Haga relies on Haslam as privateers chase the title

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The Independent Online

Leon Haslam will play a key role in tomorrow's Dutch round of the World Superbike championship, even though he has no hope of winning the title.

Leon Haslam will play a key role in tomorrow's Dutch round of the World Superbike championship, even though he has no hope of winning the title.

The 21-year-old Derbyshire rider will aim to score as many points as possible to protect his team-mate in the Renegade Ducati Koji team, the Japanese rider Noriyuki Haga.

Haga, 29, is only eight points off the championship lead, a superb performance for the privately owned British team.

"We're giving both riders the best of everything in equipment," Renegade team owner, Mark Griffiths, said yesterday.

"It's vital Leon takes points from the other [title] contenders. So he's getting the same attention that we're giving to Haga."

Griffiths, a music industry tycoon, invested £1.6m this year to take his Cheshire team from the British Superbike championship to the global stage.

Haga has won five races in the team's debut season in the series, including a double victory in the last round at Brands Hatch, and has consistently embarrassed factory Ducati Fila riders James Toseland and Régis Laconi.

Laconi leads the championship with 218 points, two ahead of the Honda rider Chris Vermeulen. Haga has 212, and Toseland holds fourth place on 210. Haslam is eighth on 120 points.

Frustratingly for Griffiths, Haga would be holding a massive lead in the series if his fast but fragile Ducati had not run into a series of expensive blow-ups.

"Nori was leading two races and was second in two others when the bikes broke down," Griffiths said. "It cost us 90 championship points." Each of the four machines in his team cost him £100,000. He is also spending £200,000 to maintain each of them during the 12-round, 24-race series, but is now replacing parts at an even faster rate to try and guarantee his riders reach the chequered flag."

Toseland has struggled to find good handling from his factory Ducati during the season, and achieved disappointing results in the two British rounds at Silverstone and Brands Hatch, while Laconi would have had a comfortable lead in the series if he hadn't crashed while leading a race at Brands Hatch.

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