12 November 2004
Renegade: Engine failures robbed Haga.
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.
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