Monday, March 2nd marked Noriyuki Haga’s 34th birthday but he opened his presents a couple of days earlier. The factory Xerox Ducati rider opened his bid for the 2009 World Superbike championship by taking a win and a second at the opening round of the season at Phillip Island in Victoria, Australia.
This performance means he leaves the island and heads into Round 2 of the season with 45 points, 15 ahead of his nearest rival, Max Neukirchner (Alstare Suzuki). Haga seems to have found a new found maturity as a racer this season that is apparent even after only 1 race weekend. Despite a typically poor qualifying effort, that left Haga starting from the 4th row of the grid, he shot to the front in both races within a lap or two.
Haga has always struggled at the start of the season which puts him at a disadvantage later on. However this year he needed to start strong if he is to realize his goal of finally winning the championship he has been racing in for more than a decade.
Last year, Phillip Island was the second round of the championship and Nori finished just 8th and 7th in the races. The year before 4th and 3rd. His record at the first race of the series in recent times (Losail) is even worse. In the last 3 seasons he has recorded a DNF, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 13th and 14th in the 6 races.
This past weekend he did everything right. Nitro Nori seemed to have more patience. He was happy to follow other riders closely, notably Neukirchner in race 1 and Spies in race 2, biding his time. In the past he would have barged past, burning up his tires and in the process to the detriment of his ultimate position on the last lap. At the end of both races he seemed happier, more relaxed and under less pressure. Team Manager, Davide Tardozzi, was positively beaming. Perhaps the wily veteran is having an impact on Haga’s racecraft already?
All this bodes well for the championship but there is the little matter of 12 more races to go before the seasons over, but every journey begins with the first step and Haga has put his best foot forward.
Happy Birthday Nitro Nori!!