The last two editions of the Portimao race

2008 – The last race weekend was held at the new venue of Portimao, in Algarve, Portugal, and it was pure Bayliss celebration as the Australian rider swept the board, taking a wet Superpole by almost 2.5 seconds over wild card Cal Crutchlow and pulling away in both races at a pace that in the early stages reached one second per lap at times.


Given Bayliss’ superiority, the show was behind him and started at the first lap of the first race, when Fabrizio tried to overtake Biaggi, fell, and collected his countryman. A little fight ensued and continued, verbally, in the paddock.


A couple of newcomers, Cal Crutchlow and Jonathan Rea, were able to lead the group of Bayliss’ pursuers in the early stages, which also comprised Xaus, Corser, Leon Haslam, Checa and Haga. The changes of positions were countless and things started to settle down only after ten laps, when tyres started to tell: before the race the riders were unsure about which tyre to use, given the frequent presence of the rain during the weekend and many choices were only made on the starting grid. At this point of the race the riders which had chosen the softer compound fell back and the others were able to keep a reasonable pace.


In the second part of the race the ones left in contention for second place were Haga, Corser and Checa, with Haga keeping up despite his softer tyre. The defining moment of the fight for second was the sixteenth lap, when Checa passed Corser and attacked Haga soon afterwards. The spaniard went wide and lost the position again, but after a couple of corners it was Haga’s turn to end up wide and Checa took second. At the beginning of the following lap Corser passed Haga and now it was clear that the Japanese had a mechanical problem and retired after a couple of laps. The order remained unchanged and Checa finished second in front of Corser.


The start of the second race was not so straightforward as the first one as Biaggi and Bayliss touched at the first corner, Bayliss losing some positions. It was clear though that the Australian had the same irresistible pace of race one and by the end of the lap he had already recovered all the lost ground and rocketed past Xaus, who was leading, down the main straight, setting off on his own.


Xaus and Haga were left battling for second, but after four laps Haga had to serve a ride through penalty for jump start and fell out of contention. The order was then Bayliss, Corser, Rea and Michel Fabrizio, which recovered from tenth after a poor start.


When Haga pulled into the pits, Corser made a move on Xaus, but ended up wide at the first corner. Rea was quick to snatch third, but after a couple of turns Fabrizio passed him and set after Xaus, while behind them Corser was sucked into a group composed of seven riders fighting for fifth.
Xaus and Fabrizio fought for the following two laps, swapping places several times until Xaus highsided his Ducati in one of the spectacular downhill turns of the Algarve circuit, slowing down Checa, who was right on his tail. This left Fabrizio with a good margin and gave third to Max Neukirchner. The podium places remained unchanged up to two laps to the end, when Haslam was able to take third from Neukirchner and claimed is second Superbike podium after a wait of four years.


2009 – One of the closest championship battles came all the way to the last weekend in Portimao and if Spies had to win both races, Haga had to win at least one. If he was second twice he would have had the same points of Spies, but he would have lost the title for an inferior number of wins.
Things looked bleak for Haga right in the middle of the qualifying session, when he failed to reach the final session and had to start only tenth. The fact that his team-mate Fabrizio was third and the private Ducati of Shane Byrne was second, merely added to his frustration.


On pole, for a record of eleven times in a season, was Ben Spies, with a time which left everyone else behind by at least half of a second.
Spies rocketed away at the start and was clear of everyone else at the first corner, with Biaggi in second and Byrne in third, soon passed by Rea. Haga was up to seventh on the opening lap, while Spies opened up a huge gap to Biaggi, and kept a high pace in order to be clear of any possible fight, winning the race alone.


The turning point of the race and the championship was Haga falling on the seventh lap, when he was running fifth behind Byrne and Rea. The Japanese lost the rear on a downhill left hander, tried to make the corner and slid off the track, virtually putting an end to his hopes of finally winning the title. Going into race two, Spies had only to finish sixth to claim the title.
The finishing order of the first race, with Rea claiming second in the last stages, Biaggi third with a sore arm after a fall on saturday, Byrne fourth and Fabrizio fifth, but fourteen seconds adrift, helped Spies on doing the math for the second race, while Haga was in tears in his garage: for the third time he was going to lose the title. This time squandering an advantage of 88 points he had after South Africa, the largest ball-drop ever in the championship history.


In the second race Byrne took the lead from Spies at the first corner, while Biaggi followed, soon passed by Rea. The couple continued to fight for third during the following lap, while Spies did nothing to attack a slower Byrne.


Byrne was holding everyone up: the leading group was so close that on the third lap Rea tried to pass Spies at the first corner, but in turn he was nearly passed by Biaggi. Further on the same lap Rea was able to take second from Spies, while Haga claimed fifth from Haslam.


Spies let his rivals by one by one, falling to sixth by the ninth lap. At this stage Byrne, Rea and Fabrizio were fighting for the lead, while Biaggi was alone in fourth, making several mistakes as his right arm continued to give him problems under braking. Fifth was Haga, with Spies trundling around behind him with less than perfect race lines.


Approaching mid-race Byrne’s pace began to fade due to tyre wear so Rea and Fabrizio were left to fight for the win. The Italian had the best of Jonathan after a fierce fight and on the last lap he was able to snatch the front at the first corner; it was not over, as Rea tried to pass Fabrizio, but went wide and allowed Haga to take second completing a Ducati one-two. Third was Rea, Byrne fourth and Spies fifth, as the American passed Biaggi six laps to the end.


Spies was champion in his rookie season, while Haga for the third time lost the title in the final stages.

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