‘I’ll ride anything, anywhere’ - Haslam

| | British Superbikes
Picture: GeeBee Images

Leon Haslam has had a busy and challenging season as he combines Bennetts British Superbikes alongside a raft of other Kawasaki duties.

Alongside his Eight-Hours endurance call-up, wildcards in WorldSBK and a fleeting appearance in IDM, the 2018 BSB Champion has not had an easy return to the national series with the Lee Hardy-run VisionTrack Kawasaki squad.

Currently sitting 12th in the standings, Haslam has one podium to his name alongside three fifth place finishes as his best results to date. Silverstone’s opening round amassed just four points from three races but with improvements shown in round five, the Derby rider feels things are finally slotting into place.

“My predictions came true really,” Haslam told bilkesportnews.com while reflecting on the start of his 2022 campaign. “The podium at Oulton Park wasn’t a realistic podium, that was just me scratching around a track that the Kawasaki works well at. It wasn’t that realistic.

“We had all the issues that I said we were gonna have, with getting the engine rideable. We’ve had some unforeseen issues that we’ve struggled with - just kind of components not working as they should which obviously is unforeseen - which kind of led to a little bit of inconsistency. And, unlike me, I’ve had some very big crashes, which, you know, in ’18, I didn’t have one DNF and we’ve already had four this year, two mechanicals and two of my own.

“So, as a cluster of the first four rounds, I would say, it was exactly where it was, and it was harder than expected. But since Knockhill to Brands, we managed to get a two-hour test and we managed to do some of the mapping and fuelling that I wanted to do, and we rectified all the components that wasn’t working as they should. So, rocking up at Brands in my opinion that was round one for us. We’ve not even come close to really competing even against FS-3 this year and Brands Hatch we beat them in both races, so for me, we made massive steps going into Brands.

One thing that has changed of late is suspension, with the VisionTrack team opting for a change to K-Tech.

“Issues of inconsistency with the stuff that we were using,” he highlighted as the reason behind the switch. “That was, for me, something that in the past I’ve always fought the other way, especially with my experience being with Ohlins, but we were having some issues and K-Tech at the minute are having a big push in BSB. It was something that we had to try just to try and eliminate some of our issues and I’ve got to say that it has.

“In all honesty, K-Tech, Öhlins, Showa, I’ve run all three this year and they’re all top end components. If Showa was developing a front fork for a Kawasaki, then hence why all the assets are being pointed that way. Öhlins are in every single bike, every single MotoGP bike and 99 per cent of every single World Superbike so that would say their efforts are focused there, where I believe that K-Tech’s efforts are focused more on the BSB and what is needed.

“So, component for component they’re all very, very equally as good as each other. But from a direct, I would say support and consistency point of view at the minute K-Tech’s got a bit more normality of how we should be working.

“I’m used to jumping from Pirelli to Bridgestone and back again, so those sorts of things don’t bother me,” he continued. “Non-electronics to electronics is still always a bit of an issue. Which is what it is from that side of things.

“I’m doing all these extra bits of riding mainly for Kawasaki. I got requested to do the IDM as well, with Kawasaki Germany. My main focus for Kawasaki is the Eight-Hours [at Suzuka this coming weekend] so I’ve been doing a lot of the testing work out there and then helping Lucio [Pedercini] out with some one-off races because again it was helping out Lucio and a satellite team.

“Honestly, you know, they’ve been last in pretty much every weekend, and it was more of a fact to put a rider on,” Haslam continued on his four-race contract with the Italian squad in WorldSBK. “Originally, they wanted me for the year, or Sykesy. It’s all about budgets and materials and the fact that I managed to get in the points in both of the occasions I rode for him, that actually helps them out a lot. Because for a satellite team, to be in the points, for them it’s a big step, especially the depth of that field. Gone are the days you could rock up as a wildcard and stick it on the podium. I think Tarran Mackenzie found that out and [Peter] Hickman.

“You have to understand the level that they’re working at and try and help make those little steps. It’s not necessarily that Lucio is doing a bad job. It’s about understanding how Kawasaki can help and the support satellite teams. Ducati has a very good I would say format for that and that’s why you see satellite bikes doing well.

“Trying to understand that process with teams that don’t have the same budget, but fundamentally can still go and compete. I think that’s the biggest thing that needs looking at more than anything.”

Returning to the day job in the British Championship, Haslam still has his eye on the all-important Showdown places, despite the season approaching the halfway stage.

“In all honesty from Brands Hatch, I feel that we’ve nearly got it back to what I had in 2018,” the 39-year-old explained on the progress made and still needed as 2022 continues. “It’s not quite back to what I had then. Which then you think well, in 2018, my only opposition really was Jake Dixon on the same bike. There wasn’t five Yamahas and the Honda that it is now and the Ducati, obviously Shakey got injured that year. So, the competition is bigger, laptimes have improved slightly at some of the tracks. So not only I need to get back to what I had in ’18, I need to obviously improve from what I had in ’18.

“I believe with the new spec engine that we’ve got, and the new tyres that are available now, I think it should be quite easy to make that next step from what in my opinion is what I had in ’18.

“So, I class Brands as round one for us, but we’ve only got three rounds left to make the Showdown which isn’t going to be easy. But from that side of it, that is the aim, that is the goal. We need to make some podiums and trying to make that showdown, that’s our priority.”

Despite 25 years racing at national and international level, Haslam shows no sign of slowing down.

“No, I said a while ago, I had a premonition a few years ago that I’m going to be British Champion at 50 years old, so I’ve still got 11 years, I feel pretty good about that,” he said.

“I actually love racing more than I ever have. It doesn’t get any easier. You have to do a lot more work. I’m quite enthusiastic about my academy that I’ve got. My end goal is while I’m still competitive and racing, to try and help that process and get a young kid alongside me in the future and build on that.

“I still feel I can win,” he said of his own performance. “I know I can still win to be fair, and hopefully we can try and prove that this year. I looked at like, why are we struggling so much? When I first come back in ’16, Mark [Smith-Halvorsen] had a lot better foundation to go and win and we still struggled, and then we went to Pete [Extance] and it took two years really to get a structure, a team, a stable situation to go win a championship and by then I knew what I needed.

“Even look at FS-3, last year they didn’t even make the Showdown, but with the same riders, same team and same bike, this year with an exact same set up they’ve pretty much been on the podium every single weekend. So, it’s creating a stable sort of package that, for sure that’s something that we’ve definitely missed but I do feel that we can get.

“I’ll ride anything, anywhere,” he confirmed of his future plans. “I like riding bikes, like I said, so for me, my priority would be BSB and trying to grow the academy but if I can do some endurance racing, I can do some work for Kawasaki. Doing one-off races in World Superbike or something that’s not competitive, in all honesty, is not something that really excites me.

“But there’s a bigger picture in helping people and helping teams and obviously, giving more back to sponsors etc. because you know, it doesn’t get any easier. So, if I can do that and race at my home round and whatever else, and I’m obviously going to do that.”

Picture: Impact Images
Picture: Impact Images