Leon Haslam, Kawasaki’s new recruit for 2019 alongside existing rider Jonathan Rea, had fun racing with his old BSB and WorldSBK sparring partner in all three Phillip Island races.
He fell in one, to score a lowly 15th, but piled in with two third places behind Bautista and Rea each time after that.
“In the ten-lap sprint race I was a little cautious and I got caught behind the Yamahas, so I settled,” said Haslam about his first podium back in WorldSBK. “I thought I had a little bit in hand to catch Jonathan in the final race. I tried to make my own rhythm for the first four laps to see if I could go with Alvaro, and then realised I couldn’t!
“After this I tried to save the tyre and which then created a group of five riders,” said the 2018 BSB Champion. “It was a nice easy rhythm and I was feeling good with my pace, like I still had something left to go. Johnny and I had some good passes; good battles. My plan was to go away with two laps to go, but then he passed me into turn one and I ran a little wide.
“At the same time he went four-tenths faster. I went with him and caught him up on the last lap but I felt like I was caught out a little bit. To battle with Jonathan in my first race weekend of the year, after his record in this class? I am happy.”
Leon’s real measure, after Bautista disappeared into a red shift zone all his own, was of course Rea. And he caused his mate and team-mate some tough moments.
“Race one, I felt like we had a better package to beat him but I made a silly mistake. The sprint race I was a little cautious and I got stuck behind the Yamahas, so I settled. In that final race I thought I had done everything right but he had something in the back pocket for me on the last two laps.”
Possibly Rea’s favourite passing place is Doohan corner, and Haslam knows how tough he was to pass back in that area.
“He is always been good into turn one,” said Haslam “Especially if you are behind, it is easy to gauge. I passed him a couple of times into there but it wasn’t easy. There were certain points of the track I was a lot faster, certain points where he was faster than me - it was a yo-yo race. Trying to save the tyre, trying not to make too many mistakes. It was fun. It was a good battle, and we made lots of passes. For me at the first round of the season, I will take a third.”
Leon, like everyone who was not Alvaro Bautista - the dominant triple winner on the new Ducati - saw how fast the red bike and package was out front.
“The main advantage is on the straight and off the fast corners, so we will wait and see because Thailand has some very big straights also,” said Leon. “Aragon can be good for the Ducati but we have Assen Imola, Magny Cours - all these races. I think it will be a different story. But for sure Alvaro is riding unbelievably and I do not want to underestimate that he will be doing the same at these races. We need to improve to get a little closer.”