TOOELE It was, for Ben Spies, a victory from start to finish on Saturday in the first AMA Superbike Championship race at Miller Motorsports Park.
He earned the pole position in qualifying early Saturday. When the race started, he jumped out to an early lead and stayed there for all of the 14 laps around the 4.5-mile winding track.
In world superbike racing, qualifying runs were held and, after an hour of riding and nearly 40 laps, Troy Corser of Australia was the top qualifier with a lap time on the shorter 3.1-mile track of 1:49.224.
Troy Bayliss, also of Australia, held the top qualifier's spot for most of the time, but late in the race Corser found the right groove and posted the fastest time among the 29 riders qualifying. Bayliss' time was 1:49.636.
Third was Regis Laconi of France. His time was 1:49.618.
But then the starting positions shifted in what is dubbed the Superpole. Under world rules, the top 16 riders return to the track in the late afternoon. Each of the 16 is given the chance to race one lap around the track to try for a better time and a chance to move up in today's start.
Carlos Checa of Spain, in only his sixth race for Honda, moved up into the pole position with a time of 1:48.193. Second was Germany's Max Neukirchner. Bayliss was in third and Michael Fabrizio of Italy was fourth.
"We worked well today," Checa said. "I had an incident this morning, so there is always something to improve and something to fix. But finally I was so concentrated in the lap I did. I tried to be as clean and effective as possible. I knew that I was able to be in the 48s, but I didn't expect 48 low, and when I saw that time it was a great surprise and a great satisfaction to be on the pole for the first time.
"Now the start tomorrow is the next step we need to improve. I will try to do a good race tomorrow; for sure we have some chance of winning, because we have shown our potential in the last few races, and especially here. The bike is now working well and I'm also confident with the tires, so you never know."
Neukirchner said he was happy with his run.
"I had some problems yesterday with the chassis, and in particular I was losing a lot of time in the final split, but we found a good way to improve and we were much quicker than yesterday. I think we found a good race set-up, and I hope I'm tomorrow I'm in front. Here on this track it's going to be really hard; the times are very close and I'm sure it'll be a big fight," he said.
Starting on the second row will be Corser, Spain's Rubin Xaus, Loaconi and Japan's Yukio Kagayama. The third row will be Max Biaggi of Italy, Noriyuki Haga of Japan.
Spies' greatest challenge came from Mat Mladin, the No. 2 qualifier. He jumped in behind Spies off the line and was within seconds of the leader as he followed him around the first lap.
Then, on the second spin around, he headed into what racers have dubbed "the fastest left-hand turn on the track" and leaned a little too much and rode off the track. He was unable to climb back on the bike and finished in last place 20th.
That left Spies all alone and with a comfortable five second lead over the rest of the pack. And, from that point on he said he rode comfortably and in control to earn his 23rd career AMA superbike victory. Spies rides for Suzuki.
He said in practice and qualifying he was able to find the right tire-track combination, which made it possible for him to earn the pole position and eventually win the race.
"Being on a long track ... for three minutes you really grit your teeth (and go for it) and still it's hard to knock off a whole lot of time (if you make a mistake)," he said.
His qualifying time was 2 minutes, 45.111 seconds.
A mistake is exactly what happened to Jamie Hacking, riding a Kawasaki, the No. 3 qualifier. He said he had vibrations in the front forks of his bike on Friday, but put in new forks and "the chatter went away and I was able to put in some pretty decent laps."
During the race he ran off the track, made it back on, then rode off again and was finally able to gain control and get back in the race. At this point he found himself in eighth position.
He was able to move into second and tried to make a run on Spies near the end but ran out of track. He finished 1.6 seconds behind the winner.
In third was Neil Hodgson, riding a Honda. He was 5.1 seconds back. Fourth was Aaron Yates, also on a Suzuki. He finished 5.2 seconds back.
The track will open at 8 a.m. Riders will warm up early and then run in the first of two scheduled races at noon. The second race will begin at 3:30 p.m.
The Superbike World Championship races will be broadcast live on 95 television networks to 173 countries and an estimated television audience of 120 million.
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