In the first WorldSBK outing for the all-new Honda Fireblade, Leon Haslam was in the mix for a race win despite some issues with throttle response in the faster corners, right up until his rear tyre cried enough and he dropped back to finish a ‘whole’ 3.910 seconds from race winner, Toprak Razgatlioglu.
It was stirring stuff for the truly, madly deeply official HRC Honda team in it first race with a bike that will form the platform of all their main race series outside of the ivory tower of MotoGP.
The good news for TT, Endurance and all national race classes is that so far it looks like it is already well on the money. It should be, as there is a lot of racebike in the outwardly conventional roadbike.
Nothing proves racing ability like racing, so even though Haslam has been testing well, and qualified fifth in Superpole today, he only had issues that familiarity and some full race distances in the heat of battle should help sort out fully.
“Midway through the race I was struggling a little bit with rear grip, especially on the left hand side,” Haslam told bikesportnews.com.
A little bit with managing the power as it came in strong too. Honestly, from my side, I felt like we had a good pace to win, but in the back of my mind we were always conscious about the rear tyre, especially after lap one when it was spinning a little bit too much.
“It was kind of trying it manage it but in the end it wasn’t enough. With four or five to go we fell of the cliff.”
Haslam looked almost at home in the fight for the win for most of the race, and said so too.
“From lap one we struggled I some areas with rear grip, but even with this problem I found it easy to be in this group. But when the tyre went, it was impossible.”
Haslam also learned valuable lessons about the character of his machine in a fight, not just during a race simulation, or in the quest for a single fast lap.
“Handling wise I am pretty happy with it, we just missed a little bit on smooth delivery of the faster corners. Obviously this will help the tyre life so this is one clear area where we can improve the bike. I am happy to be battling with that leading group with five laps to go.”
Haslam now knows some clear areas to work on for short term and long term gains, especially with throttle reaction in those long corners. “We have had the bike working better in the area that we struggled with today, so we have the understanding to get that back, and then that will make it a lot easier to ride with the guys, especially with this circuit.
“A lot of the cornering is with the gas here as we need to make that as smooth as possible. Honestly, I am really happy. I cannot fault the effort that Honda and HRC have put in.
The project is fantastic and I really felt that I could have won that race so just to have that thought in my head, that we can go into tomorrow with a smile and solve a few of the issues the we will see what we can do.”
With ten laps of the Superpole race to come next, maybe Haslam is all ready to make the podium leap with fewer tyre duration worries to think of. Ten laps are a lot fewer then 22.
“The tyre drop off in the ten lap race is going to be a benefit for me right now but we are still lacking in those corners even when we have got grip on lap one,” he stated. “So we have got a clear area we have to improve so even with that problem we are still as quick as the others.”
During braking and passing, Haslam found his bike has real ability already. “Top speed is OK, braking is not so bad, but it all goes together. If you cannot get of the corer then you are too far behind when you hit your brakes, so it is a bit of a yo-yo effect. But, when I made a mistake it was quite easy to close the gap. Pace-wise I am really happy.”
A long term WorldSBK rider, with huge experience of many other classes and categories, Haslam thinks that the 2020 series is shaping up as a well-balanced prospect.
Five riders and five bikes, all fighting up front until Sykes’ tyre dropped off.
“Fantastic!” said Haslam. “Honda, BMW leading, Ducati, Yamaha, Kawi, it is fantastic. Every one has got its strength and we knew certain bikes go well here for tyre life, etc., so that fact that we have been throw into this at this stage trying to figure fundamentals out and still being able to run the pace with the front guys is very promising.”