Ten Kate Honda rider Leon Haslam believes Tom Sykes, Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty will kick off the new World Superbike season in Australia later this month as the main title contenders.
Last year’s runner-up Sykes, BMW rider Melandri and Aprilia’s Laverty haven’t changed machinery for the forthcoming season, which gets underway at the spectacular Phillip Island track on February 24.
And Haslam believes that gives the trio an advantage heading to Australia.
Kawasaki’s Sykes lost last year’s title race to Italian veteran Max Biaggi by just half-a-point after he won four races and claimed nine other podium finishes.
Haslam, who partners Jonathan Rea in the Ten Kate Honda squad in 2013, told MCN “I think the main three will be the three that haven’t changed machinery from last year. Tom had a fantastic year on the Kawasaki and he is on the same bike and he is going to be strong.
The same will be for Marco. He kind of went to pieces at the end of last season but we know he is going to be a contender and obviously Eugene. He finished really strong and it is his second year with Aprilia and I think they are the three bikes that we have got to aim to beat.”
Haslam also said he expects vastly-experienced Carlos Checa to play a prominent role in the title chase on Ducati’s new Panigale machine. But he added: “You can never count Carlos out but the new Ducati is a question mark.”
As for his own aspirations in 2013, Haslam said there is no reason why he can’t be consistently challenging for race wins on the Honda CBR1000RR.
The Ten Kate squad has been boosted by the arrival of a new electronics package for the forthcoming season and Haslam added: “I’m under no illusions about how difficult it is going to be. This is the sixth year of the FireBlade as this model and we are competing against the new Kawasaki, BMW and Aprilia.
For sure it is going to be tough but Jonathan wins every year with that bike and Honda and Ten Kate have put in a big effort with the new electronics and more development with the engine and chassis, so we are not standing still. It is awesome to be back with Honda. I have good memories with them both in MotoGP and World Superbikes and there is no reason why we can’t win.”