As one of the World Superbike Championship's most revered and respected riders, Noriyuki Haga
comes tagged with a number of adjectives to describe him; spectacular, committed, controversial… consistency, however, hasn't been one of them.
Indeed, the only consistency enjoyed by Haga in recent years has been an almost unfailing ability to be quick one weekend and nowhere the next.
However, the switch to Ducati Xerox over the winter seems to have prompted a new approach from Haga, who is seemingly happy to play a waiting game behind Ben Spies and capitalise on any inevitable rookie errors.
It was a story that played out in Valencia, with Haga allowing Spies to gain a false sense of security during practice and qualifying, only to reveal his true pace in the races and prompt that mistake from his rival.
It means Haga heads to the latest round of the championship at Assen clutching a 1-2-2-2-1-1 score sheet, one that has allowed him to pull out a suddenly mammoth 40 point lead over Spies. It is also worth pointing out that Haga arrives in the Netherlands with a higher points tally than his Xerox predecessor Troy Bayliss
did at the same time last year…
Assen, however, provides an entirely different challenge for the riders. With its slender layout and challenging bends, Assen is one of the few circuits on the calendar to have been built with bikes – not cars – in mind.
Of course, you cannot read a single press release without a rider mourning the loss of the longer, grippier and generally more spectacular 'old' circuit, but the new layout is still generally accepted as one of the highlights on the calendar.
Another new circuit for Spies to learn, the American has already shown it doesn't take him long to go quickly in unknown territory and Assen should be no different.
Races are proving to be a different matter, however. Spies is certainly quick over a long distance, as shown by Qatar, but there was the first hint of pressure in Valencia as he attempted to chase down Haga. Two non-scores in six races are a big dent to his early title offensive, but Haga - who crashed in race one last season - is fallible too. It may come down to who can apply the most pressure this weekend.