Yamaha has signed popular Japanese rider Noriyuki Haga to complete its line-up for the 2005 Superbike World Championship season (at last).
Haga will race a YZF-R1 for the Milan-based Yamaha Motor Italia team, reuniting him with the brand on which he made his name in the late Nineties. The Japanese ace was a Yamaha rider between 1994 and 2001 and during this period he won 11 world superbike races, taking a best championship finish of second in the 2000 season, Yamaha's last year of official participation in the series.
Last year Noriyuki rode a privately-entered Ducati to six wins and third in the series, a result bettered only by the Italian manufacturer's factory entered riders.
Haga will have his first experience of the R1 when he joins team-mate Andrew Pitt in a three day test at the Phillip Island circuit in Australia later this month. Pitt has already completed two tests with the R1, both at Valencia in Spain, which Haga was unable to attend for contractual reasons.
In addition to Yamaha Motor Europe's officially-supported Italian squad, a number of other long-standing Yamaha teams have announced their intention to independently enter the 2005 Superbike World Championship using race-kitted YZF-R1 machinery. Among the teams due to line-up on the grid this year are: Yamaha Motor France, who will enter former Grand Prix riders Norifumi Abe and Sebastien Gimbert; European Superstock Champions Lorenzini by Leoni, who are running Italian rider Gianluca Vizziello; and reigning Endurance World Champions Yamaha GMT94, who are intending to enter selected rounds with Spanish rider David Checa.
"I'm looking forward to returning to Yamaha and turning the R1 into a winner! I am on holiday with my family just now so I should be feeling good when I meet up with the team for my first ride on the bike, at Phillip Island later this month. I'm very happy to be staying in superbikes and joining this good team. As everyone knows, I love this championship and I've also worked with many of my mechanics before, and also the people at Yamaha Europe, so it will not feel all new to me. It should be fun!"
Claudio Consonni - Racing Manager, Yamaha Motor Italia
"We're all very excited about Noriyuki joining us for this year. He is one of the all-time greats of world superbike and a very popular rider. Already there is a great spirit within the team after Andrew's valuable feedback and performances in our early tests and now we're looking forward to getting out to Australia for our first test with both riders."
Laurens Klein Koerkamp (Racing Manager, Yamaha Motor Europe)
"We're looking forward to working with Nori-chan again. His performances last year showed that his is as fast as ever and he is also such a popular rider - that is good for us, the championship and our fans.
"Andrew has already had two good tests but our bike is still an unknown quantity at this level and we will be going to each circuit without a base set up. We have set a target of being able to win races in the latter half of the season and we believe that we will be able to challenge for the title in 2006."