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EXCLUSIVE Leon Camier - Q&A

30 April 2013

By Christian Tiburtius

An exclusive and wide ranging interview with FIXI Crescent Suzuki star Leon Camier, conducted prior to the Assen WSBK round...

Crash.net:
What are you doing in Andorra?

Leon Camier:
It's just a great place to live really. For training it's absolutely perfect, you can ride you trial bike straight out into the mountains. The weather is usually perfect sunshine.

There are obviously other benefits though, but if you're into outdoor sports and training it doesn't get any better. They speak Catalan here, but you can get away with Spanish, so I'm taking Spanish lessons and my Spanish is slowly getting there.

Crash.net:
What's your motivation for racing?

Leon Camier:
The buzz is when you perform at your best, and of course winning. You sort of get over the kick of riding a fast bike particularly if you're not getting results. It's the achievement and results you're after.

Having said that, if you have a massive highside at 200 mph it's still pretty exciting and you can get a kick out of that for sure.

Crash.net:
Did you say a massive highside is exciting?

Leon Camier:
Yeah, you get a buzz from it, when you get away with it - it's just exciting. Racing at high speed close to other people is also great, but it's when you come out on top that it's even better.

Crash.net:
Doesn't looking back on an accident like that make you feel frightened?

Leon Camier:
The important thing is knowing why it happened. It's when you have crashes where you don't know why it happened that you get a little scared.

Crash.net:
How about your dreadful accident at Cadwell Park in 2007?

Leon Camier:
I knew why I crashed and exactly why I hurt myself, it wasn't a scary thing, it is what it is. It happens, you get over it and you come back strong.

Until you get back on the bike and are back up to speed again though you can't really be sure. When you get back on and start getting the feeling back the crash just goes out of your head. You can't have thoughts like that if you want to go fast.

I've seen the accident online and it really doesn't bother me, like I say, it is what it is.

Crash.net:
What were your perspectives on your years at Aprilia, was it really Max Biaggi's team?

Leon Camier:
100%. I had so many expectations and hopes of winning on a factory bike. The first four races I did I was actually quicker than Max and even though I might have had a bad qualifying or problem in the race, I was catching him during it. The last time I beat him at Assen, the next time out I didn't get anywhere near him and I was thinking 'What's going on here then, all of a sudden I've gone from being quick to being nowhere over the whole weekend - something's changed'.

I think it was from Monza on that the team told me that Max had a different engine to me. They actually told me. And that was it, I had 100% different kit. The engines were different specs for sure and they also wanted me to run an under seat tank which I also didn't like.

It wasn't a good situation and to be honest it's enough to break you down a little, it's massively discouraging and you start questioning yourself and your riding. I'd been racing against all the other Brits in WSBK all my racing life and know I can beat them, but suddenly I was nowhere near them. It was hard to cope with.

I'd come back from the race or over the winter and I'd never hear from them ever. I wouldn't have a single phone call over the winter and you felt that there was no care about me being at the front.

It wasn't that the team were against me, it was that the situation wasn't there for me to win, it was for Max to win. I can understand it to a certain degree because Max was probably capable of winning the championship and I probably wasn't in the first year.

Crash.net:
How did it end with Aprilia?

Leon Camier:
It was mutual, I had no interest in continuing unless a lot of things got changed. I asked for those changes in the second year but nothing got done.

Crash.net:
Which changes are we talking about?

Leon Camier:
I'd really rather not say. There were some people I wanted moving around and it didn't happen.

Crash.net:
How would you compare the two teams?

Leon Camier:
The Suzuki set up is really small in comparison but everyone puts in a massive effort to put in the best they can. Everyone is just so passionate about their job, not that they weren't at Aprilia, it's just that the guys at FIXI Crescent Suzuki commit their lives to it 100%. There's a good feeling in the team, everyone gets on and you handle the successes and lows together. It's like a family feeling.

I never have to question that the boys are doing their best or that I have to push someone to make something happen. I remember at Aprilia, a few times I had to come in and shout a bit and get angry, not with the mechanics, with the team structure, and things would improve a bit after that. At FIXI I never feel the need to do that.

Crash.net:
It almost sounds like an issue of trust?

Leon Camier:
100%. I feel I can trust FIXI Crescent Suzuki.

Crash.net:
How would you compare Max and Jules (Cluzel) as team mates?

Leon Camier:
I got on well with Max to be honest, there was never a problem between me and him, he didn't help me or anything - you've got to beat your team mate, but we got on.

In comparison Jules doesn't expect people to do everything for him and he's quite humble in the best way, he's not arrogant. I think that attitude means he'll go far.

The first few times testing the bike over the winter, I was just taking my time and letting the bike come to me, Jules on the other hand was just nailing it straight away and I was thinking 'Jesus Christ! I'm going to have to up the pace here'. He fell off a lot but I have a lot of respect for his speed. He's not frightened of the bike, he seems to have no fear.

I think the speed will be good for the team because we can push each other on.

Crash.net:
What about Hopper last season?

Leon Camier:
When I followed him on track, he looked like he was trying and pushing, it didn't look like he'd given up or anything. For that ultimate speed though, you've got to be desperate for the result and I don't know whether he'd lost that bit of desperation or maybe hurt himself too many times.

He didn't look like he was hurting in the pits or anything so maybe it was the fact that the bike at that time wasn't so good and he'd just had too many crashes to push when the bike couldn't get the result.

Crash.net:
How much support does the FIXI Crescent Suzuki team get from Suzuki?

Leon Camier:
There is some support, but that's very much dependant on Paul Denning pulling things together. Paul pulls everything together to make it work, there's no development from Suzuki, that's all down to us and Yoshimura (the engine builders). It's a pretty independent team.

Crash.net:
How do this year's and last year's bike compare?

Leon Camier:
The main difference is speed and engine power. The electronics also needed a lot of work.

Even during last year the bike improved substantially. At the beginning of the year, it was terrible but towards the end of the year it was becoming an all round balanced bike.

We are making a lot more power, but even now we need more power and despite the electronics now working totally differently to when we started, we also need more work on the electronics. The chassis works well though and I've got a good feeling with it and that's helped by the power now cutting in in a more controllable way. The bike is now basically a lot more refined and balanced. Things are improving for sure and we just need to keep doing what we're doing.

Crash.net:
We could see that improvement at Silverstone where you crashed out of a strong position?

Leon Camier:
The frustrating thing about that weekend was that we'd set the fastest lap in practice, got a high position in qualifying and in the race I really felt I had the pace to win. The problem was that on the back straight one or two people would come past me every time and I would have to pass them again and try to make enough gap so that it didn't happen again. Engine power was still the issue even after Yoshimura had made some big improvements.

When it started drizzling everybody backed off and I could see an opportunity to make a gap and go because if I didn't have the gap I knew they would just come by me again so I was pushing too hard in half and half conditions and went down. The team weren't on my case though because they could see I was just trying to get a result or win the race.

Despite the big improvements made, the bike still suits flowing tracks without too many stop and start sections.

Crash.net:
Your testing performance at Phillip Island looked particularly good

Leon Camier:
Yeah, we were all really happy. I did a race run in the testing and we were pumping in some great times. Other riders were thinking that we'd run away and win the race. After that I had a big accident when the wind caught me as I was pushing for a hot lap and the boys had to build a totally new bike. Unfortunately a mistake was made in the electronics which affected the power of the bike. Come race weekend the bike felt nowhere near as good as in testing. We didn't discover the mistake until after the race.

Crash.net:
So apart from that the bike should be fast?

Leon Camier:
Some tracks we'll struggle at but at other ones we'll be looking for podiums.

Crash.net:
How is you knee at the moment (before Assen)?

Leon Camier:
I split the knee open from one side down to my shin and had a lot of internal stitching. Also there's a great danger of infection and I've been on antibiotics since the crash. It's in a half cast and I've already lost some muscle there. I'm pushing so hard trying to get the movement back in it but it's such a fine balance of what you can do without splitting it open again. Every day we're analysing the situation and trying to push the boundaries.

I really can't be sure about my possibilities of riding at Assen, I am going to try though. The problem will be strength because Assen is such a physical circuit. I think I'll be able to ride but if I do I won't be as strong as I want to be.

I'm particularly frustrated because I like Assen and have done well there.

Crash.net:
In general, what would you say your strengths and weaknesses are as a rider?

Leon Camier:
My strength I would say is race day and being quick at the end of races and weaknesses include qualifying and making bad starts. Qualifying is something I need to improve on and if I can get away with everyone else I should be able to get a result.

My height isn't really an issue on the Suzuki like it was on the Aprilia, my weight is probably more of a problem. When you look at riders like Marco Melandri and Jules Cluzel, that's a big chunk of weight to give away. I would be in favour of a bike and rider combined weight limit like in Moto2. I can't see how that would be a bad thing, it would mean that racing would be more fair for people like me and Loris Baz

Crash.net:
You mentioned about enjoying fighting it out with other riders as a motivation for racing, do you prefer leading from the front or fighting in the pack?

Leon Camier:
I enjoy being in the pack for sure. I remember the way we had the Yamaha set up wasn't good for starts so often I'd be nowhere on the first lap so I would have to work my way forward. I absolutely loved passing and battling my way to the front. I've always thought that I can generally pass quite well.

Crash.net:
Riders often talk about electronics holding them back, would it be a good idea to get rid of them to remove that variable?

Leon Camier:
In a way I agree that there too many electronics on bikes, I could quite easily not run electronics and be perfectly happy. Having said that though it's a big part of bike racing and it is something that we have to get on with. For me it's just another aspect of bike racing it's another challenging aspect to get right and it's the same for everyone.

One thing I would say is that in some places I like having them just from the safety point of view. Running at Monza for example in the wet without electronics could be horrifically dangerous. If you had a little highside in the wrong place, which is easy to do there, you've only got 2 meters of grass and then a barrier the whole way round the track.

Crash.net:
What is Simon Crafar new job with the team?

Leon Camier:
He's basically on track spotting and watching what we're up to. It's probably not as big a benefit for me as it is for Jules. Having someone with experience there helping you find what you're doing wrong is helping to cut Jules' learning time massively no doubt. For me I've got a years more experience on the bike and know more what I want to get out of it but even then he can give us some input for us to move in a useful direction.

Crash.net:
What would you say is the worst state you have lined up on the grid in?

Leon Camier:
Not with broken bones or anything where I can barely ride. Honestly if I ride at Assen that'll probably be the worst

Crash.net:
How is your friend Casey Stoner doing?

Leon Camier:
I haven't seen him for a bit but he's coming over here when he's back in Europe. I talked to him the other day and he's doing really good, he's doing a lot of fishing, no doubt about that.

Crash.net:
Do you know that it was your excellent performance in BSB which caused the new shootout points scoring format?

Leon Camier:
Yes for sure, but I don't feel guilty! It looks like a good thing for spectators, from the riders point of view though, I'm not so sure. I probably wouldn't like it myself given that you can work all year winning races and then have it taken away.

Crash.net:
But it did gave us the incredible Tommy Hill/Hopper 2011 season climax race

Leon Camier:
Absolutely phenomenal, best race ever!

Crash.net:
Why are you sometimes known as 'Shafter'?

Leon Camier:
Oh that's just an old nick name, it evolved; Camier - Camshaft - Shaft - Shafter. There are other things behind it as well as to why they thought it was funny.

Crash.net:
Lastly, do you ever dangle a leg into corners?

Leon Camier:
Yes, it's a balance thing. When you're hard on the brakes, a bike can easily get crossed up going into a turn and sticking your leg out gives you better balance when you're hard on the brakes. It depends on the circuit, bike and how hard you're braking as to how much you need it.

Crash.net:
Thanks for that Leon and good luck with the knee.

Leon Camier:
No problems.


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