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EXCLUSIVE Paul Bird, Kawasaki - Q&A

1 January 1901

It has been a busy few months off the track for the World Superbike Championship paddock, with plenty of changes, big moves and lots of new faces to welcome in 2009.

However, one of most significant differences on this year's WSBK grid is Paul Bird Motorsport's debut as a factory supported team having taken over the running of Kawasaki's effort.

Although Kawasaki has struggled for form in recent years, they are putting their trust in second-year outfit PBM and are confident of success. So, with less than two weeks to go before the first round of the season in Australia, Crash.net caught up with team owner Paul Bird to discuss the 'promotion', his choice of riders and the rise of the World Superbike Championship in recent months.

Crash.net:
Having concluded your World Superbike season as a privateer Honda outfit, you head into this season as the official Kawasaki outlet – how pleased are you to be calling Paul Bird Motorsport a factory team?

Paul Bird:
It is just surreal! You always dream that something like this will happen, but for it to actually happen is fantastic. Especially for a little team like us that has come from a 125, 250 team in British championships in 1996 to where we are now. We have had little bits of success along the way, although the last couple of years have been a bit lean to be honest.

Crash.net:
Can you explain how the talks and deal came about?

PB:
It happened at Monza. Steve Gutteridge asked us whether we would be interested in talking to Kawasaki about running their Supersport effort for 2009, but we turned it down flat. We are a Superbike team and we want to go forwards, not take a step back - we saw Supersports as a step back. But [we didn't mind] if they wanted to talk to us about Superbikes and the future… So it went on from there. At Donington Park it snowballed very quickly, so we could barely catch our breath.

Crash.net:
How much of a difference is it going from a privateer capacity to a works one?

PB:
It is systems, mainly. It isn't a massive difference, but there are systems in place that you have to respect because we are working with a big Japanese manufacturer and they have their ways of working too, so we have to go down those ways, which we are quite happy to do. The boys have had to pull a line a little bit, where they have had a free hand in the past, they can't do that now. They have to go through the right channels and if it is not right then we have to find another way, but it seems to be working quite well at the moment. We might be a little bit behind, simply because the deal was slightly late in happening, but once we get three or four races under our belt, then I think we could be quite a strong force. The bike is going to get a lot better once we get to the European rounds, so by rounds four and five we can be strong.

Crash.net:
How much of an influence does Kawasaki have in the day-to-day running of the team? What does PBM bring to the team?

PB:
We have such a great bunch of enthusiastic lads, who have been with me for a long time now. I am sure that goes a long way. We want success badly, more than anything, so I think we have brought that to the party because the team is financially strong. We aren't going to run out of funds and need to be topped up by the manufacturer, because we have a loyal base of sponsors.

Crash.net:
Where will you succeed where PSG-1 Corse failed?

PB:
It's not for me to really say - it will take time though. I don't want to say what we are going to do and what we've got planned, so we want to keep our heads down, keep working and keep pushing Kawasaki to the front to become a regular top six, top eight contender.

Crash.net:
What was the motivation behind signing Broc Parkes?

PB:
I have always been an admirer of Broc Parkes. He has always been one of those Supersport riders who is always hungry, always qualifies well, is a real racer... I have always liked something about him because he has zest and venom, plus he has been on a Superbike before and I thought it was time to give him a go again. I'm sure the second time around he will grab it with both hands and give it 110 per cent.

Crash.net:
Makoto Tamada didn't enjoy the best of seasons last year – what do you expect from him this year as a second-year rider?

PB:
There are lots of things that people would read into the Tamada situation. I have been doing a bit of research into his background and where has come from and what he has done. I think he needs to be looked after properly. He seems to have been mulling around on his own a bit last year, so I am going to try and bring him to our new workshop and the village and hopefully become one of the family. I think that might be something he needs. I am sure we can get him back to the forefront, where he belongs. This guy has gotten up on Sunday mornings knowing he has to go out and beat Valentino Rossi. There aren't many people out there who can say that!

Crash.net:
How did you find it working with Broc and Makoto during testing at Portimao?

PB:
It was good. It is the first time I have been there, because we have been so busy with the business and building the new workshop, so I haven't had much time. The test was good, though. The bikes were in a fairly basic state there, but since we have been at Portimao, ready for Australia, there has been a lot going on. I am happy and the riders are happy with the engineers in the team. It looks like we are going to have a strong band of people together this year.

Crash.net:
What is your impression of the bike and the feedback you are getting from the riders?

PB:
I wasn't really listening to them! I was that taken aback by the Portimao circuit, so I was having a look around for a couple of days. I will leave that to the mechanics and engineers, as that is what they get paid for. I am keeping out of the way at the moment, but everything seems fine. I don't think there are many problems and we have lots of updates to come, which will make the team stronger.

Crash.net:
The first round also doubles up as Broc's home round – what kind of results can you expect from Phillip Island?

PB:
I think Broc is capable of finishing inside the top ten. I think that is a realistic goal for us. If he could have two top tens, then that will be fantastic. The bike is at a basic stage and Kawasaki haven't had a factory effort for several years, so if we could have a couple of top tens from Broc, it would be fantastic. The first round of the year, being his home round, could be good for us. You always ride a little bit harder for your first round, dig a little bit deeper.

Crash.net:
Kawasaki didn't have the greatest season last year – with increased competition this year, where do you hope or expect to be by the end of the season?

PB:
We haven't set any targets. We want to make sure the manufacturer is happy with us and we do a better job than the previous team did. I am not too sure, because I don't usually sit back and make goals. Obviously, we want to get through the year without any of our riders getting hurt, because that can be a big bugbear, but we need to get out there, do a good job and keep the contract for the foreseen future. In Broc though, I am confident I have a rider that is capable of finishing inside the top ten of the championship, and Tamada, we just need to get his confidence back and make sure he is going to be a regular point scorer.

Crash.net:
How long is your Kawasaki contract?

PB:
This year, plus an option for the following year. Then they will be launching a new model in 2011, which will be the new ZX10. If we do a pretty good job this year then we will hopefully get the contract for next year. We have done the hard work now, so we have to keep going and strive forward. We have to get stuck in and make sure that we don't lose this.

Crash.net:
Kawasaki has been subject of media speculation throughout the winter, mostly concerning their MotoGP operation. Have you had assurances that they will continue in WSBK?

PB:
When you look at the budgets for MotoGP, it is astronomical – figures like £40million. Then you look at the top Superbike teams, who have a budget of around £4million, which is a tenth of the cost. For MotoGP, to get anywhere near that, you still need around half of that, which is £20million, so it is a massive amount of money compared to the WSBK guys. At the end of the day, you see a Superbike and it is the one that punters can go and buy on the Monday after the race and you can't do that with MotoGP. I can see MotoGP going through the doldrums in the next few years, whereas we are going to see some good times for World Superbikes. Times are hard, but not as hard as running a MotoGP team

Crash.net:
Could Kawasaki's MotoGP withdrawal actually help your World Superbike effort?

PB:
Let's hope so – that would be good! When you look at the budgets, then see what people are buying, it is the Superbike, which is a lot cheaper to them than MotoGP. If you have a green motorcycle and it is running at the back then you have to wonder why you would spend £40million to run at the back of the field. It isn't doing the brand any good at all.

Crash.net:
What do you make of WSBK compared to MotoGP at the moment, particularly with BMW and Aprilia joining this year?

PB:
The series seems strong, although it probably isn't as strong as it thinks it is. The whole world is in a mess at the moment and I'm sure it will get worse before it gets better. We need to have some cost-cutting measures in World Superbikes. We were promised with the tyre deal that it would become cheaper every year, but it has actually gone the other way – that is probably the Italian way of thinking. We need to have some small cost cutting measures, so we can stay at the forefront.

Crash.net:
Having watched from the front line in Portugal, who do you think will be the title challengers?

PB:
Noriyuki Haga, Shakey Byrne, Ben Spies – top three in that order. I think Shakey will be very strong, although the thing that could hold him back is reliability because the team is struggling funding wise. If they can keep the Ducati running, then Shakey will be up there. He will start the season well, go through a quiet patch and then he'll finish the season strongly too, so I think he will go well. Spies is a class act. He is used to running at the front and he seems to learn circuits well, and seems to be quick in the wet and dry. Haga? Well he is on a factory Ducati, in an Italian-run championship, on Italian tyres… I need to say no more really.

Crash.net:
How satisfying is it to see Britain establishing itself again as a hot-bed for new talent?

PB:
Britain has been good for it in the past. I think Scott Redding and Bradley Smith are the best of the young guys, but otherwise I think we are struggling a bit. We need some better systems in place, like the Spaniards and the Italians, to bring the young ones on. Some of our guys were good on a Superbike, but not so good on the smaller classes, but if we had some systems in place then we would be a really strong nation. We should take a leaf out of the Spanish and Italians and look at some of the championships they run.


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