While in Suzuka for the very demanding 8 Hours, Leon Haslam and the Akashi manufacturer announce news that had been in the air for months: the factory KRT team and the British rider will be together in the 2019 Superbike World championship, the rider replacing Tom Sykes and completing the line-up alongside multi-titled Jonathan Rea.
“Pocket Rocket”, the son of Ron - a former star of the 500 championship - returns then to a championship in which he has won 5 races and scored 39 podiums with Ducati, Suzuki, Aprilia, Honda, BMW and Kawasaki: in 2017, Leon finished second in front of his home crowd at Donington Park while competing as a wildcard on board the Puccetti Ninja.
Haslam's career began in the UK, and his first international appearances came in the late 90s, when Leon debuted in the 125 championship, before jumping onto a Honda 500 but, hang on, his was not a V4, but rather a more docile, less powerful twin.
He arrived in the production-derived series in 2003, and was a permanent entry as of 2004, with Ducati. He reached a peak in 2010, when he was crowned vice-champion on Francis Batta's Suzuki, Haslam taking on riders of the caliber of Max Biaggi, Carlos Checa, Marco Melandri and Sylvain Guintoli. he has even beaten Rea on occasion. Currently leading the British Superbike championship with the JG Speedfit Kawasaki, Leon is aiming to secure the BSB title before returning to the world series.
An expert rider who is still very fast, the 35-year old from Ealing commented: “I have to say a big thanks to Kawasaki for this opportunity. Returning to the World Superbike Championship is something I’m really looking forward to. After scoring race wins, lap records, pole positions and a championship runner-up position in my seven years there it’s going to be great to get back to WorldSBK. The support of Kawasaki throughout my three years has been exceptional and I’m now hoping to repay them with the 2018 British Superbike title."
Guim Roda, Spanish manager of the Provec team, added: “It’s understandably tough to replace a rider of Tom’s quality and the final decision to sign Leon for 2019 was made after considering many factors, some obvious and others to answer internal team factors. There’s a complex sporting strategy behind this decision, and to satisfy our team goals we felt that Leon was the best possible rider for the job. Crew chief Marcel Duinker knows that he takes onto his shoulders a big responsibility but we are sure that Leon still has something extra to contribute. We will build the strongest package ever seen with Haslam and Rea on the same team."
And so another piece of the puzzle falls into place: KRT is now full, at least for 2019, and so now we wait to see how this impacts on the other riders and teams. Ducati has not yet confirmed Davies and Melandri, Sykes and Fores could be the two new Aruba riders on board the new V4.
Or perhaps the second Yamaha team, guided by Andrea Dosoli, will welcome Sykes and Melandri, with Supersport champion Lucas Mahias also keen to make the step up.
As for Honda, Camier stays where he is while Gagne will not be confirmed, so there's at least one seat there. Sykes is a good candidate in this case too, though it remains to be seen whether the Triple M team will field a second bike- if it does there might be two CBR Fireblades still up for grabs.