World Superbike Interview
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: Our first question comes from Chris Jonnum from Road Racer X Magazine.
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: Our next question comes from David Swarts from Roadracing World.
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.
Operator: Our next question comes from Dean Adams from SuperbikePlanet.com.
Dean Adams: Good morning. Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you, Leon. You’ve spent a lot of time in the United States on and off in the last few years. Been in Vegas, had some tattoo work done, etc. Can you talk a little bit about that, please?
Leon Haslam: Yeah, definitely. That was kind of part of my road trip last year. We obviously stopped off in Vegas for three or four days. And I’d been wanting a tattoo for some time now. And I went to the Huntington and Hart place at the Hard Rock. So that was an experience; it was my first tattoo, so that was pretty cool to get out there.
Dean Adams: And you were traveling by camper or motor home? I can’t remember.
Leon Haslam: Yeah. We flew straight to San Francisco. We rented an RV, just me and my girlfriend, and we went from San Francisco through Death Valley, stopped off in Vegas for a few days and then carried on to Miller in Utah. And we actually stayed at the circuit for the race weekend, which was a nice break through the season. Most of the season it’s tied up from race to race. So, I sort of got time off and just had a bit of fun. It was pretty cool.
Dean Adams: Was that your first time traveling through the United States like that?
Leon Haslam: Yeah, it was. It’s the first time I’ve traveled through. I’ve been through parts of the United States from when my dad was racing, from me racing. Obviously, at Laguna Seca and training out in California quite a little bit. But yeah, this was the first time I got to travel and see some of the sites that you guys have got out there and it was pretty cool. We actually got a free upgrade from South Africa to America to first class. And we got these black Virgin Atlantic pajamas. And I don’t think me and my girlfriend got out of them for, like, three days. Just filled up with fuel and kept stopping at all these camps in these pajamas, which was was a pretty cool road trip.
Dean Adams: A final question. You know, when you raced the last World Superbike race at Laguna Seca, you were doing so well and seemed to be really what we’d refer to as a comer. You were going to be in World Championship the next, but you went back British Superbike. Were you disappointed in that or how did you see your career at that point?
Leon Haslam: I was disappointed. Like I said before, it was a big learning curve. It was my first season actually on a superbike — you know, to jump straight into World Superbike was pretty hard. But the first three or four rounds I put it on the front row. I managed to get my podium in Germany. And Laguna that year, it was about midway through the season and I actually broke my wrist in the race challenging for the podium. And from that point onwards, for the rest of the season, I rode with a broken wrist for the next four or five rounds. And I actually missed my home round because of it as well.
I finished — I think it was seventh in the championship, it wasn’t enough to get a competitive ride for that year after. And Ducati wanted to keep me on and they gave me the opportunity to ride for Airways Ducati in the UK. So, instead of signing for a team that wouldn’t have been competitive in World Championship, Ducati placed me in the UK. But you know, I was disappointed because that’s where I wanted to be for my first season. And honestly, at that level I felt that, you know, I’d have loved another year there on.
Dean Adams: Leon, can you talk a little bit about, or have you talked about, the situation last year on the Stiggy team at all?
Leon Haslam: Yeah. A fantastic opportunity. It was kind of — I’d been in England a little bit longer than I wanted to be. So, when Stiggy approached me initially halfway through 2008, it was something I definitely wanted, going to go to World Superbike. And it was a new team. A lot of people didn’t think it was going to be the right move. And it was a tough decision, but it was a decision that was easier based on him and the people that he was putting together with it. So for me, it was a no-brainer to get me back into World Championship on a bike that I’d ridden in the UK anyway. It was a great opportunity.
And I said earlier that I’d actually signed an extended two-year contract with him after the third round at Assen. Because I was happy. I got a podium in Australia. I got a second and a third at Assen. So I was more than happy to sign an extended contract with him. He was looking to go with the factory the year after. And literally from the point of me signing that contract, over the next two or three months he came into a lot of financial difficulty with backers and investors and sponsors pulling out. And obviously, there was no way that he was going to continue for the following season.
Even to finish our last season out, he did a fantastic job just to get me to the races. From a four-rider team, it actually just went down to me for the last two. So, he honored my contract for 2008 and he released me from my future contract that I’d signed with him. So he gave me a fantastic opportunity. It was just a shame the way it ended. And the last half of the season was quite — due to me, not due to the effort that all the guys put in really throughout the season.
Dean Adams: Yeah. It must have been heartbreaking. I think everyone would agree. A cool little team, the Stiggy Honda effort. But it sort of crumbled with the failing global economy.
Leon Haslam: Yeah.
Dean Adams: What was it like to ride under those conditions? I mean, you obviously respect the people you were working with. But due to circumstances out of their control and out of your control, the team’s basically falling apart.
Leon Haslam: Yeah. You can’t point your finger at anybody for the blame of things that happened. And the guys that was working directly for me, as in my mechanics and people like that, I know they and myself weren’t being paid from, like, April onwards. And they did the whole season and we got through it. And just getting race to race I know was difficult for the team. And behind the scenes, things that were happening were — you know, and people was think you was lying if you said it, with engines being tuned from home and from in garages. And getting to the races I know was really, really tough. But all credit to Stiggy for achieving what he did for me.
From Donington onwards we were — to finish top privateer sixth in the world through the issues that we had was phenomenal. And that was the biggest upsetting thing for me, even though by the point of no return we knew I’d sign for Suzuki. All the guys were still there working for me and turning up every weekend. And a lot of the guys weren’t being paid at all. So from that point of view, it was even harder, just to try to make sure everyone was solid. And I know a few people are still, you know, a little bit in debt from that year, but it was a fantastic effort from everybody.
Dean Adams: Thank you.
Operator: Our next question comes from Chris Jonnum of Road Racer X Magazine.
Chris Jonnum: I think with the exception of David Emmett, you’re probably talking mainly to Americans here. And last year, for obvious reasons, was a pretty big exciting year for us. Do you think that Ben Spies had a lasting effect on the series? And is there a part of you that’s sad to see him move on?
Leon Haslam: Yeah, for sure. Ben was a class act last year, for him to come in and do what he did with that Yamaha. I know they’re finding it quite hard to achieve what Ben did on the same package. So, it’s definitely — I miss that side of it. And I had a couple of good battles with him on the Stiggy bike, so — and now I’m on the Suzuki. But you know, he was a class act and he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. And hopefully we can see each other in the future and have some more good battles.
Chris Jonnum: Yeah, he’s obviously moved on to MotoGP. Would you like to eventually return to the Grand Prix series or would you prefer to kind of stick around more like Carl Fogarty and dominate World Superbike for years?
Leon Haslam: A lot of people have asked me this. And the biggest thing that I’ve kind of said from my experience at the GPs and experience of being on bikes that aren’t quite capable, is no matter where I go from now, I’d love to be on a bike that is capable of winning, if that’s World Superbike, MotoGP or wherever. I’d like to progress back to MotoGP, but I wouldn’t take a risk of going there just to be there, if you know what I mean. I’m finally on a bike that I feel is capable of winning. I want to try and keep that factor. And if that means me to win some World Superbike Championships, that’ll be a dream for me. So, if it means I can move to MotoGP and compete against those guys, then I’d love that as well. But right now, I’m really happy with Suzuki and World Superbike because the championship is just getting stronger and stronger. So right now I’m pretty happy in World Superbikes.
Chris Jonnum: We’ve talked about Spies. And I know Roger Hayden’s an American who’s in a lot different situation over there this year. If you were crazy enough to give your competitors advice, is there anything that you would tell him as he faces a long season with the satellite Kawasaki team?
Leon Haslam: Yeah. I actually hooked up with Roger in Australia. We had a few games of golf together out there. And I kept seeing him in the clinic getting massages and whatever. And I’ve kind of been there in that situation, and it is tough. But people do see what you’re doing and what package you run. So, no matter what results he’s getting out there, he’s just gotta keep plugging away. And people who matter will see that; you can’t kind of lose faith with it, really. He’s going to have a hard, long season ahead of him, but he’s definitely got the talent. So, he’s just gotta keep pushing away with it.
Chris Jonnum: Alright. Thank you.
Operator: Our next question comes from Dean Adams of SuperbikePlanet.com.
Dean Adams: Leon, I’m curious. What was the relationship with your dad like when you started racing? From your perspective, did he push you into racing? Did you push him to racing? Or how was it?
Leon Haslam: Basically, I started off in motocross and he kind of just left me to it and he never once wanted me to do it, really. And basically, after I won the first British title on the motocross, I broke my leg the following two seasons quite badly. My femur came through the skin and I was in hospital for two or three weeks. And he actually said to me when I was lying in hospital that we can’t afford to go racing anymore and, once you’re better, we can concentrate on football, because I was quite into football at the time. And he actually completely tried to put me off and I kind of fell out with him over it. I said, "Well, I’ll do it on my own. I’ll go racing on my own."
And from that day onwards, really, I went from him kind of not being too interested in my racing to actually realizing I do want to do it for myself, you know, and he got behind me. And that was also the same time I moved into road racing. And from the age of 14 to probably 19, he’s always been there and he’s always helped me 110 percent. But we always had a lot of — not arguments, but loggerheads as in — my dad’s my biggest critic. He’s not probably like most dads that all praise their kid up and down daily. You know, if I win a race the first thing he’ll say is that, you know, I wasn’t very good there or I could improve here. And from the age of 14 to 19, you know, I kind of took that as him being jealous or having a go at me and we had a lot of arguments. Even though he’s been a great help, we do have a lot of arguments.
And kind of — probably when I grew up, really, 19, 20 years of age, I realized all the negative stuff that I thought was negative, he was actually trying to help me. And from that age onwards, you know, we’ve had a fantastic relationship. And his criticism’s not really criticism to me anymore. It’s just trying to improve me as a rider. And the first thing we do when I get back to the UK is go off trail riding together and mini motor in the winter in a barn that we’ve got at home and then just playing every day. And that relationship there is fantastic and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
Dean Adams: In retrospect, do you think your dad was — when he was saying, okay, you know, it’s over, you’re going to try football. Do you think maybe he was just testing you to see how badly you wanted this? And after he’s lost — he lost, what, two brothers to racing crashes?
Leon Haslam: Yes.
Dean Adams: Two of his brothers died. So, I mean, he knows real-world what the bad side of the sport can be.
Leon Haslam: No, for sure. I think he would probably admit that’s what he was doing. You know, he didn’t want me to go racing because he did or felt that I had to because he did. And after I kind of fell out with him and I told my mom in hospital that, you know, can you ask my dad if I can have one more go at racing and I promise I won’t crash again, he kind of realized that, you know, he’s lying there with a bone sticking out of his leg and he’s asking me if he can have one more chance at racing. I think that’s when he realized I really wanted it for myself, not just because he did.
You know, racing’s been my whole life; I traveled the world from when I was six years old with my dad. But that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s not because of him, it’s just — it’s kind of me. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. And he was definitely testing to see if I wanted to do it. And I can remember a few times in my younger days of nine or 10 year of age, how I didn’t clean my bike and kind of prepare everything myself to go motocrossing, we just wouldn’t go. And I’d go two or three weeks and I wouldn’t go ride. And then I kind of then asked my dad, "So, dad, why aren’t we going riding anymore?" And he said, "Well, do you want to?" And I was, "Well, yeah." And he never, ever once said, "Do you want to go riding?" or "Do you want to go practice?" And he kind of left it all up to me. And I think that gave him peace of mind that I wanted to do it for me rather than for him type of thing.
Dean Adams: Well, thank you.
Leon Haslam: Thanks.
Operator: Our next question comes from David Emmett of MotoMatters.com.
David Emmett: About going to MotoGP or to the Grand Prix paddock on a competitive ride, do you think that the new Moto2 class, the fact that everyone’s on the same engine, does that make a more attractive prospect than say you’re going to 250s, with a much better chance of actually moving up to MotoGP. Has that changed the way that you as a rider look at that middle class, at Moto2?
Leon Haslam: Yeah, for sure. In my opinion, for the last few years, unless you’re Spanish or Italian, to go through the ranks of 125, 250 and then 500s, it’s pretty much near enough impossible. All the teams in the paddock of the 125 and 250s, there was all the Spanish and Italian teams with their Spanish and Italian sponsors. And as I say, it was — in Spain and Italy, they do breed them young. They’ve got very fast, talented guys. But all the teams and sponsors wanted their nationality rider on their bikes.
So, it was always going to be difficult for any other country to really progress through the ranks as it was set, as in the 125 then 250 then 500, where the Moto2 is a little bit different in the fact that it’s a four-stroke background which places like the United States or England and stuff is their background. We have the standard Superstock racing, which can be from a young age.
And to go into Moto2 on a 250, unless you’ve literally ridden in the Spanish Championship or even at World Championship level on their bikes, it’s pretty much near enough impossible to show your true potential, just literally having a one-off ride on those bikes where, hopefully with the Moto2 class, with them being four-strokes, all the guys who are learning on these Superstock 600-type bikes can step into Moto2 and kind of show their promise straight away without having to learn the 250. So hopefully, it’ll open out to a lot wider range of people for the future to get into MotoGP.
David Emmett: And so, if you were offered a ride with a top team in 250 or in Moto2, would you consider it or would you prefer staying in World Superbikes with a factory team?
Leon Haslam: If I had the option to winning Moto2 or if I had the option to winning World Superbike, I’d stay in World Superbike. That’s my opinion. And if there was an option to winning MotoGP and World Superbike, then obviously that’s something that I’d have to look at. Because obviously, it’s still perceived as the number-one championship. And it’s something that I might want to do in the future but, right now, I’m happy with World Superbike.
David Emmett: Okay. Right. Thanks very much.
Leon Haslam: Thanks.
Operator: Our next question comes from Chris Jonnum of Road Racer X Magazine.
Chris Jonnum: Leon, it seems like there’s obviously the British factor in World Superbike this year, but there’s also kind of a situation where there’s a new generation, I think, of younger riders who are becoming increasingly competitive. And I would actually include you in that group, too. Just a new generation of fresh faces up at the top. Do you think that that’s accurate? And do you think that that’s something that is permanent, that we’re going to see some of the veterans kind of move on here in the next couple of years?
Leon Haslam: Yeah, for sure. There’s not a lot of old guys, as such, that’s been there for a lot of years, you know, late 30s, even down to your Baylisses who won it two years ago in their early 40s, that are super, super fast. And your Biaggis and your Hagas and your Checas, they’re definitely not going to be there for much longer. So, that next breed is coming through and it’s good that we’re challenging the likes of your Checas and your Hagas and Biaggis and those people like that, because I do feel that all these young guys that are coming through, as in Fabrizio or the Brits, are pretty much there.
And everybody in World Superbike, really, other than those guys I mentioned, is going to be there for the next 10 years. So, we are catching them up. And in previous years people like that have always been our target, and just through experience have still been winning races and doing good. So, it’s good to see that the young guys now are gathering that experience and challenging for that top spot.
Chris Jonnum: Good. And the UK invasion that we kind of talked about before and the rivalry that you have there, there’s seven riders, seven UK riders in World Superbike right now and none in the premier class in Grand Prix racing. Why is that, do you think? What’s happening that’s encouraging or pushing riders to end up in the World Superbike and it’s not really resulting in success in MotoGP?
Leon Haslam: I think you just gotta look at it. There’s seven manufacturers in World Superbike. And basically, there’s a Brit on six of those manufacturers and on a factory team. And it’s not because they’ve turned down a GP option, it’s just that that’s where the opportunities lie. And a factory ride in World Superbike, to challenge for wins in a World Championship, even if it was an average opportunity in any other class, you’re always going to take the World Superbike factory ride. You just gotta look at people that’s left from GP, you know, like your Vermuelens and your Toselands and people like that. You know, Toseland was originally in a few top six results in that sort of class.
But you know, it’s strong competition. And as a Brit, winning World Superbike is the ultimate dream. And with six on factory bikes, that kind of says the direction’s quite obvious that they’re going to go towards World Superbike if that’s where the offers are coming from.
Chris Jonnum: So, it’s almost like a cultural thing, do you think, where you’re talking about with Grand Prix, with the support classes that you have to be Italian or Spanish. Do you think it’s actually an advantage potentially in World Superbike?
Leon Haslam: All the guys that have gotten to ride in World Superbike on factory bikes have not just been given those rides. They’ve done it purely off of running as wild cards or off of merit, of winning. What can you do to get a factory ride in MotoGP? What do you need to actually win? There’s no domestic championship. You can’t do wild cards. You don’t get the opportunity to have one-off rides. So, how are you going to get an opportunity to get into that series? And the only way that is a possibility is if you become a World Superbike Champion.
And that’s kind of the options that we’re getting, to kind of prove ourselves to maybe step that way or not, or maybe just to try and win as many World Superbike titles as possible. But, there’s no other way, really, in my opinion, as Brits especially, to get into MotoGP. You know, Toseland got the opportunity through winning his two world titles. Hodgson got his opportunity by winning a world title. Ben got his opportunity by winning his World Superbike title. It wasn’t through his five AMA championships or anything else. Even though he got opportunities to do wild cards, which was fantastic, it was his World Superbike title that brought the factory link and the direction to MotoGP.
Chris Jonnum: Yeah. Even Colin, too.
Leon Haslam: Yeah.
Chris Jonnum: Cool. Well, thank you very much.
Leon Haslam: Thank you.
Moderator: I think we can go ahead and wrap this up.
Leon Haslam: Okay.
Moderator: We appreciate everybody participating today. And we would like to remind everyone that we have an event-specific website for our event coming up in May, which is SBKUSA.com. And we also have a very active presence on Facebook and Twitter.
Leon, we appreciate you taking all this time to talk with everybody. I think it was really good, very interesting. And we wish you a lot of luck in the next round at Portimao.
Leon Haslam: Thank you very much.