EXCLUSIVE Chaz Davies: A tough ride to the top
19 June 2013
By Neil Morrison
It is difficult to believe Chaz Davies is only 26 years old.
The Welshman has treaded a colourful, yet unconventional path to the World Superbike championship and 2013 marks his first full season as a factory supported rider.
Few riders can boast the variety on Chaz's CV. He has raced everything from grand prix two strokes to MotoGP prototypes in paddocks as far away as Motegi and Laguna Seca.
This eclectic experience has clearly served him well. He won the World Supersport title in 2011 and progressed with the ParkinGO team to World Superbikes in 2012.
He finished the year strongly, collecting four podiums and his first win in the class at the Nurburgring, and his efforts were rewarded with an offer from BMW to partner six-time 2012 winner Marco Melandri in the factory Motorrad squad for 2013.
After six rounds Davies sits fifth in the overall standings, 80 points behind championship leader Sylvain Guintoli and 23 behind his teammate. The highlight so far was undoubtedly his majestic double victory at round two at Aragon, the first of his career.
This was, however, sandwiched between a crash in the second race at Phillip Island and an Assen weekend where he was forever playing catch-up after a wet Friday affected his race results. Both he and Melandri have struggled to consistently fight for podium places, week in week out, but he has shown moments of brilliance.
Considering his pre-season goal of a top five finish in the championship is highly possible, does he believe he has exceeded his expectations so far?
“At times, yeah. We definitely exceeded expectations at Phillip Island and Aragon. Since then it seems like we haven't capitalised or reached our potential. We've shown speed but we have either qualified bad or had problems with set-up. [At] Assen, Monza and Donington the Friday was wet and I think it has played a part in not helping us get where we need to be on Sunday.”
Davies had the pace to fight with the leaders at Monza and scored two top six finishes at Portimão, but problems in qualifying with the weather and crashes left him without sufficient track time.
“It's the same for everyone but when you're going with a new bike to a track where I haven't got a year's data behind me. You miss out on that, you miss an hour and a half on the first day and it makes the rest of the weekend more difficult.
“It's not been a complete disaster. At Donington we didn't have the speed full stop. We were missing a few tenths there all weekend but at Monza we were fast, we just didn't capitalise and I ended up crashing in the second race. I had hoped to at least be on the podium there.”
Davies has raced for underfunded, smaller teams for the majority of his career and the new position comes with added pressure. Does he feel the expectations of being a factory rider have been raised this season?
“I wouldn't say so. I would probably say since Aragon, but in general not really. I just try and do my best each weekend. The expectations in a factory team are obviously greater than in a private team but at the end of the day I just try and get the best result for myself, for nobody else, and make the most of the opportunity.”
On a personal level though he certainly seems at home and insists the change from the Park and Go team, where he spent the last three seasons, has been seamless. “It's been very easy. It took a while to get to know everybody but I feel like part of the furniture really. Only a couple of races [into the season] but it's been pretty easy going.”
The bike on the other hand has taken a little more time to adapt to. His and Melandri's styles and statures are so different that, in his own words, “there's not a lot to compare” in terms of set up information.
“The data sharing is available for the both of us. Our mechanics will a little bit but as riders we look after ourselves. We don't really cross data too much, not personally anyway.”
The BMW is also a totally different animal to the RSV Aprilia he rode last year.
“There's not one thing you can put your finger on, you honestly can't compare them. They're two superbikes but they have different characteristics and you've got to learn the nuances of each bike and learn to find whatever it takes to go quick on the track.
“A lot of work has been done with the electronics to make the bike more rideable. I think with Troy [Corser] and Leon [Haslam, who both rode for the team in 2011], Leon and Marco last year, it's just a continual development and I would say the bike is in a pretty good place at the minute for that.”
One definite benefit of riding within the factory ranks is the flow of new parts and technology coming your way. And the extra time provided to test them. The BMW Motorrad outfit have attended tests between races and the team tested at the scene of his double victory in Aragon before the Portuguese round. Having that extra track time that was previously taken away by wet qualifying sessions has been essential.
“[We] changed stuff from the chassis that we haven't managed to test yet. During race weekends, you're not limited, but you don't want to get too experimental. It's not the time, you need to do that stuff in testing.
“It is nice when you have been to that particular circuit on the bike the year before. It's worth a lot and it's easy to overlook that. [It's my] second year on a superbike but the first on this bike and it takes Friday to get near where we need to be set up wise.”
80 points from the championship leader may seem a lot, but the inconsistency that has niggled Sykes, Laverty and Melandri suggests Chaz can still count himself in the championship hunt. A run of high scoring point finishes has left him in with a shout. He does however recognise those in front will be difficult to overcome.
“The three guys - first, second and third [Guintoli, Sykes, Laverty] - in the championship are the favourites at the moment. They've got decent points. Those three guys are the guys to beat week in week out. Obviously Marco has had a good weekend at the last few events and I haven't been too far behind [but] I think they are the guys to beat.”
Before his time in the World Superbike paddock Chaz definitely had to forge his own way in world championship racing.
His world championship debut came as a fresh faced 15-year old in the 125cc class in 2002 after some impressive rides in the British championship the year before. It was believed his leggy frame would be more suited to a 250 and he spent three and a half years in the quarter litre class battling on considerably inferior machinery.
There were several flashes of raw potential, particularly finishing the final three races of 2004 inside the top ten with Dieter Stappert's Aprilia Germany team. At Phillip Island and Valencia he finished sixth and fifth, beating the factory Honda mounted Robbie Rolfo and Hiroshi Aoyama in the process. Yet still the machinery upgrades and factory offers failed to materialise.
At a time when competitive 250cc rides were at a premium Chaz failed to receive the attention or acclaim that some of his gutsy rides warranted. Still, he feels those years helped the learning process.
“There's only so much you can do with an underpowered bike and not a lot of support. I definitely learnt a lot in them years but at times it felt like you were smashing your head against a brick wall.
“I'm not going to say that if I had the bike I'd have been World Champion several times but we'd have scored better results and that leads to better opportunities that were never available at the time.”
He was given the chance to replace Alex Hofmann at the d'Antin Ducati team mid-way through the American round of the 2007 MotoGP championship. His impressive times in morning warm up (when he was faster times than six championship regulars in only his fourth session on the bike) led to him subbing again at the Australian and Malaysian rounds. A lack of testing time however meant he failed to score points.
“I had an opportunity to sub in MotoGP. It was a good opportunity but people know the story of how good the bike was. Also without testing and just getting there and having to race it was unequal again.”
Several years followed racing Supersport and Superbike machinery in America and it was then that Chaz started to understand what was needed to return to the world stage.
“In 2009 and 2010 things clicked, not so much in 2009, but I learnt a few things that year which helped me out. I didn't win any races but that gave me the opportunity to improve my results the following year with Triumph. It was beginning to understand what makes me tick, what makes me fast and everything else.”
Things have been going in the right direction since then. In terms of career shaping I'd say 2009 / 10 [were the most valuable.]”
Although he is more than content with his current situation he still feels a desire to prove himself in the Grand Prix paddock. Would he cherish an opportunity to return there in the future?
“Yeah, one day. I'm more than happy where I am at the moment but I feel like I want another shot at it because I've improved. Hopefully one day I'll get that opportunity.
“I'm not saying that I'd win all the races or that I'd show those guys how to ride motorbikes, but it's not so bad here in Superbike and given enough time, that's something that's critical - to get enough time on the GP bikes with the tyres - and if you get the right opportunity then there's no reason why you can't make the transition.”
But before thinking that far ahead Chaz has the small matter continuing his championship push at Imola, a circuit where he struggled in 2012. Pragmatically, he insists on taking things one round at a time.
“I think a podium is the aim every weekend. Obviously it was quite surprising at Aragon, we struck when the iron was hot. If I turn up and the bike's on it and I'm on it then things will happen. But I think the top five or the podium is always the target.”
The seventh round of the World Superbike championship will be held at Imola from the 28th to 30th of June.