Superbike legend Noriyuki Haga will make a sensational switch to the MCE British Superbike Championship this season following official confirmation that he will join reigning champion Tommy Hill at Swan Yamaha for 2012.
The saga surrounding Haga's racing future has been much discussed throughout the winter, the Japanese rider – a triple runner-up and 43-time race winner in World Superbikes – failing to land a ride at world championship level, despite his impressive career statistics.
As such, with no spots left on the WSBK grid, Haga had been persistently linked to rides elsewhere, most notably BSB, but with the man himself staying silent on the matter, speculation has otherwise been rife.
However, following ex-MotoGP rider Anthony West's declaration that he lost out on the second Swan Yamaha ride last week – which became available after the previously confirmed Ian Hutchinson re-injured his leg -, Haga's name re-entered the frame for the plum seat (see previous reports).
The deal has now been officially confirmed, with Haga joining the national series alongside 2011 champion Hill. It's a ride he is pleased to have secured and he is looking forward to taking on the challenge of arguably the toughest national Superbike series in the world.
"It is a new challenge for me to race in BSB and I am now ready for the new season with Swan Yamaha,” he said. “I feel that after many years in the same series this will be a kind of restart to my racing career. BSB has grown a lot and I have big support from the fans in the UK, so I liked the idea of racing in the Championship. It will also be a return to Yamaha, where I spent so many years taking many wins and now I feel like I am going back to my family.
“I have won races with Yamaha before in the World Championship and now I hope that we can do it again in BSB. I don't know several circuits in England and the BSB Championship but I will do my best to get results this year for the fans, myself and for Yamaha. We will start testing soon and I am very excited to get back on track as we have big ambitions for this season. Finally I hope that Ian Hutchinson can recover soon from his injury."
A huge coup for the series, Haga's acquisition is the latest in an impressive line of signings for BSB, following on from ex-MotoGP stars Sylvain Guintoli and John Hopkins in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Naturally, team manager Shaun Muir is thrilled to be welcoming such a legendary figure into his outfit.
"It was a difficult situation for the Swan Yamaha team when Ian (Hutchinson) was sidelined with just four weeks remaining before we begin our pre-season testing programme. We then had to set out to find a replacement rider and the result for us could not have been better. We are absolutely delighted that Noriyuki will be joining us and we are now looking forward to welcoming him into the team.