Well it’s fair to say that the opening round of the World Superbike championship lived up to all the hype.
Ben Spies proved beyond doubt that he is the real deal by setting pole and winning race two after a relatively straight forward battle with Haga.
It’s no great surprise for me to see Spies run at the front, his team is good, the bike is clearly a weapon and he’s been used to running the pace in AMA even if he did only have Mladin to beat.
For Spies the fast flowing nature of Phillip Island was a world apart from the tracks he’s used to in AMA but thanks to a two day test before hand and a knowledgeable team he had no problem making the transition.
Next time out in Qatar it will be much harder. The track will be new, he won’t have tested and in the past the desert circuit has been particularly cruel to the Yamaha R1 in terms of tyre life.
If Spies can get a podium or even win at Qatar it will not only show his credentials as 2009 WSB champion but that Yamaha have made a massive breakthrough with their new crossplane R1.
For me though, Haga is still the man to beat. Every corner of every lap looks easy for him on the Ducati and the way he scythed from 13th on the grid in just a hand full of laps in both races should be a warning sign to every one of his rivals.
We all know that when everything is right Haga is unstoppable and I feel that at Ducati this year things are going to be right for him on race day a lot more often than they were at Yamaha and that is bad news for his rivals.
It’s clear that Alstare Suzuki have done their homework during winter. The GSX-R 1000 has been far and away the least talked about of the new bikes this year, yet it took two podiums in its first ever race.
It’s arguably the most conventional of the four, but it’s clearly right having been built upon what was already a proven, race winning package.
I believe that Neukirchner can be a title challenger this year, but he has to improve his consistency.
In race one he should have won, yet in race two he could only manage sixth. OK there were reasons for this as he had poor grip and chatter, but in 2009 there’s going to me no room for error and I hope he can take the small step needed to run with Haga and Spies.
Now on to the Brits, who deserve a comment or two. Big respect to Haslam and the Stiggy Honda squad.
For any team to come into WSB, running at the front is a major achievement, but the podium itself has to be credited to Haslam who put it all on the line to overhaul Biaggi and Fabrizio.
The speed in which he tipped into turn one when he passed the two Italians made me want to cover my eyes, but he got away with it and will be flying home with a smile on his face.
Rea’s weekend performance was also impressive. The race two result of ninth blighted what he’d achieved by qualifying front row and taking fifth in race one.
He and the team have work to do, but it’s clear that the talent and desire is there and I’m expecting even more from him in Qatar.
Shakey on the otherhand has to be kicking himself.
With no testing at the track it was always going to be difficult to fight for the win, but having watched his increasing pace and consistency in qualifying I had him down to two top tens at the worst.
That didn’t happen thanks to two crashes, but it’s way to early to hit the panic button.
His bike is good, he is fast and I’m still convinced that anyone who’s slagged him off will be regretting it and eating their words in the next few rounds.
Next stop Qatar.
What do you think? Who impressed you this weekend. Is Spies really that good, can Haga keep it together and is Haslam going to be top Brit?