As one of five British riders competing in the 2009 World Superbike Championship, Leon Haslam is part of an offensive to get the country back on top after a year of having no full-time representative flying the flag.
Joining Stiggy Racing, who embark on their first attempt at World Superbike competition, it will be Leon's second season of WSBK racing, albeit five years since he last appeared on the world stage.
As such, Crash.net took the chance to catch up with Leon, to ask him about his decision to become a world championship privateer, his expectations for the coming season and ask why he thinks Britain is becoming a breeding ground for fresh, new motorcycling talent.
During the Portimao group test, you proved to be one of the consistent frontrunners – how do you personally think the test went?
The test went really well because we were surprised to be that close [to the front]. We went to the test to see where we were compared to everybody else and expected to be quite a bit off the pace because we didn't do too many laps, while we were testing quite a lot of stuff that had been built only a week before, like the engines and chassis. For me, it is a brand new team and everything here is new. They haven't just bought the parts, so to be consistently up there with a minimal amount of laps made us happy.
What did you spend most of the weekend working on?
We kept a lot of things basic. We left the clutches and the swinging arm standard and we fixed the chassis position, so we just concentrated on one thing at a time. We were playing around a lot with the suspension as well, so we were getting a base setting for that. The main part of the test though was testing the new engine to make sure it was running right and we had the right mapping sorted with that. We fixed a lot of things, which is why we were happy. We know we have better clutches and things to help it with braking. A lot of the test was going a long way to eliminate things but in the end we were 0.4 off the quickest time in that qualifying session.
How are you settling into the Stiggy Racing team?
The atmosphere is awesome. From an outside point of view, there is not a massive amount of expectation. It is a brand new satellite team against seven factory teams and 15 factory riders, so everyone is saying it is going to be tough to get into the top ten, let alone challenge for podiums, but with regards to the team, the atmosphere is the best that I have experienced and at the moment we are making forward progression and the potential is fantastic. From our point of view, I am really excited. We are going to get better and better, but to be so close already is really exciting.
How 'private' is the Stiggy team and how much support do you get from Honda, compared to the other Honda teams?
How it works, from a Honda point of view, Ten Kate, Stiggy and Althea get accessibility to all parts that are available. Because there isn't an official HRC team, all three teams do their own things as well, whereas HRC teams only go the Honda way. We choose to go our own way, which includes using Ohlins suspension and chassis parts, but from a Honda point of view we get the same accessibility. I think Ten Kate get a little more budget that what Stiggy probably does, but in terms of parts it is the same.
How much influence will Stiggy's Supersport experience have at Superbike level – could it put you and the team at a slight disadvantage?
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