MMP teleconference with Leon Haslam - Part I

Miller Motorsports Park - Teleconference With Leon Haslam - Part I Moderator: Good morning, everybody. I am John Gardner, the Media Manager at Miller Motorsports Park. And this is our third teleconference with participants in the HANNspree ...

Miller Motorsports Park - Teleconference With Leon Haslam - Part I

Moderator: Good morning, everybody. I am John Gardner, the Media Manager at Miller Motorsports Park. And this is our third teleconference with participants in the HANNspree Superbike World Championship leading up to the Utah USA round, which will be held at Miller Motorsports Park over Memorial Day weekend, May 29th to the 31st. Our guest today is Leon Haslam, who rides the No. 91 Suzuki GSX R-1000 for Alstare Suzuki. He is currently leading the championship, having come out of the first round at Phillip Island, Australia with a win and a second place. We're happy to have you here. Welcome, Leon.

Leon Haslam: Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Moderator: So, here you are leading the World Championship. Tell us how it came to be that you're riding for Alstare Suzuki this year.

Leon Haslam: Yeah, you know, it was a bit of a shock because I'd signed into the World Championship last year with a privateer team called Stiggy Honda. And you know, the season started off great. We were actually on the podium and we had two or three podiums in the first few races. And even though it was a private team, you know, I was really happy. And actually, I signed an extended contract with them after three or four races. And basically, it was only down to the team, and it got into financial difficulty. They released me from my contract and then I started looking elsewhere.

And Suzuki, plus a few other teams, obviously showed an interest. And you know, from the get-go with Suzuki, they were offering the best package, and something that I was open to move into. So I moved quite quick and I got the opportunity. And when I actually signed up and got to the first test, I asked all the boys when Francis showed an interest in me. And he actually said just after the first race that my name was mentioned for the following season. So it was good that I was on their mind from an early point and it managed to go down that way.

Moderator: You spent years riding Ducatis and Hondas. Is the first time you've ever raced a Suzuki?

Leon Haslam: Yeah, first time on a Suzuki. Up until, I think, a year or two years ago, I had only ever been on twin-cylinders or two-strokes. I made the switch to the four-cylinder bikes a couple of years ago with Honda and obviously was given the opportunity into World Superbike. But since we got on the Suzuki, it seems to be going from strength to strength.

Moderator: How is it different from the Honda?

Leon Haslam: You know, it's hard to compare bike for bike because the package I had with the private team was very basic. It was the first year in the championship for the team. So there wasn't that information, no data, like it was jumping on the Alstare bike. You know, they'd been in the championship probably the longest out of all the teams and the information and data from all the guys has been great this year. And the factory status alone, you know, with the help of the Japanese and the information, I think that's the biggest factor that everybody's looking for. They're providing the support on the back end behind you to come up with the goods. And so far, they've not faltered one bit and everything's going to plan.

Moderator: When you went to the first test, were you surprised?

Leon Haslam: Yeah. You're always nervous, you know? I had a really good feeling with the bike that I was on with Stiggy. I was getting podiums and I was competing strong there. I never knew if, one, I'd be even as quick as I was on the Honda, and you never know how you're going to take to a bike. And literally, the fifth lap out on the Suzuki I was quicker than what I'd been on the Stiggy bike all weekend. And by the end of the second day I was another two seconds; a lot quicker. That was definitely a big confidence boost of making the switch to a Suzuki. And from then onwards, we've tested at three of four different tracks before the first race against all the other competition and I've been in the top two every test. So, from a confidence and good-feeling thing, we probably couldn't have asked for a better start.

Moderator: Are you thinking that the championship is a realistic goal?

Leon Haslam: Yeah. Every rider obviously wants that and thinks they've got it in them. And from my side of things, I got my first win and my first Superpole and the feeling, the confidence, is really high. And I know for a fact that there's seven or eight other guys that are definitely going to be capable of winning and will be winning throughout the year. So, for me as a rider and Suzuki as a team, we've got to keep pushing strong.

But every place we've tested we can be fast and we've proven we can win at the very first race. So there's no reason why we can't win this championship now. And I think that we've definitely got a good chance for doing it. We know it's going to be hard, but if it was easy everyone would be doing it, you know? So I'm feeling pretty good for the championship, but right now we're just taking it race by race.

Moderator: You'll be here at Miller Motorsports Park the end of May and you'll be racing on your birthday, which will be very cool. So, happy birthday in advance.

Leon Haslam: Yeah.

Moderator: Last year you had a 10th in race one and you had a DNF in race two. Tell me your impressions of our facility and what you're looking forward to this year.

Leon Haslam: I really enjoy coming over to the States. I always go out to America for a three- or four-week training course with a couple of supercross guys over the wintertime. Last year we went straight from South Africa and did a two-week road trip all the way up to Utah. Iit's a fantastic event to come to. Last year I didn't have the best of results, but it was more down to a few mechanical problems. I was 10th in the first race, and then the second race I DNF'd. I was a challenger for the podium until the last lap, and it was basically a mistake of my own which obviously wiped me out of that. So, as far as the track goes, I really enjoy riding it. There was potentially a podium on a Stiggy bike. So, with the Suzuki and the package that they've put forward so far, there's no reason why we can't be competing for this win.

Moderator: How does Miller Motorsports Park compare to most of the other tracks that you race on?

Leon Haslam: The facilities are fantastic. The first thing I noticed driving into the paddock was the mini bike track and the supercross track. And with my background, coming from dirt racing, that was the first thing you wanted to jump on and have a go at. But we actually stayed at the circuit in an RV over the race weekend and the atmosphere wais fantastic. And then the paddock was great. So, it was the first year for me at Miller and everything was a little bit new. I probably missed out on a lot of stuff just because I was trying to figure my way around the place. But I'm really looking forward to getting back there.

Moderator: Alright. Well, we'd like to go ahead and open this up to our callers.

Operator: ur first question comes from Chris Jonnum from Road Racer X OMagazine.

Chris Jonnum: Hi, Leon.

Leon Haslam: Hey, Chris.

Chris Jonnum: You mentioned that you did some training with some supercross guys, and I'd just like to know a little bit more about your dirt bike background, who the supercross guys are that you train with and how that came about.

Leon Haslam: I first got into riding bikes through the motocross scene. I was British Champion a couple of times before so I moved on road racing. And from the age of 12 to 13, I actually broke my leg in consecutive years. And that was the kind of thing that got me into road racing, obviously, from my dad having been involved. It was an easy transition for me. I was really good friends with Jamie Dobb, who is over in the States quite a lot as well. And the last few years I've been a sponsored by Monster Energy as well, so they've always looked after me.

And I managed to go over to see the first indoor at Anaheim, which was fantastic. And back in the UK, for the last four or five years my trainer, Kirk Gibbons, trains Tommy Searle, who rides the KTM. And since he's moved out to the States to ride out there with you guys, every winter I kind of catch up with him and have a bit of a training course out there. Since it's freezing in England, it's a little bit better out there in the States.

Chris Jonnum: So, any of those guys accompany you on your road trip up to Utah?

Leon Haslam: Well, I'm actually flying -- this year I'm going to fly straight to San Francisco to catch the first outdoor that Tommy's going to be competing in. And then I'm not sure if I want to fly out to Utah or do the road trip again straight to Utah from San Francisco. But yeah, I'm planning to fly straight from South Africa to catch the first outdoor this year.

Chris Jonnum: Okay. Thank you.

Operator: ur next question comes from David Swarts from Roadracing OWorld.

David Swarts: Good morning, Leon.

Leon Haslam: Hi.

David Swarts: A quick question. You touched on it a little bit already, but can you go into more detail about the differences between your experience on the Stiggy Honda team and then now joining the factory Suzuki team? I mean, what are some of the specific things that help you do your job better?

Leon Haslam: Specifically, I moved into the side of the garage of Max Neukirchner; before Max, it was Max Biaggi, and before Max Biaggi it was Troy Corser, who won the World Championship with them in 2005, and it's all the same guys. We've all worked together before. When I get on tracks and areas that I might be losing time - like, for instance, the first round at Australia I was losing a couple of tenths of a second in the last sector to Max Biaggi.

So, we went through the archives of data that they had and looked at what he did differently, basically, on the day -- through the last sector. And that helped me quite a lot, with the help of my dad getting out there and filming as well. It was -- as a whole package and team, you know, then I have what I need to win. And just on information alone, that's a big factor for me.

And specifics on the actual bike, with the Stiggy Honda everything was brand-new, you know, the mechanics, the team. There was no information. So, race by race we kind of just had the bike that we had the weekend before, with no gearboxes or suspension set-ups, even just general information -- what gears I should be using in the corner. So, everything was a big learning curve with the Stiggy bike. Where this year, it's I get a full report from the boys and the backing of Japan and the factory to make the difference, you know, with the different options and other things that you need to look at for yourself.

David Swarts: And I know you weren't on the Suzuki last year, but have they made you aware of some of the changes they've made to the bike this season to improve it?

Leon Haslam: Yeah. A lot of people have asked me this because, obviously, it's come out very strong this year where the last few seasons they've had some hard times. But the basic set-up of the bike, as in the components, are all the same. The engine, the chassis, the suspension from the last few rounds of last year and things like that are the same.

Last year it was a brand-new bike for the team and with Max Neukirchner riding. And straightaway they had a second and a third at the first round. Neukirchner was leading the race at Monza when he got wiped out and broke his leg. So, the package they had last year wasn't that bad. I just think that it was very unlucky, and with it being a new bike, you know, it was tough competition.

This year, even though it's the same components, I do feel from when I first rode the bike, which was last year's bike to now, we have got an even better understanding on where we need to put it. Just little things, like the weight distribution, changed a little bit. We have now on full- time Ohlins suspension which they ran the end of last year. And little things like the electronics strategy and the balance and the set-up of the bike to maybe suit me, or even just to suit the Suzuki. I feel that we've got a lot better understanding from what it was when I first rode the bike.

David Swarts: And one last question for this round. There are several riders from the UK now in Superbike. And I've heard rumors about there's a really strong rivalry among the UK riders. Is there any truth to that?

Leon Haslam: For sure there is. The first thing you want to do is win, and that's what everybody wants to do. But on a list of things that you want to do is you always want to beat your teammate. You always want to be the first of your manufacturer. And you always to be the first of your country, you know, the tick list of things that you want to achieve as a rider. And with seven Brits being in there and all on factory bikes, it's quite strong. And we're all quite young, all early to mid-20s, and is that rivalry there? It's going to be for sure. And if they're in front of you, you're definitely going to be giving it that little bit more to try to get the top step of the Brit side of things.

David Swarts: Thanks, Leon.

Operator: Our next question is from David Emmett from MotoMatters.com.

David Emmett: Hi, Leon.

Leon Haslam: Hi.

David Emmett: I was looking back over your history and you went to GPs and then World Superbikes pretty young. Then you went back to the British Superbike Championship for three years and you've come back sort of since then. You seem to have come back a lot stronger. Do you think you went to GPs a little bit early?

Leon Haslam: I wouldn't change any of my career moves I've made. My second year in road racing was actually in GPs. I'd done one year in England and straight to the GP level on a bike that was never going to even finish in the points. So, for me, those were big, big learning years and I wouldn't change what I've learned from those years.

But when you get to that level, you'd like to think that you're going with a bike to win and, for me, it was never that situation. It was always going there to gather as much learning and experience as possible rather than, you know, maybe win a British championship or whatever it may be. I kind of took the route of, "Let's learn from the best and try and hang in there." It was tough, but it was definitely a good learning curve for me.

When I came back to the UK in 2003, that was a bit of a mixture year as well. I'd never ridden a four-stroke, and I had half the season on a 600 and the second half of the season on a superbike. And the following season after that, I had a full year in World Superbike. So, my first ever year in World Superbikes was 2004, and my teammate was Noriyuki Haga, who should have won the championship that year. And again, it was a big, big learning curve. I broke my wrist at Laguna Seca. I had a lot of things to overcome. But for me, that was the turning point for my career, such that I was challenging for podiums. I got on the podium in that first year in World Superbike. And it was my big learning curve on a Ducati.

So from 2004 onwards, I felt that all the hard years of being bad in GPs and learning four strokes and moving back to World Superbikes, that it was finally all coming into place. The only problem was, at the end of 2004, there were no rides available and I had to come back to the UK to basically to continue the four-stroke thing that I wanted to do with Ducati. And I kind of got stuck in the UK for probably a little bit longer than I wanted to. I missed out on championships two years running by a matter of points. And I wanted to come back to World Superbike as quick as I could.

And in 2008, after Honda didn't go to World Superbikes, the Stiggy thing was my only option just to kind of get back. Since then, I've kind of jumped out and kind of grabbed it with both hands, really, just to get back to where I wanted to be. And actually a few years later than I wanted it to be, but now I feel like I'm finally back to where I should be. I've had a 10- to 12-year career, and now it's looking good.

David Emmett: And I mean, you feel -- because you started young, are you still feeling fresh and you still feel you've got a lot of years racing left in you?

Leon Haslam: Yeah, for sure. Like I say, this is the first time I've ever been on a factory team so, for me, all the other years leading up to now were really my learning; from 125, 250, 500, 600 superbike, at all different levels. It was all learning to get the opportunity that I've got with Suzuki. I do feel ready now, that we can win races. And we have done in the very first race. So, from that side of things, it's been a big, big learning curve until now, but I do feel ready. And I'm only 26, so I've definitely got a fair few years left.

David Emmett: You said also about making the switch from the -- was it the Stiggy Honda that was the owner -- it was Honda in BSB that was the first time you were on a four, right?

Leon Haslam: Yes; 2008, yes.

David Emmett: Before that, you'd been on, like you said, so many different formats. Do you think that helped you make the switch from a Ducati, from a V-twin, to a four? And can you talk a little bit about what the differences are for a rider?

Leon Haslam: It was a big change for me, because coming from a two- stroke to a four-stroke was big, while I was in England. So, it wasn't so crucial. The competition wasn't quite as strong. And I could jump on the four and kind of learn it and still try and win races. But in making the switch from Ducati to Honda, that was a big change for me, especially - it ended up being not probably the best of changes for me.

The year I went to Honda, Honda lost their factory support. And Ducati brought out the new 1200cc bike. So, it just kind of took us too long to get going. We took the first six rounds of the championship, maybe me learning the bike or Honda getting their new bike, so probably a combination of the two. But in the second half of the season we kind of won eight of the last 10 rounds. So, a little bit too late, really, to claim a championship from the move to Honda, but it definitely gave me a really big understanding and a learning curve on how to ride a four-cylinder, which put me in good stead for when we got on the Stiggy Honda.

David Emmett: I had an interview with you and you were talking about you went out to race school, because you're still working with your dad's race school, right?

Leon Haslam: I'll come out whenever I can. And a lot of just playing -- a lot of the stuff that I do is just in the paddock with the young kids. And he's got a fleet of instructors, the instruction on the track. It's quite difficult now I'm in World Superbike because there's a lot of rules and regulations on where you're not allowed to ride at a track before you race there. And now I've moved to Suzuki, so it's a little bit more difficult to run on my dad's Honda school. So, we'll wait and see what happens for this year. But, I still like going and just helping people out.

David Emmett: Iis your dad definitely moving the school to Silverstone, or is that still not decided yet?

Leon Haslam: They made the decision last week, actually. They're moving to Silverstone. Mom and dad don't like changes, but I think it'll be a good change for them and to run around that track should be pretty exciting.

David Emmett: Exactly. It's a terrible shame about what has happened to Donington, really.

Leon Haslam: Yeah, definitely. Hopefully, it'll sort itself out sooner rather than later and also remain as a track and hopefully get back on its feet.

David Emmett: Right. Okay. Well, thanks very much, Leon.

Leon Haslam: Thank you.

-source: miller motorsports park

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About this article
Series World Superbike
Drivers Max Biaggi , Troy Corser , Leon Haslam , Max Neukirchner , Phillip Island , Tommy Searle