Having come close – albeit not close enough – to claiming the British Superbike title over the last four seasons, Leon Haslam's switch to World Superbikes in 2009 still prompted some ripples of surprise.
Indeed, Haslam is often reminded that he is yet to win a Superbike crown, while his move to the burgeoning, but still privateer, Stiggy Honda team didn't immediately spell a recipe for success.
Nonetheless, having gelled with the Honda CBR1000RR towards the end of the 2008 BSB season, Haslam took advantage of his low pressure surroundings, particularly compared to Jonathan Rea, Shane Byrne and Tom Sykes, by coming out all guns blazing for the season opener.
Being justly rewarded for the hard work both he and the team had put in over the winter in getting up to speed, Haslam stunned the establishment by putting Stiggy Racing on the podium in its first ever event.
The results kept coming too, Haslam producing an outstanding display at Assen to challenge for victory in both races, eventually culminating in a career-best second place result. Although a much desired win never quite came his way, Haslam did at least have the honour of flying the flag at Donington Park with an emotional second place finish.
At one stage out pacing the more experienced Ten Kate Honda team, although Haslam faded slightly as the season wore on – a legacy of the financial troubles that would eventually spell Stiggy Racing's demise -, his results sheet remains far beyond initial expectations.
With four podiums and seven further top five finishes to his name, it was little surprise that Haslam's stock was riding high come contract time, with Suzuki eventually winning his signature.
With a long-awaited factory backed ride at World Superbike level beckoning, Haslam is unlikely to be dismissed so readily in 2010.
A first win and – if you whisper it – a title challenge could well be on the cards
2nd (Assen, Donington Park)
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2008:
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2009:
- Michel Fabrizio
- Regis Laconi
- Jakub Smrz
- Troy Corser
- Shane Byrne