up eighth on the BMW with the top Aprilia being ridden to 11th by Biaggi. Smrz and Spies’ teammate, Tom Skyes, were ninth and 10th, respectively.The win was the 34th of Haga’s career, a victory that moved him out of a tie with Corser and into third on the all-time win list behind Carl Fogarty and Troy Bayliss.
Race One Results1. Noriyuki Haga (Ducati)2. Max Neukirchner (Suzuki)3. Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki)4. Michel Fabrizio (Ducati)5. Jonathon Rea (Honda)6. Leon Haslam (Honda)7. Regis Laconi (Ducati)8. Troy Corser (BMW)9. Jakub Smrz (Ducati)10. Tom Sykes (Yamaha)11. Max Biaggi (Aprilia)12. Carlos Checa (Honda)13. Robby Rolfo (Honda)14. Tommy Hill (Honda)15. Shinya Nakano (Aprilia)16. Ben Spies (Yamaha)