WSBK: Portimao Preview -- The Payoff
On his Twitter page Ben Spies has the saying "Put in the time....It will pay off someday.." This statement is more than an aphorism to the young Texan, it's a reflection of the philosophy that has brought him 3 AMA Superbike championships and has brought him to the brink of seizing a World Superbike crown. Spies never seems to get overly excited (well, except after being forced out of a race by an equipment failure or a fellow competitor's bonehead move) and approaches racing in a seemingly workmanlike manner, solving problems and moving step-by-step to the desired end. This calm and methodical system has led to Spies capturing a record-tying 10 Superpoles and winning 13 races so far in his rookie season.
Noriyuki Haga has put in the time too, to say the least, over the last decade or so, but his style, is (or at least was) how you say -- different. Haga has earned a few nicknames over the years -- "The Samurai of Slide" and "Nitro Nori", to name two, that have highlighted his lurid take-no-prisoners style. This has led to some inopportune moments that have sank his quest for a World Championship. Ever so close to the summit in 2000 and 2007, Haga is arguably the best superbike racer never to capture the big prize. For 2009, Haga changed everything, signing with Ducati to replace the retiring Troy Bayliss and developing a patient attitude toward racing. This year's Haga no longer forces the issue with goofy passes that as often as not ended in heartbreak.
It didn't take too long to become apparent that this year was going to ultimately be about Spies and Haga. It was expected that Haga would dominate, what with his impressive prior record and his move to the Xerox Ducati juggernaut, but Spies was something of an unknown commodity, even after his impressive 2008 season-ending test at Portimao. From the second race at Phillip Island, where Spies and Haga dueled at close quarter, swapping passes in the dying laps, it was clear that there was something special about this rivalry and we fans were in for a treat seldom seen in recent years.
The promise shown in the early days of the season has bourne itself out This year has been an epic exposition of the very best that superbike racing has to offer, brimming with both triumph and heartbreak. So, here we are, near the dying embers of the 2009 season, Haga with a 10 point gap over Spies with 50 points yet to be decided. Strategy and tactics will be simple -- each rider needs to win. The permutations are nearly endless but if Spies doubles and Haga finishes second, Spies wins the title by virtue of more race wins. If Haga wins race one he only has to finish 5th or better in race two. One thing we can be sure of -- each will be giving it his all, seeking the big payoff both so righteously deserve.