Having seen a stunning nine-race run of top-two finishes end after a bird strike at Monza, World Superbike Championship leader Noriyuki Haga is looking forward to a fresh start at Kyalami this weekend.
WSBK last visited Kyalami in 2002, when factory Ducati rider Troy Bayliss powered his 998 to victory in both races, but Haga has also raced, and won, Superbike events at the South African track.
Only Ruben Xaus, Regis Laconi and Troy Corser competed alongside Nitro-Nori at Kyalami from 1998 to 2002 and, of these, only Haga has achieved a race win, in race two of the 2000 event.
Haga followed his Ducati Xerox team-mate Michel Fabrizio across the line to take second in race one at Monza last weekend, but was unable to fight for a race two victory after a large bird flew into his right arm while at a speed of 238km/h on lap one, causing the laceration of his bicep muscle and contributing to a fall shortly after.
“My arm is still sore today after my run in with a bird at Monza but I'll be fine to race this weekend,” said Haga, now 54 points clear of Monza race two winner Ben Spies in the title fight.
“I have to think back a long way to remember the 2000 win at Kyalami! But I recall that in the other race that day I had a really close battle for the win with Colin [Edwards] and Fogarty. It's a great track and I'm happy to go back there again.”
Haga was among the riders to take part in the Pirelli development tests at Kyalami in December, when team-mate Fabrizio set the pace.
“Winter testing went well there, but it was my first experience riding the 1198 so there were a few ups and downs let's say!” smiled Haga, who fell repeatedly at the test on his way to third position, behind Fabrizio and Spies.
“Now I'm at ease on the bike and we're well into the season, it'll be interesting to go back and see how we fare over the race weekend - it should be fun,” he concluded.