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