Catalunya WorldSBK test: ‘Sky’s the limit’ for Haslam despite crash

| | WorldSBK
Picture: GeeBee Images

With a lot of work to do in hot conditions, and no HRC engineers on site, the official Honda WorldSBK team had a tough enough job to do before taking to the track at Catalunya.

A big highside for Leon Haslam on day one through turns seven and eight was a tough enough start and limited his lap count at that early stage.

Not being allowed out on track until later on in day two, as his team and the HRC engineers back in Japan had a videoconference to fix some issues, was another unexpected drama.

It was the second afternoon before the pairing of Haslam and Alvaro Bautista was allowed out only in the final day’s sessions. Haslam was as upbeat as he could be after escaping his highside and Thursday’s truncated session.

“It has been quite productive even though yesterday was not ideal, having a big crash in the morning,” he said. “I think we only did 30-something laps yesterday.

“Three month’s break, a new circuit, and trying to get up to speed in very hot conditions was difficult. This afternoon, for us, we made some very good steps, analysed many things from Australia and then started to understand the circuit a little better.

“In the end, the race tyre time and then with the qualifier, was only a few tenths from the best of the afternoon.”

Haslam was overall 12th fastest, Bautista 14th. Not riding until given the go-ahead from back in Japan on day two was a mystery to outsiders, even if Honda will go to test at Motorland Aragon, with their home factory engineers we must presume, next week.

“It was a shame we missed the morning, because it was cold and the lap times were very fast, but compared to everyone in the afternoon, we were not so far,” said Haslam of his second day.

He explained the contact with Japan when asked about it by saying, “Always in call with Japan and it is very good to have this relationship. Also for us we have to make the correct steps.

“We have many things to try so it is pointless just to make laps for no meaning. Everything is very calculated and we have to understand things in a good way.”

The level of the project now, how ready and how potent it can be finally, was another point asked of Haslam at the end of two hot days of Catalunya testing.

“Our level now? I think the skies are the limit for us at the minute,” he stated. “The items for the bike now are the same as Australia and I think we are not so far – we can understand where we can be.

“We have many, many things to try, so the problem is when you are trying to test these items when racing, sometimes you can test something better - but unless you put them all together they can be worse.

“This is why we have to test with a very positive, clear mind, and sometimes this is difficult at a race weekend. These test now are very key. When we go to a race weekend now we can fix and concentrate for the race. Right now we have many things to try.”

Alberto Puig, the overall European-based controller of the new HRC WorldSBK project, indicated on day one at the test that Honda’s ultimate goal is to try to win. Haslam said on day two, “Honestly, we have done three tests and one race.

It is not that the bike is not capable of winning, because it is, but we have to put everything together. Not only the bike but also the relationship between me and the team, the team learning me, the team learning the bike - is all-new.

“The result on Sunday is not an indication of the level of the bike. It is an indication of where we are in this project. For me the curve of this is very steep, and we will see. There will be many races in a short period of time, so hopefully the curve can be fast in this short period of time.”

With other riders having signed contracts already for 2021, and some for beyond, Haslam is more focused on his still very new 2020 challenge, brand new bike, team and all.

“From my side I feel very much at home with Honda and I am very happy for this opportunity and we have only just started this project,” he explained. “We have to wait and see about the future. We have this year many races and tests to do and at the minute so far so good. The lap times have been fast at everywhere we have been and we are making very good steps. We have to wait and see.”

Haslam’s best lap time was 1.676 seconds off of the very best but much closer to the bulk of the 17-strong WorldSBK rider ‘grid’ at Catalunya.