Toseland makes first mark

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The Independent Online

James Toseland rewarded Fila Ducati's faith in handing him a factory contract when he swept to first and second places in the opening round of the World Superbike championship here yesterday.

In cold and blustery conditions that upset most pre-race predictions, the Yorkshire rider made only one error in 114 miles of racing on his 999cc machine and established a 12-point lead in the series.

The wobble came when Japanese rider Noriyuki Haga led the second race from the start on his Renegade Ducati and Toseland tried to close the gap. "I made a bit of an aggressive move and went a bit wide," he admitted. "Haga put in some consistent laps, and second place was the best that I could do."

Regis Laconi, Toseland's Fila Ducati team-mate, was favourite to win after dominating qualifying but suffered a terrible start to the season. He crashed on the warm-up lap in the first race and had to start on his spare machine. Then he tumbled again in slippery conditions on only the first lap and almost took Toseland with him.

"It was unbelievable," Toseland said. "His bike went to the left, he went to the right, and I rode straight through the gap." Toseland moved into the lead on the third lap and rode flawlessly to win by 4.7sec from Italy's Pierfrancesco Chili.

The unexpected continued when the Nottingham rider Chris Walker, only tenth fastest in qualifying, gave Carl Fogarty's Foggy Petronas team its first podium position. Walker started the first race in sixth place, but was helped by others' misfortunes. His team-mate Troy Corser tumbled from his bike, Haga retired with gearbox problems, and Australian Steve Martin dropped out of third place with engine problems only two laps from the finish.

"All the boys were on the pit wall from the fifth lap onwards, so I was desperate to bring the bike home for them," Walker said. The result gives new hope to a team that could not finish higher than fifth in its debut season last year with a three-cylinder engine that proved slow and unreliable.

"Now we've got the engine temperature down so that it remains steady all through the race," said Fogarty, who won four Superbike titles as a rider in the 1990s. "We will have a more powerful engine later in the season, and we will know by the end of the year how good this bike will ever be."

The day's racing validated the decision of Mark Griffiths to promote his Renegade Ducati team from the British Superbike championship to the world stage. Not only did Haga win the second race but Leon Haslam, the 20-year-old Derbyshire rider, scored fifth and ninth places. "My bike is awesome straight out of the crate, and we've learnt a lot about it this weekend," Haslam said. "Now we're going for podium positions."

WORLD SUPERBIKE VALENCIA RESULTS

WORLD SUPERBIKE CHAMPIONSHIP First round (Valencia, Sp) Race one: 1 J Toseland (GB) Ducati 42min 39.266sec; 2 P Chili (It) Ducati 42:43.964; 3 C Walker (GB) Foggy Petronas 43:01.375; 4 M Borciani (It) Ducati 43:32.570; 5 L Haslam (GB) Ducati 43:41.552; 6 G Nannelli (It) Ducati 43:50.535; 7 G McCoy (Aus) Ducati 44:04.523; 8 S Fuertes (Sp) Suzuki 44:05.856; 9 H Saiger (Aut) Yamaha +1 lap; 10 J Mrkyvka (Cz Rep) Ducati +1 lap; 11 W Nowland (Aut) Suzuki +1 lap; 12 C Vermeulen (Aut) Honda +1 lap; 13 M Praia (Por) Ducati +1 lap; 14 M Sanchini (It) Kawasaki +3 laps; 15 P Bontempi (It) Suzuki +3 laps. Race two: 1 N Haga (Japan) Ducati 37min 32.364sec; 2 Toseland 37:34.133; 3 S Martin (Aus) Ducati 37:42.385; 4 Chili 37:42.502; 5 Vermeulen 37:49.431; 6 McCoy 37:53.504; 7 Walker 37:53.948; 8 Borciani 37:53.990; 9 Haslam 38:05.751; 10 Sanchini 38:05.901; 11 T Corser (Aus) Foggy Petronas 38:08.920; 12 Fuertes 38:12.822; 13 L Pedercini (It) Ducati 38:16.183; 14 I Clementi (It) Kawasaki 38:18.879; 15 Saiger 38:30.058.

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