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Q&A: Leon Haslam - EXCLUSIVE.

by Russell Atkins

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

Leon Haslam is under absolutely no illusions – he has to win the British Superbike Championship this year – as he aims for a return to the world scene in 2009 and beyond.

The 24-year-old has jumped ship from Airwaves Ducati – with whom he had raced since 2005, three times in succession finishing inside the top four in the BSB title standings – to HM Plant Honda, the outfit that claimed the crown in each of those years. This time around, the son of 'Rocket' Ron Haslam affirmed, it's his turn…

Q:
Well Leon, you've spent the past few years racing against them, and now you've joined Honda for the 2008 British Superbike Championship. How are you looking forward to it?

Leon Haslam:
I can't wait! It's a brand new challenge, a brand new bike for Honda and obviously new tyre rules – there are a lot of changes out there, with everyone on new bikes. It's been a really long winter, so I just want to get testing now – it's that time of year.

Q:
How different is it working with HM Plant compared to Airwaves?

LH:
I've not actually been away officially with the team yet, but I know all the boys really well. My chief mechanic Chris Pike used to be my dad's mechanic, while my chassis mechanic Carl Meakin was my best friend at school and I kind of got him into racing, so as far as the team structure goes I think it's going to be awesome.

Obviously I'm moving suspension from Ohlins to Showa, and everyone's running on the Pirellis this year. There are a lot of new changes and there will be a big learning curve for both me and the team, but hopefully we can make that learning curve a fast one and be ready for the first race.

Q:
HM Plant Honda has been in recent years the team to be with – how big an opportunity is this for you?

LH:
It's good; for me it's more about the year after and getting back to World Superbikes with Honda in a factory team. It's all about being in a factory team that's capable of winning, and not only have they given me the opportunity this year to do some world rounds and for maybe the year after to do the full world championship, they've also given me the opportunity to try and win the British championship first. Third time lucky as they say, so hopefully we can do it.

Q:
How are you working with your new team-mate Cal Crutchlow so far?

LH:
I've known Cal for many years now. He's a mega-top rider whose progression in Superbikes got stronger and stronger all through last year. He had already proven himself to be a world-class runner in Supersport, so I think he's going to be up there as a title contender. It's good to have a competitive team-mate because it makes you push that little bit harder.

Q:
Who else are going to be title contenders do you think this year?

LH:
I think 'Shakey' Byrne is going to be competitive, purely because the Ducati is going to be really strong, with 20bhp and 200cc more than last year. As a package and a team I know they're one of the best, and him being back on a Ducati – with which he won the title a few years ago – means he's going to be a contender. On top of that you've got Rizla Suzuki with the Japanese champion coming over, and Tom Sykes who has proven himself to be a top runner as well.

Q:
You've come so close to winning the title over the past few seasons – especially a couple of years ago when you lost out right in the final race at Brands Hatch when the red flags came out. How much do you want it this year?

LH:
I need to win it this year. Second won't be good enough in any race. In previous years on the Ducati we knew we weren't going to beat the Hondas at certain tracks, but this year no matter where the bike is we need to win. That's the mindset with which I'm going into the season, and it's the mindset the team has always had. I need to win as many races as possible and definitely win the championship.

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE


Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Leon Haslam (GBR), Airwaves Ducati, 999F07, 91, Superbike
Leon Haslam (GBR), Airwaves Ducati, 999F07, 91, Superbike
Jonathan Rea (GBR), HM Plant Honda, CBR1000RR, 4, Superbike
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