The 2009 season has kicked-off in a glorious way for the Stiggy Racing Superbike squad in their debut year of World Superbike racing, with Leon Haslam taking an incredible third place on the rostrum in his maiden faring for the team at Phillip Island four months ago.
Fourteen races in, Haslam has achieved far more aboard his Stiggy Racing Honda than the team had anticipated at the start of the season, and established himself as the revelation of the series. Despite some high profile entrants on the Japanese manufacturer's bike, the sympathetic Englishman is the one that has flied the flag for Honda so far this season, and has added no less than three podium finishes to the team's debut World Superbike tally. He has been out competing for a top position at every round so far-despite unfortunate DNF's at Monza, Kyalami and Miler-and has impressively pushed himself in the upper regions of the standings. With Haslam is eager to continue his progress in the remaining 14 races of the championship-starting at Misano this weekend-and reward the hard work with a much anticipated first race win for his team.
American John Hopkins will make his return to the series this weekend for a second chance to show how well he can fare on the Stiggy Racing Honda Superbike. The high profile entrant to the Superbike series made a promising start with his new team at Valencia, but had to back down only two weeks later, after a horrific crash in the opening practice at Assen sidelined the ex-MotoGP rider for four rounds. A tough and determined John Hopkins has recuperated from his injuries in just six weeks time though, and is eager to hunt down the front runners of the Superbike field once again at one of his favourite tracks this weekend.
In the remaining seven rounds and 14 races of the championship there are another 350 points to divide, before the new World Superbike champion will be crowned. After his unfortunate retirement at the last race at Miller, Stiggy Racing's Leon Haslam has slipped to sixth place overall in the standings led by Noriyuki Haga, and sits just 4 points short of the number five.
On the Supersport side of the garage, the mid-way mark of the series shows less optimistic results, with both Anthony West and Gianluca Vizziello struggling to find consistent form aboard their Stiggy Racing Supersport machines.
Anthony West opened the Supersport season for his new team with a promising performance at his home round at Phillip Island, and showed another strong race at Valencia, where he headed the field for most of the race. But in the latest races he has been plagued by issues with the front of his bike, combined with a lack of horsepower, that forced him to languish at positions far beneath his capacities in the qualifying sessions. West managed to rekindle his form on race day at Miller three weeks ago, where he impressively climbed into the top ten, coming from a low 22nd place on the grid. The mid-season mark is expected to bring about a turning point in the results of the Stiggy Racing Supersport squad, with West more than eager to lift his results to a higher level at the upcoming Misano event.
Teammate Gianluca Vizziello has shown increasing strength in every race weekend, but is yet to chase a finish within the top five. The sympathetic Italian reported his best performance this season at Valencia, where he took an eleventh place. Vizziello has shown some patchy results in qualifying and had to dig deep to salvage a good position in the races. But improved engine performance should also aid Vizziello, as he sets out to perform in front of his home audience at Misano this weekend.
Leon Haslam Speaks...
"I am looking forward to the Misano event this weekend, for me it is another circuit I have not been to before. It looks like a great track to me, and it will be another challenge to quickly learn the track and get the bike competitive. After returning from the US, I have spent some time in Italy with my engine company Oral. They have made some further improvements to our engines and I am looking forward to testing the hard work on the track this weekend."
John Hopkins Speaks...
"Misano is a track I do like a lot. I had some decent results there in the past, and got on the podium in the 2007 MotoGP race. It is a circuit I enjoy well, and the audience is always great. People really take a liking towards the World Superbike series, and I expect the atmosphere to be similar to the one we received at the MotoGP races. It is going to be an exciting race and hopefully I can be out there from the start. Right now, I am not going to make any promises of running at the front of the field. I am just taking it step-by-step and focus on getting a good feeling with the bike again and set the best possible results for the team and myself."
Anthony West Speaks...
"I am looking forward to the Misano race this weekend. There's always a good atmosphere out there. I have had a tough couple of races in which I struggled through the qualifying sessions. I did manage to come back inside the top ten at the last Miller race, which has lifted spirits a little, but we need to do a lot better than that, and I know I can and should be running at the front. We will have to work hard, but I hope to be joining the fight at the front of the field again this weekend."
Johan Stigefelt Speaks...
" We have done a lot of work after we came back from the US. Nobody is sitting still at the moment knowing that the second half of the season will be very tough. I am confident we can perform well in Misano and also Donington. Our riders know the tracks well, except for Leon, who will be riding at the Misano track for the first time. John will be joining us again this weekend, which is very good news to us. We will have to improve our results at the Supersport side of the garage and hope we can achieve it this weekend. It is going to hot and tough in Misano, but that should suit us fine. I look forward to racing in Europe again, and hope we can reward our partners and fans with some good races."
Superbike Championship Standings after 7 rounds:
1. Noriyuki Haga, 265 points
2. Ben Spies, 212 points
3. Michel Fabrizio, 201 points
6. Leon Haslam, 122 points
21. John Hopkins, 9 points
Supersport Championship Standings after 7 rounds:
1. Cal Crutchlow, 135 points
2. Eugene Laverty, 126 points
3. Kenan Sofuoglu, 108 points
6. Anthony West, 66 points
18. Gianluca Vizziello, 10 points