Kawasaki’s Leon Haslam turns down of­fers to re­turn to the world stage in favour of BSB

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - OLI RUSHBY BSB RE­PORTER oli.rushby@mo­tor­cy­cle­news.com

JG Speed­fit Kawasaki ti­tle con­tender Lean Haslam speaks ex­clu­sively to MCN about the strug­gles he’s faced mov­ing from WSB to BSB – and how he’s stay­ing put.

Leon Haslam has re­vealed to MCN that he is set to sign a deal that would see him race in the MCE Bri­tish Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onship again next sea­son, de­spite hav­ing of­fers on the ta­ble to re­turn to WSB.

The 2010 World Su­per­bike run­nerup does have op­tions to go back and com­pete against old foes Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes, but says he isn’t in­ter­ested un­less he can be guar­an­teed com­pet­i­tive ma­chin­ery.

“If I could get an op­por­tu­nity in WSB where I thought I could show what I could do on the world stage – and which could lead to a good ride the year af­ter to win on – I would take it,” Haslam told MCN at his Der­byshire home. “But in all hon­esty, there aren’t those sort of rides be­ing of­fered and even if there were I wouldn’t be able to se­cure a bet­ter seat for the year af­ter as ev­ery­one is signed to two year deals.”

Haslam took a last-minute op­tion to come to BSB for 2016 af­ter an agree­ment with Aprilia to race in WSB fell through. While he ad­mits it was a bit­ter pill to swal­low to re­turn to the UK af­ter win­ning the fi­nal race of the 2015 WSB sea­son for the Ital­ian man­u­fac­turer, the fact that he knew he couldn’t win races with the ma­chin­ery on of­fer meant it was a sim­ple call.

“It’s al­ways hard to come back to the UK when you know you can win at world level,” he ad­mit­ted. “I won the last round of WSB I raced in and I’ve al­ways been on ma­chin­ery con­sid­ered be­low that of the book­ies’ favourites. I knew the op­por­tu­ni­ties I had there would have maybe been good enough to fin­ish fifth against the might of the fac­tory Kawasaki and Du­cati teams, so in a way that made it eas­ier for me to de­cide to come back to the UK. The idea of be­com­ing a Bri­tish cham­pion on a pack­age I could win on re­ally ex­cited me – and with no real op­por­tu­ni­ties to win in Worlds it was an easy de­ci­sion in the end.”

While he was un­der no il­lu­sions that com­ing back to the UK to go up against ti­tle favourite and BSB vet­eran Shane Byrne was go­ing to be easy, Haslam ad­mits he wasn’t quite pre­pared for BSB’S deep mine of tal­ent

“I’ve raced against rid­ers like Shakey loads over the years, but I’d say there’s a lot more depth of field than there was when I was last here. The last time I fought for a cham­pi­onship in BSB, if you had a bad week­end you’d fin­ish third, but now a bad week­end will see you as far back as tenth be­cause the bikes are a lot more equal. You cer­tainly have to be on the ball.

“There are rid­ers in WSB who would find it tough if they came back to BSB. They might not all ad­mit it, but they’d be sur­prised if they came! The rid­ing here is tough, and it’s not just the top rid­ers ei­ther. There are rid­ers who maybe wouldn’t be quick enough for WSB but they are su­per quick when you take them to an Oul­ton Park or Brands Indy!

“Every week­end be­comes a chal­lenge as you just don’t know who you’ll be rac­ing against. You re­ally have to dig deep in every race and that’s what I en­joy.”

2016 hasn’t been with­out its chal­lenges for Haslam, who cur­rently sits sec­ond in the BSB ti­tle fight be­hind Shakey. With­out the elec­tronic rider aids al­lowed in WSB, Haslam and the JG Speed­fit Kawasaki squad have strug­gled to find a con­sis­tent, smooth throt­tle con­nec­tion with the ZX-10R’S new fly-by-wire sys­tem.

“The ZX-10R hasn’t had a fly-by-wire sys­tem be­fore so it’s com­pletely new to the team and it’s in­cred­i­bly sen­si­tive when it comes to fu­elling and ride abilty. It is an is­sue you face in the world cham­pi­onship too, but if it’s not quite right you can al­ways rely on your trac­tion con­trol. With­out that in BSB, it’s even more cru­cial to get the con­nec­tion right be­cause you haven’t got the elec­tronic aids to mask it.

“It’s some­thing Du­cati were strug­gling with at the start of the year but it didn’t take them long to fix it. While we’ve been win­ning races from the off, we’ve never re­ally been happy with the set-up as it was very vari­able and we were hav­ing to ride around prob­lems. As of late, we’ve got on top of the flyby-wire is­sue but I do be­lieve there’s much more po­ten­tial to get out of the pack­age as all we’ve been do­ing is man­ag­ing it rather than solv­ing it.”

De­spite the chal­lenges, Haslam headed into the BSB Show­down as one of two clear favourites to fight for the ti­tle and, even though he suf­fered a set­back with a crash at Don­ing­ton, he re­mains in the ti­tle hunt.

Com­ing from WSB, Haslam was ex­pected to per­form this year and so far he’s done just that, but the next five races will be cru­cial.

“There’s prob­a­bly more pres­sure on me to win the ti­tle be­cause of where I’ve come from, but at the same time I’m up against Shakey on a very fast Du­cati,” he said. “He’s Mr BSB, he’s done 300-odd races and his record speaks for it­self. To over­come that is a big chal­lenge, but that’s why we’re here. I’ve not come to fin­ish sec­ond; I’m here for the ti­tle.”

Whether he wins or not, Haslam is sure to be in a po­si­tion to launch an­other at­tack on the crown in 2017. While noth­ing is signed yet, MCN be­lieve he is close to a deal to re­main with the JG Speed­fit team.

“I’ve built a re­ally strong re­la­tion­ship with Kawasaki not just through BSB, but the test­ing I’ve done in Ja­pan and rac­ing at Suzuka. It’s prob­a­bly the clos­est re­la­tion­ship I’ve had with a fac­tory in years. They’re re­ally in­ter­ested in my feed­back and there’s even talk of head­ing up WSB devel­op­ment, and that for me is what it’s all about. If I can race in the UK for a cham­pi­onship while there’s other ex­cit­ing stuff go­ing on to help me progress with a man­u­fac­turer I’m happy with that.

“There’s no doubt this year has been tough, prob­a­bly tougher than the re­sults have shown, but a sec­ond year with the bike and team would be fan­tas­tic as we could build on that. I’ve said all along that this bike and team have so much more po­ten­tial.

“I’ve not ap­proached any­one in the UK but I have had in­ter­est from other teams and that’s ex­cit­ing as no mat­ter which way I go, I can chal­lenge. For me it’s not a de­ci­sion to stay in BSB be­cause there isn’t a de­ci­sion to make. The only thing I can win on next year is here.”

The bat­tle at the top of BSB is all about Haslam and four-time champ Shakey Byrne

Haslam won his fi­nal WSB race with Aprilia but says he is stick­ing in BSB

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