THE SEASON FINALE OPENS AT PORTIMAO; FABRIZIO SEVENTH AND HAGA NINTH IN FIRST QUALIFYING
Portimao (Portugal), Friday 23rd October 2009: the 2009 World Superbike Championship finale opened today under clear, sunny skies at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimao, the duel between championship title contenders Noriyuki Haga (Ducati Xerox) and Ben Spies (Yamaha) getting underway with a closely fought first qualifying session. Michel Fabrizio, already assured of third place in the final championship standings, closed qualifying in seventh position, with Noriyuki in ninth; both riders are confident ahead of Sunday's showdown.
In the opening free practice session of this weekend's season finale, championship contender Noriyuki Haga immediately demonstrated his determination by putting himself at the top of the timesheets early on in the session. He remained consistently fast throughout the hour, and was the only rider to complete several laps in under 1m45, including a fastest lap of 1m44.9s registered during a mini long-run. His quickest lap left him in second position overall when privateer Ducati rider Smrz made a flying lap in the latter stages of the practice. Team-mate Michel Fabrizio worked to improve rear grip and overall feeling with his Ducati 1198 and although he closed in eighth position, he was only two tenths of a second off Noriyuki's pace.
Later in the day and on a hotter track (380x00b0C) with respect to the morning, both factory Ducati riders worked with their technicians to improve both grip and absorption over the uneven track surface. Both Noriyuki and Michel were lapping with consistently fast times but, with the first ten riders all within half a second of each other, the Ducati Xerox men closed this closely fought first qualifying session in seventh (Michel) and ninth place (Noriyuki), Michel just a tenth of a second faster than his Japanese team-mate. The Ducati 1198 machines in the hands of Smrz (Guandalini Racing), Byrne (Team Sterilgarda) and Nieto (DFX Corse) also demonstrated their potential today, closing in second, fifth and sixth position respectively.
Michel Fabrizio 1m44.1s
"For now I'd say we have things under control. Today we worked mainly with the hard tyres to improve feeling on the track surface. I don't yet have total faith in the front of the bike and the asphalt was not in the best condition, which meant I couldn't really push as hard as I wanted to. Tomorrow we'll make some more changes, testing some different tyres and hopefully I'll be able to improve significantly on my time."
Noriyuki Haga 1m44.2s
"The lap times today were faster than those recorded during testing earlier this year. In general we haven't had any real problems but we are working to find the optimal setting and we'll continue this work tomorrow. I would like to find more grip but apart from that I am pretty confident, I know we are fast and that we can be very competitive here."