Monday, September 08, 2008

WSBK: Haga to Replace Bayliss?

Very strong rumours are claiming that the hottest seat in World Superbike, the Xerox Ducati ride, will go to Noriyuki Haga. Nobody had put the Japanese star on their silly season rumour lists as a replacement for Aussie legend Troy Bayliss, but it seems like Ducati Corse may have pulled off a major coup by stealing Haga from Yamaha.

For most of his racing career, Nori Haga has been a Yamaha man. The only major break between him and the Japanese factory was in 2003-4, when he raced in MotoGP for Aprilia, then in WSBK for a satellite Ducati squad. This makes it all the more surprising that Haga would leave Yamaha for the Ducati factory team.

However, there are some reasons why this move would not be such a major shock. Firstly, Haga has never won the WSBK title, despite coming close on various occasions. The nearest miss was when he was banned for taking the stimulant ephedrine, which was contained in a herbal diet supplement that he was taking. It was a controversial ban as most people did not believe that Haga obtained any performance advantage. Motorcycle racing ain't 100m sprinting, after all. Anyway, time is a-ticking for Haga to grab the title, and what better place than Ducati? The Italian team always seem to benefit from rule changes by the WSBK organisers (the Italian FG Sport company) that, by sheer coincidence, always give Ducati the rule changes that they had been demanding.

The main reason may be technical. Haga is notorious for refusing to use technical advances because he wants to have more feeling with the bike. After his disastrous year on the Aprilia RS3 Cube in MotoGP, during which he crashed 28 times, he said that he preferred an analogue bike, while the Aprilia was digital. (The RS3 Cube engine was basically 3 cylinders sawed off from an F1 engine, with masses of trick electronics that never stopped the bike throwing its hapless riders over the handlebars. It was generally considered to be all but unrideable.) As technical writer Neil Spalding said during a recent Eurosport TV broadcast, the Yamaha R1 is by far the most complicated bike in WSBK, and arguably more complicated than most MotoGP bikes.

Nori must hate this. The thought of riding a Ducati, which also has very trick MotoGP-derived traction control, but is probably a far simpler bike than the Yamaha overall, must be hugely tempting for him. Especially since Yamaha have been investigating yet another black box, active damping control, which would be yet another thing to think about rather than simply jumping on the bike and riding it fast. It could be that the Yamaha R1 is just too clever for its own good, and Haga has had enough.

If these rumours are true, it will be fascinating to see Haga back on a Ducati. He won several races the last time he raced on the Italian bikes in WSBK. Could this be his last chance to win the title?


johng said...

Hey Jimmy- my friend Alex from Pure Motorbike Passion has been busy so I read your page occasionally. Couldn't agree with you more about Gibernau-maybe a midlife crisis! Probably misses the glamor. Haven't heard or read the story about Haga to Ducati. Maybe it would get him a championship, which I think just about everyone would like to see. I sure would.


Jimmy said...

Yep, pretty much everybody would love to see Nitro Nori win a title. I don't know if he'll ever be consistent enough, but maybe a change of scene will help.