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Renegade: Engine failures robbed Haga

12 November 2004

Renegade Ducati boss Mark Griffiths has admitted he'll look back on his team's debut World Superbike season with a mixture of joy and pain – and declared that star rider Noriyuki Haga currently remains a Renegade rider, despite negotiations with Yamaha.

Griffiths brought his race winning BSB team to WSBK for 2004, retaining Leon Haslam but signing Haga from MotoGP to partner the young Brit. It was to prove an inspired decision as the Japanese hero claimed six race victories and finished third in the series, behind only the factory Ducatis of James Toseland and Regis Laconi.

"It was obviously a very good start for us in our debut in World Superbikes; we had six race victories (with Haga) and managed to put Leon on the podium in a proper competition for the first time in his career," declared Mark, speaking during an exclusive interview with Crash.net.

But despite such achievements, Griffiths can't help thinking what might have been had Haga's 999 not suffered three engine failures during the middle of the season. With 25-points available for each race win and Nitro Nori finishing just 37 behind Toseland, it's clear that the title would have been well within their grasp.

"Had we not had the misfortune midway through at Oschersleben and Monza, we probably could have taken the title with Noriyuki right at the end. So I have mixed feelings because, although we've been very successful, it could have been so much better had we not had the engine breakdowns that we experienced - so it's both joyful and painful at the same time," admitted Mark.

Griffiths was then asked how it felt to regularly beat the factory Ducati team in only their first season of world championship competition, and also revealed where and why he believes the two factory spec machines had an advantage.

"At the end of the day (success) comes down to the ability and skill of the rider and I think that Noriyuki is probably one of the best at getting the most out of any bike," he answered.

"I think certainly the difference in the performance of the factory bikes compared to ours was very evident during the season," he continued. "Noriyuki would complain to me every weekend - without fail - about the performance of the bike, particularly out of the corners where the factory bikes had so much torque and so much more power, because they were using different crankshafts, different conrods, lighter pistons and so on.

"So it was very frustrating for him; although he won six races I think he felt he may have even won more – particularly Assen, for example, where he was running with the front two for most of the race. I think the performance of the factory bike there probably put Noriyuki in the shade. So I think on the same equipment the season would have ended very much differently than it actually did," confirmed Griffiths.

That led to the subject of Renegade's 2005 rider line-up, with Haga having been widely tipped to be join Yamaha Italia next season. However, whilst aware of the Yamaha interest, Griffiths explained that - at present - the Japanese remains under contract and his team has first refusal on Haga's services.

"Obviously Yamaha Europe are pinning their hopes on signing Noriyuki to spearhead their R1 attack on the championship next season, and I think they're a pretty long way down the road in negotiating with him," said Griffiths.

"But the fact of the matter is that we still hold Noriyuki's contract until the 31st of December and on top of that we have an option to re-sign him for 2005. He is very much a Renegade rider at the present time and until things happen to spoil that, he will continue to be a Renegade rider as far as I'm concerned," he revealed.

"But certainly the interest from Yamaha is considerable. Noriyuki is quite interested in riding their bike and clearly from our side if he wants to ride a Yamaha R1 and he has his heart set on that there's no point us holding a pistol to his head to try and make things any different. So all I can say, at this time, is that Noriyuki is still a Renegade rider until I tell him differently," stated the Briton.

Meanwhile, Haslam's future has been decided - he will leave Renegade to join GSE Ducati in British Superbikes in 2005 - a move Mark sees as more of a temporary absence.

"We have agreed to release (Haslam) to GSE next season… We wish him all the best with that. We're still very, very close to him and still having a lot to do with each other - and that won't change," he explained. "Leon Haslam is very much part of our thinking in the future and although he will be with GSE in 2005, but we see that very much as we're loaning him to GSE as opposed to ending his career with Renegade."

Griffiths is currently considering Ducati and Honda machinery for next season, and has had interest from MotoGP, WSBK and AMA Superbike riders.

The full interview with Mark Griffiths can be found in the Crash.net radio archive...


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