‘ LEON IS LIKE A LITTLE TERRIER WHO NEVER STOPS GOING AT YOU’
JG Speedfit Kawasaki Leon Haslam
E IGHTY FOUR VICTORIES. 186 podium finishes. Six British titles. Shane Byrne is undoubtedly the man to beat when it comes to the British Superbike championship. But the 41-year-old hasn’t had it easy. Those stats haven’t come his way through seemingly effortless domination; in recent years, every crown has been the result of a gloves-off, tantalising scrap with some of the world’s best Superbike riders.
The biggest thorn in Byrne’s side in the last two years has been Leon Haslam, a man who returned to BSB from World Superbikes in 2016, having beaten the likes
of Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies in the final race of the 2015 WSB season.
Runner-up to Max Biaggi in the fight for the world crown in 2010, Haslam is no slouch, and he’s proven to be a persistent pain for Byrne over the last two seasons. In 2016, he pushed the Ducati man all the way to the wire, and last year it looked like he’d got the better of him until a number of issues at the final round saw Byrne triumph against adversity to whittle down Haslam’s 33-point lead.
“Leon is like a little terrier who never stops going at you,” Byrne explains. “He hurt himself quite badly at the end of last year and within weeks he was back on a bike and testing, which I was quite impressed with as that was no small injury.
“You watch and you see that he spends all winter riding motorbikes, and I really, really respect him for that. He just doesn’t stop, he goes and goes and goes and that makes him a really hard opponent. We have very different approaches; he’s been riding all winter and I didn’t ride a bike between the last round at Brands and my first test of this year at Cartagena! For me, that means I come back to riding desperate to race my bike again. I guess it’s hard to say which approach is the right one, maybe there’s a middle ground... but ultimately, we won the same number of races last year and had the same number of DNFs. I only won because I stayed on when I needed to...
“Leon’s biggest strength has to be bike fitness from all that riding, and heading into the year on the same bike again puts him in a strong position. He’s well in with Kawasaki, he gets to ride the World Superbike every now and again, and his package will be good. He knows the tracks well, and he’s Leon Haslam, isn’t he? He’s probably got more experience than anybody: he’s raced 500 GPs, MotoGP, 125cc, 250cc, WSB, BSB... you name it, he’s done it!
“He has his dad there with him at every round and Ron is obviously a legend who knows bikes inside out. That’s got to be a good thing. If Ron Haslam went out and watched me and came back and told me what I was doing wrong, I’d certainly listen!”
Despite all that, Haslam has become somewhat of a perennial bridesmaid during his racing career. He hasn’t won a championship since his days racing scooters, and he’s picked up the BSB runner-up trophy no fewer than three times.
“He is prone to the odd mistake,” Byrne continues. “You’ll see him on track sometimes and he’ll have a lunge at someone while he’s one person in front of you, and you’ll close your eyes and wait for the collision! He tends to pull it off and you find yourself wondering how on Earth he managed to brake that late and still make the corner. Fair play to him, though; I couldn’t even attempt that on my bike.
“But sometimes he’ll do that without even trying to pass someone and push himself wide, so you can capitalise on that. I guess he rides a little bit too much with his heart on his sleeve; he rides at 11 tenths when 10.5 might be enough, and that’s when you start to see the mistakes.”
Haslam has been getting back on the pace at Monteblanco
Leon booked himself some recovery time after a 170mph brake failure-induced get-off at Brands last year