Noriyuki Haga has never had a better chance of winning the World Superbike Championship, after breaking 40 points clear of Ben Spies with a perfect double victory in Sunday's third round at Valencia.
Haga, a double world championship runner-up, is by far the most successful rider yet to win the title - his 36 race wins being over twice the amount of double world champion James Toseland, for example. However, whilst Haga's speed has never been in doubt, the Japanese has previously failed to deliver consistency.
The winter switch from Yamaha to Ducati Xerox looks to have provided that final ingredient since, during his first six races as a factory Ducati rider, the #41 has now taken three race wins and three second places.
Despite being unfamiliar with most of the circuits, rookie Spies has proven to be Haga's closest challenger, matching his race wins, but unsurprisingly falling short - literally at Valencia - of Haga's new found consistency.
While Spies has exceeded most expectations, Suzuki Alstare can be satisfied with three podiums from Max Neukirchner and Yukio Kagayama - but Ten Kate Honda, tipped as possible title contenders, have failed to take a single rostrum. Newcomers Aprilia and BMW have shown the potential to shock, but a title attack is unrealistic.
As such, it will be a major surprise if the 2009 WSBK title goes to someone other than Haga or Spies, and Haga was delighted to have already put his closest challenger almost two race wins behind him.
“We did a great job today and took two great results. It is very satisfying to take 50 points and increase my advantage over Ben,” said Haga. “Unfortunately I didn't make the best start in race one but I made up time and once I got to the front I was able to build up a bit of an advantage.
“We didn't change much for the second race and I was again very comfortable on my 1198. I've had a good feeling with my bike all weekend and I said yesterday that my plan was to win both races so I'm very happy to have done that!” he added. “I thank my team, who have been fantastic, Ducati and Xerox and I now look forward to Assen!”
Ducati's 2008 world champion, Troy Bayliss, finished the first three rounds of last season on 128 points... seven points less than Haga's 2009 tally.
Haga's team-mate Michel Fabrizio finished second to Haga in race one and took third place behind Spies in race two.
The first of the eleven remaining 2009 rounds will take place at Assen on April 26.