‘I’M STAYING IN BSB’
Kawasaki’s Leon Haslam turns down offers to return to the world stage in favour of BSB
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