THE FAC­TORY RIDER

Haslam nearly won in 2016. With full fac­tory back­ing, he knows there’s no ex­cuses this time round

Performance Bikes (UK) - - Bsb Season Preview -

FAVOURITE TO chal­lenge Byrne for the ti­tle this year is JG Speed­fit Kawasaki’s Leon Haslam, but he’ll be feel­ing the pres­sure. The for­mer WSB star ran his ad­ver­sary close in 2016, scor­ing more points across the sea­son when you dis­count BSB’s con­tro­ver­sial show­down sys­tem, and win­ning as many races as his ri­val.

His per­for­mance earned him a con­tract di­rect with Kawasaki UK, mak­ing him the only rider on a man­u­fac­turer con­tract in a pri­vate team in BSB. With Kawasaki hav­ing put all their eggs in the Haslam bas­ket, 2017 is un­doubt­edly make or break time for the 33-year-old.

And while he joins a new team this year af­ter the de­par­ture of the GB­moto squad, Bournemouth Kawasaki boss Pete Ex­tance gave the three-times BSB run­ner-up carte blanche to change his team in any way he felt would help him achieve that goal.

“This year started lit­er­ally days af­ter last sea­son ended,” Haslam ex­plained. “I got my first ride on the

Bournemouth bike on the Tues­day af­ter Brands Hatch so I could let the team know what I thought of the pack­age and what I thought we’d need this year.

“To be hon­est, from the word go it was a pretty good bike but we learned a lot with the GM­moto bike last year and I feel we can ben­e­fit from that this sea­son. The team have been work­ing hard since that first test to pro­duce the pack­age we need, and af­ter an ex­ten­sive test­ing pro­gramme we’re re­ally happy. I’m head­ing into the first round much bet­ter pre­pared than I was this time last year.”

While things went well for Haslam in 2016, it was more of a chal­lenge than he’d ex­pected com­ing back to BSB with a brand new ZX-10R from Kawasaki.

“I feel like I got the most out of what we had last year,” he con­tin­ued. “It was hard com­ing back and took a lot of the sea­son to get the bike in a po­si­tion where we could max­imise what we had, and I still be­lieve we could have done more at the end. Hav­ing learned from that, I think that puts us in a re­ally strong po­si­tion for the start of this year.”

Hav­ing fin­ished run­ner-up three times in his ca­reer (2006, 2008 and 2016), Haslam is BSB’s peren­nial brides­maid, but he feels he’s never been in such a strong po­si­tion to break that duck than ahead of the 2017 cham­pi­onship.

“I’ve fin­ished sec­ond three times and each year has been a to­tally dif­fer­ent story,” he ex­plained. “In 2006 we were against Kiyo on an HRC-backed bike with the trick­est Miche­lin tyres you can get. We missed out by five points! In 2008 we were never go­ing to beat Shakey on that Du­cati. Last year I re­ally felt we could have won; Shakey was strong but the cham­pi­onship was still on the cards for me.

“There have been a lot of years in racing where I’ve gone into sea­sons know­ing even if I rode at 110% I wasn’t go­ing to win the cham­pi­onship as there was al­ways a bet­ter team with a bet­ter pack­age. This year, I re­ally feel that the pack­age and team we’ve cre­ated should win if I do my job, so there are no ex­cuses!”

‘IF I DO MY JOB, THE TEAM AND THE PACK­AGE SHOULD WIN. THERE ARE NO EX­CUSES!‘

The team have given Leon carte blanche for changes to its set-up

Haslam is go­ing all out to break his BSB ti­tle duck

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