29 July 2014
MotoGP Q&A - Leon Camier
"It can take people a year to learn how to ride a MotoGP bike and I'm jumping on a bike I don't know, on a track I don't know, with brakes and tyres I don't know" - Leon Camier.
An exclusive interview with Leon Camier, who will make his MotoGP debut for the Aspar Honda team in place of the injured Nicky Hayden at Indianapolis.
After unexpectedly losing his Crescent Suzuki WSBK seat, Camier was set to make his MotoGP debut as a full time rider with Iodaracing in 2014, but lost out again when the team cut back to a single ART.
With no full-time options at such a late stage, the 27-year-old Englishman returned to WSBK as a replacement for the injured Sylvain Barrier at BMW then Claudio Corti at MV Agusta, but was also on standby to replace Hayden at Catalunya.
Although Camier didn't ride at Catalunya, Hayden has since required a second round of wrist surgery, ruling the American out of at least the next two events for which former BSB champion Camier is now confirmed as taking over the Open class RCV1000R...
How has this year been for you, exciting or scary?
To be honest it started off pretty scary, losing my ride at the last second at the beginning, well, your life pretty much flashes in front of your eyes. You think your career's down the pan and everything's down. It's fair to say the start was pretty negative.
You only think that you want to race in a full championship and further your career and that wasn't there.
I've ended up meeting some good teams though, jumped on a number of good bikes and it's ended up being interesting. It's given me experience of how to get what I'm looking for in different bikes and yeah, I'd call it interesting.
Are these kind of replacement rides lucrative?
Yeah, to a certain extent. It just depends what the team or manufacturer are looking for but you don't get paid more per race than if you had a whole year contract with the team. For me it's really a case of surviving this year and looking forward to next year.
Why did your ride at Ioda fall through?
Their sponsor pulled out at the very last minute. We were planning on going to Malaysia for the testing, and we were told we wouldn't be doing the first test but we'd be OK for the second test and then the race.
Then we were told it was just going to be the Qatar test and then suddenly for the Qatar test we're told that it's all off and that we couldn't find another sponsor.
Being a motorcycle racer can be quite hard in that respect because at that point it was too late for the British championship, WSBK had started and I was sat there without a ride, you're not quite sure what to do with yourself.
Then Sylvain got injured and I got a phone call from his team. It has to be said that that was quite an easy decision to make because it's a good team with a manufacturer behind it and I got on well there.
Everything on the BMW seemed to work well from the start. It didn't take me long to get used to the bike and I won the first race. The most difficult thing to get used to was the fact that it's an evo bike so coming from a full superbike it was a bit of a change. You just need to find the limits of it.
We had some races where we were running with the superbikes and it was looking good considering the bike we were on. The BMW was about 40bhp down on the full superbikes and the general spec was lower than in BSB, it was running whatever came with the standard bike. But at Imola for example we had some really fast lap times and were running faster than the Suzukis, some Hondas and Tony Elias on the Aprilia. Really not too bad.
In the end we got to third in the championship, closing in on second and then I hurt my arm at Donington which ruined my run in the standings.
Were there any further prospects with that team?
Well, they were trying to find the wherewithal to run another bike for me but it was a big ask to get the funding and staff together so quickly and in the end it wasn't to be.
At that time we still had the chance of the championship but as I say I hurt my arm, missed two races and then Sylvain was good to come back after Malaysia. But fair play to the team because they had the contract with Sylvain, he's a good rider and they stood by it and I respect them for that.
Do you just sit at home and the phone rings with an offer from BMW or MV?
Not exactly, but I'm not taking on every ride I get offered because it'd be easy to jump on something and then make yourself look average again. With the BMW I knew the team and how good they were so it wasn't a difficult decision to go with them.
With the MV it was a bit of a different situation. It was their first year in WSBK and it was clear that we were there mainly to develop the bike so I felt it would be an interesting situation to add my input to the development of the bike and also to establish contact with a manufacturer.
The MV just needed a lot of work and they're actually doing a good job considering where they're at. I knew we weren't going to win but it was interesting to see where the project was at and it was interesting to get involved with a factory.
There have been quite a few other options which I haven't taken; it's a strange thing because as soon as a rider gets injured I look at the phone. I thought it was going to be a terrible year but I've ended up with quite a few options
How did the Aspar MotoGP deal come about?
I've known this might happen for a while but it really depended on what Nicky wanted to do, but once he knew he was having the operation it was on.
Is this one of the biggest opportunities of your career?
That's a difficult thing to say because it can take people a year to learn how to ride a MotoGP bike and without any testing I'm jumping on a bike I don't know, on a track I don't know, with brakes and tyres I don't know. The whole situation is against me so to expect me to perform is ridiculous.
There's no pressure on me whatsoever, I'm really just there to learn. Obviously if I did something amazing that would be great and it might open opportunities for next year, but realistically I don't know how much an opportunity it is.
Will the first time you get on the bike be at Indianapolis?
Yes, and it does sound quite hard when you say it like that. Just getting all the foot pegs and stuff to fit me will be work enough but the other two major challenges I see are the tyres and the brakes and how you manage the heat in them. It should be interesting.
Have you ever ridden a MotoGP bike?
The only time I tried one is when I had a go on Dani Pedrosa's 990 when they let me have a go on it for winning the BSS championship. I did 8 laps and that was it. But I couldn't fit on it, I couldn't change gear or anything because it was that tiny.
But luckily you'll be working with be Frankie Carchedi at Aspar who you know and also has experience of the bike...
He was working with Nicky for the past few races so that will be a positive. He's got some idea of what I look for in a bike and hopefully that'll be a positive. He'll be one of the main technicians.
Some people have said that you're racing the Aspar for two races and some say three...
It all depends on Nicky's recovery. If he's ready for Silverstone then he'll ride there. Honestly I'd love to give it a go but it just depends on Nicky.
The fact that teams like Aspar are contacting you is quite a vindication of how positively your riding is seen isn't it?
Yes, it's really quite an honour to be considered for a ride like that.
There was actually first contact between us before Catalunya because they could foresee some problems with Nicky's wrist and it came at about the right time because Malaysia was my last race at BMW.
I flew back to Barcelona which I would have done anyway because I live in Andorra and went down to the race to watch. Nicky was still racing at the time and was quite fast so at the time I thought nothing was going to happen but now that he needs his operation I'm ready to rock.
So in retrospect it might seem good that you didn't get the 2014 ride sorted with Crescent Suzuki?
Well, that's a difficult one because at the time I was quite pissed off with that situation. I was really looking forward to the changes they were going to make in the next year with having a full time electronics technician and other things that we thought would have made the bike competitive.
The Suzuki's quite weird because the bike seems to have so much potential and the team's also spot on so when that ride was taken away from me I was, as I said, pretty pissed off. I really thought at the time it was a good option.
As it turns out though, they've had a couple of good races but not really anything dramatically better than what we were getting last year. Eugene was winning races last year but now he's finishing more or less where I did. Alex is also doing a great job but he's crashing a lot but I guess that's what happens when you're trying to make the difference on a bike that isn't capable of running at the front.
In the end I think that it was financially better for the team to take on Eugene. Alex had done his deal when I was still meant to be there and I think they took Eugene over me for financial reasons.
The hard thing was that they'd left it so late in the day before doing that. We'd actually turned down quite a few other options before and then we were left with nothing. I was already booked for the Suzuki test and then suddenly everything disappeared.
It was disappointing and frustrating at the time but I've ended up with some good rides and options so I guess everything happens for a reason.
So I guess you've had quite a lot of time to make arrangements for next season?
Not yet. All the top rides in MotoGP have to get sorted and then it starts to filter down within the next two months. I expect things to start in the next month.
Obviously I'd like to be in MotoGP but to go there to finish at the back isn't something I'm interested in. I just want something I can be competitive on and that could be in WSBK. If I can get an option to be competitive in MotoGP then I'd like to go there, if not then WSBK or if not that then we'll see.
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