Haga reigns supreme as Laconi lets chance slip

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The Independent Online

Regis Laconi crashed out of the lead in race two of the European round of the World Superbike championship here yesterday and handed a lifeline to Britain's embattled James Toseland.

The French rider was leading on the Ducati Fila with only seven laps remaining but slid off on Graham Hill bend when he had a massive championship lead within his grasp. Toseland was already in the pits after falling on the first lap at Druids corner. Now he saw his title hopes revived as Laconi skidded across the grass.

The double débâcle for the Ducati Fila team-mates leaves Laconi leading the championship on 218 points, two clear of Honda's Chris Vermeulen, and six ahead of Noriyuki Haga on the Renegade Ducati of British team-owner Mark Griffiths. Toseland is fourth on 210 points.

After the resurrection of his fortunes, Toseland walked from the pit garage and flung his leathers into an appreciative crowd. Then he strode along the main straight, clasping his hands in the air. Haga, the 29-year-old Japanese rider, won both 25-lap races and could now give the privately-owned Renegade team the championship.

Toseland's catalogue of problems in an extraordinary weekend started in Superpole qualifying on Saturday when he almost crashed in the one-lap contest and had to accept a place on the third row.

Haga led at the start and disputed the race with Laconi, the Italian Pierfrancesco Chili and Australian Steve Martin. Toseland clawed back three places on the opening lap and climbed to seventh by lap five. However, that was where he stayed, plagued by his season-long problem of the poor set-up on his 999cc V-twin.

At the front, Haga had to overtake Laconi three times on the last lap before winning a thrilling race, with Martin finishing third from Vermeulen.

"I've got a stiff neck from the crash, I've dropped from first to fourth in the championship, I've disappointed myself and my home crowd," he said. "Is there anything else?"

Despite his disappointment, this was a race of heroic performances by British teams and riders. It was Haga's fourth win of the year for Renegade. Troy Corser gave Carl Fogarty's revitalised Foggy Petronas FP1 bike fifth place, and James Ellison finished sixth on the Jentin team's privateer Yamaha.

Leon Haslam was heading for eighth place despite having five pain-killing injections in a broken wrist but crashed on an oil patch two laps from the finish.

Toseland was in trouble when he retired with an oil leak after only four laps of the second leg. But the race was stopped because of a crash and restarted from the lap-three positions. Then he lost his next life when he tumbled after less than half a mile of the restart after clashing with Corser on the entry to Druids. "I made a good start, but Troy hit me in the back," Toseland said. "It was Corser's mistake, but these things happen."

Haga and Laconi staged a repeat of their first-race battle but were joined by Italian Pierfrancesco Chili. When Laconi crashed out, Haga motored on to a superb double victory. Chris Walker gave Foggy Petronas another great result with fourth, and Ellison took fifth.

World Superbike Championship: Eighth round (Brands Hatch) Race One: 1 N Haga (Japan) Ducati 37min 08.172sec; 2 R Laconi (Fr) Ducati 37:08.306; 3 S Martin (Aus) Ducati 37:10.445; 4 C Vermeulen (Aus) Honda 37:12.923; 5 T Corser (Aus) Petronas 37:16.218; 6 J Ellison (GB) Yamaha 37:18.081; 7 J Toseland (GB) Ducati 37:18.197; 8 C Coxhell (Aus) Honda 37:29.969; 9 C Walker (GB) Petronas 37:34.309; 10 G Nannelli (It) Ducati 37:37.303; 11 M Borciani (It) Ducati 37:37.941; 12 G Bussei (It) Ducati 37:41.958; 13 L Pedercini (It) Ducati 37:43.238; 14 I Clementi (It) Kawasaki 37:44.591; 15 P Bontempi (It) Suzuki 37:49.071. Race Two: 1 Haga 37:5.030; 2 P Chili (It) Ducati 37:05.990; 3 Vermeulen 37:15.669; 4 Walker 37:28.694; 5 Ellison 37:29.142; 6 Bussei 37:31.463; 7 G McCoy (Aus) Ducati 37:31.882; 8 Coxhell 37:36.113; 9 S Gimbert (Fr) Yamaha 37:36.251; 10 M Sanchini (It) Kawasaki 37:36.924; 11 Clementi 37:41.316; 12 Bontempi 37:59.478; 13 S Fuertes (Sp) Suzuki 38:06.454; 14 A Velini (It) Yamaha 38:25.080; 15 M Praia (Por) Ducati 38:10.685. Leading overall Championship Standings: 1 Laconi 218pts; 2 Vermeulen 216; 3 Haga 212; 4 Toseland 210; 5 Chili 180; 6 McCoy 155; 7 Martin 135; 8 L Haslam (GB) 120; 9 Corser 112; 10 Walker 102. Constructors' Standings: 1 Ducati 385pts; 2 Honda 223; 3 Petronas 158; 4 Kawasaki 99; 5 Suzuki 77; 6 Yamaha 60.