During his ten years in WSB Noriyuki Haga has won 33 races and on his day is arguably one of the fastest rider in the world.
During his decade of competition the one thing he’s lacked is consistency. In fact the only thing he’s been consistent at is not winning the title.
Many pundits feel that Haga will never win the coveted crown, but for me this is his year and below is why he will be crowned champion in 2009.
Point number one is his bike.
In 2009 Haga has switched to the title winning factory Xerox Ducati ridden by Troy Bayliss last year.
In 2008, with Bayliss onboard the Ducati seemingly had no weak points. It was a match for it’s four cylinder rivals on top speed and could also hold it’s own accelerating out of slow corners, an area where the previous 999 struggled.
For the last four years Haga has been riding the Yamaha R1, which by the end of each season has been arguably the best bike on track, but each year it’s taken time to get there.
During the last two years Haga has been a match for champions James Toseland and Troy Bayliss but has been plagued with problems in the early rounds that have essentially ended his title aspirations from the word go.
The Ducati works everywhere and whilst I’m not expecting Haga to dominate the opening two rounds I think he’ll arrive back from Qatar with podiums under his belt and well in contention.
Point number two is his team. Haga’s side of the Xerox Ducati garage have been together and been winning for years.
Crew chief and WSB project leader Ernesto Marineli played a pivotal role in all three of Bayliss’ WSB crowns.
Having developed the 1098 he knows more than anyone else about the bike, how it works and why it works making him perfectly placed to get Haga dialled in to the distinct character of the bike.
Winning has become ingrained in the entire team, it’s what they do, they’ve been doing it for years and even without Bayliss - expectations are high.
Point number three is team boss Davide Tardozzi.
Tardozzi has won numerous WSB crowns starting with Fogarty, Bayliss, Hodgson, Toseland and Bayliss again.
His no nonsense approach to team management will be a new experience to Haga but in my opinion it’s exactly what he needs.
During his career Haga has gained a reputation of being a fickle rider that won’t go fast until he’s completely satisfied with his set-up.
His mechanics at Yamaha became experts in making multiple fork and shock changes during sessions in search of the perfect set-up.
At Ducati he won’t be pandered to in the same way. As the factory team, Ducati know what works and what doesn’t, they know the parameters the bike needs to be in and as a result they won’t let Haga stray in to a world of unnecessary bike changes.
At the age of 33 Haga has his best ever chance of winning the title. In terms of outright pace he’s going to be pushed all the way by Spies, Shakey, Neukirchner, Fabrizio and Rea.
In terms of experience his rivals are Checa, Biaggi and Corser but when it comes to the complete package of pace, experience, team and bike this is Haga’s year and he knows.
What do you think? Can Haga overcome his consistency problems in 2009 and finally become world champion or does WSB belong to the young guns and rookies – Ben Spies, Max Neukirchner, Shane Byrne, Michel Fabrizio, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Tom Sykes, Leon Haslam and Jonathan Rea?