For any fan watching World Superbike racing in the 1990s the #111 will always be synonymous with one man. Aaron Slight, still regarded by many as the best rider never to win a WorldSBK championship, was present at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone to unveil LCR Honda’s new Castrol colour scheme, which had echoes of the RC45 that he raced to six consecutive top four championship finishes.

Now 51 years old and ‘living the quiet life’ in New Zealand, Slight sat down with Crash.net to talk about a wide range of topics, including the highlights of his own career, the evolution of the RC45, testing Mick Doohan’s NSR 500, his thoughts on the current state of the World Superbike series, and ex-rival Carl Fogarty's recent change of character.

Crash.net:
You retired from World Superbike at the end of 2000. What have you been up to since then?

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Aaron Slight:
I did the 2002 British Touring Car series. And then in 2003 I did some Porsche racing as well. Actually I did a run around Silverstone in the Masters Supercar for Porsche. That was my only run around Silverstone. Then I went home in 2004, back to New Zealand. And New Zealand is a long bloody way away. You can’t actually be here or just get out of it. I went back and had an ambassadorial role with Honda in New Zealand for a while. Then I’ve managed my other investments and lived the quiet life.

Crash.net:
After years of traveling the world is it nice to leave the airports and extensive travel behind?

Aaron Slight:
You wish it could on forever, but it can’t. you need to make a choice. My choice was New Zealand to be home. It sounds pretty w**k but once you’ve been at that level [world championship], you can’t sort of compete in anything else. Either you step away or move into something else in a different field. For me, it was stepping away.

Crash.net:
Where were you based when you were racing?

Aaron Slight:
I lived in Monaco for seven years. Some of that was during World Superbike and some of that was after. We ‘motorhomed’ a lot at the start. You know, big American motorhomes and we did the whole campground thing. It was really cool. We got to see a lot of Europe.

Crash.net:
The investments that you spoke of… Are they related to motorbikes at all?

Aaron Slight:
No. My dad had a hardware business and he had a small store. We’ve built like a megastore. It’s like a B&Q - that type of style. In my small hometown we’ve got a hardware store and other commercial buildings. I just tried to keep what I earned, keep it going. It’s enough to keep me busy but not enough to be eight to five, you know?

Crash.net:
How did you find racing touring cars and Porsches? Were you able to replicate that thrill you got from racing bikes in any way?

Aaron Slight:
No, not at all. I mean I love cars. I love car racing. But I just don’t get how you can touch someone, put them in the fence and think it’s OK. It’s too easy for guys with money to be involved. Half of it is skill, but you have to pay. All you do is go flat out until you go over the edge and put it in the fence. Then you just go back out and go again. There are no consequences. So I had a few offs. It’s tough. With the bike you can’t do that. You can piss and moan about something out on the track but you’re not carving each other up and doing silly stuff because you can both go down and get hurt.

In 2002 we were driving Vauxhalls. I mean, driving cars sounds pretty boring. But the only way to drive a four-wheel drive car fast is to use the oversteering. You set it up as loose as possible. You try not to push the front and wear out the tyres. Once you get it right, they’re pretty cool things to drive. Even though they’re only 300 horsepower, they’re still pretty cool.

Crash.net:
We’re sat close to your old RC45, which must bring back a lot of memories. You saw that bike evolve in World Superbike from 1994 to ‘99. It wasn’t the easiest of starts…

Aaron Slight:
In 1994 I was the lap record holder at Phillip Island. My first test on the bike was Phillip Island. I was two and a half seconds off the pace and Doug [Polen] was four seconds off the pace at a preseason test. We were like, ‘Honda underestimated this, eh?’ They really did underestimate the competition. But by the time the first race came round at Donington I had two second places, so we moved along quite quickly. Once you get horsepower, you get loads of other problems. We always had a massive complaint that it didn’t steer, and those kinds of things. I adjusted my riding style. Everyone said it was made for me because of the way I rode but it was so I could make it turn. We moved it on a lot. If there was anything that you actually pinpointed that you wanted, Honda would make it. If you said that you wanted a different swingarm to do this and that, they’d make it. The thing was pretty good. It’s just that the championship was V-twins and four-cylinders and that was hard work.

Crash.net:
So the regulations were stacked against the four-cylinder bikes?

Aaron Slight:
Yeah. I still get pissed off at myself, and keep saying it, but it was tough. We would have six different ratios for every gear and primary drives. We could do anything with the gearbox, whereas Ducati would just change the rear sprocket. They didn’t have to do anything. We knew we were up against it. It wasn’t until we got our own V-twin years later [in 2000] and put it on the dyno… Our V-twin was the same horsepower but 30 percent more torque. So how fair is that?

Crash.net:
It was a full factory effort from Honda throughout the RC45 years…

Aaron Slight:
Oh, yeah. That’s what made Superbikes so great. All the factories were there and they were spending money. It was an HRC contract. It was based here in England, but it was full HRC.

Crash.net:
You talk about that support. Is that what the Ten Kate team needs now to become competitive again in World Superbike?

Aaron Slight:
That’s what’s missing. Let’s see. Their [HRC] priorities lie elsewhere obviously. But it’s a bit of a shame that Kawasaki is there doing a really good job and Ducati is doing an OK job. With the investment they’ve got, maybe they should be investing more. But do they need to with the 1200? The rules here in MotoGP have proven they can do the job. You’ve got your Yamahas and your Hondas and they just need more involvement. You need to have that development quicker and that comes from the factory.

Crash.net:
Your best year of racing was probably 1998, when you took the championship all the way to the last race at Sugo. Would you say that’s when the RC45 was at its best?

Aaron Slight:
I think in 1998, yeah. But I’ve also said ’98 and in ’99, at the last race that I did on the bike, we had new crankshafts and all this new stuff. I was like, ‘This is the last race for the bike’. I don’t know, but I’m sure that was development for the V5, the MotoGP bike [the RC211V that Honda debuted in 2002]. They were still thinking about that. If you think about it: a 750, you add another cylinder and you get 990. Their four-stroke technology was coming through the Superbike and they transferred that into MotoGP.

But yeah, ’98 I think I was by far the fastest rider out there. I won five races. Carl won three and won the championship. The other day, I went through my diary and every race I had a problem. The very first race I got knocked off by a guy I was lapping. I was in second place and he knocked me off. There were loads of things like that. I had the blow-up at Monza with one lap to go. I crashed at the Nürburgring out of second place, picked it up and finished fourth. At Laguna Seca I was taken out at the start line. Every race something happened. There’s a lot of four and a half points there!

Crash.net:
Is there still a lingering regret that you didn’t win a championship, or can you just accept that things worked against you?

Aaron Slight:
I mean, I don’t regret any of that. I’m a kid from a small town in New Zealand. It was amazing. It would have capped it off if I’d have won a championship but I’m not going to get into my grave wishing I had won it. I had an amazing career and I’m happy with that. There are some people winning championships that might not deserve it, you know? I think for me, if I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all. But you get stronger, you strive and you move on. It was tough at the time. People said to me that I was a very, very serious person and hard to be around but you had to be. That’s the way it was. For me, a kid from a small town, I had a one-year contract. That’s all you had. You only knew until November and then it could be over forever. So those one-year deals were all very serious. You had to make it work.

Crash.net:
There were a lot of big, big characters in World Superbike during the nineties. What was it like being in the middle of that?

Aaron Slight:
At the time you’re just in it. Another thing we had too was that there wasn’t just the five or six riders that could win. You also had wildcards. You would go to Japan and they’d have the same machinery as you on their track. You might be on the podium here in Europe and then go to Japan and finish outside the top ten. Then you go to Laguna and the Americans are going quick. Then you’re at Phillip Island and Brands… Brands, Shakey turns up and beats you. It wasn’t just five or six guys. It could be ten on a weekend. Everyone had the same equipment. There was also competition with tyres. When you start doing one-make stuff, you start ruling out things that could make a good result. We all went to Donington, and when you went there, you knew the Dunlops would work better than the Michelins. It’s all those other things that made for good racing.

Crash.net:
You spoke a bit about 1998. That was the year when you scored your two doubles in World Superbike. Would you say those races at Misano and the old A1 Ring in Austria were the best races in your career?

Aaron Slight:
Misano was a real highpoint for me because we changed in ’95 from Dunlop to Michelin and I finished outside the points in both races. No, I had a 15th and a 16th. And two years later I did the double. In that race I manipulated the pace to win the race. When I passed [Troy] Corser everyone thought I’d have worn out the tyre and would come back to everyone. I remember following Corser and was reserving my tyre and I thought, ‘When Fogarty [behind] gets within a second I’m going to pass and go.’ I got past Troy and my board said ‘+0.9s’. I think Troy thought, ‘We’ll get him later on’ but I won both races. Usually in the second race Ducati would either copy our tyre or then get a tyre for the second race. But to get a double at what as a bogey track for us was amazing.

Crash.net:
And that was your first ever double in World Superbike, which I imagine was a big relief…

Aaron Slight:
When I wasn’t having little problems that year, I won races.

Crash.net:
We already mentioned the number of big characters in the series at that time. Did any of those names stand out as particularly tough competitors?

Aaron Slight:
I mean, you were just racing, weren’t you? If you doubted yourself, you wouldn’t have been there. The toughest thing was probably the shit that was talked. It used to piss you off. At least in those days it wasn’t typing it out on a keypad. It wasn’t tweeting some s**t. At least it was face-to-face. I think that’s what made it even better. If you meant it, you said it, or you didn’t say it at all.

Crash.net:
In MotoGP you see a bit of acrimony between several of the top names. Is that what World Superbike is missing at the moment?

Aaron Slight:
How can you spice it up when your competition is ten seconds behind you? That’s probably the crux of it. If you had ten guys fighting for it, then they’d be fighting. Now they’re not. You’ve got to have competition to breed that fight.

Crash.net:
It sounds as though there are plans to try and level the competition out in World Superbike a bit. There is talk of introducing a standard ECU. Is that a good idea in your eyes?

Aaron Slight:
That’s the problem: when some people put caps on stuff, that’s when people get bored with it. Like I said, when you’ve got a one-tyre rule. That’s when certain people don’t get an advantage. If you look at it in our day, they banned carbon brakes. Because they did that, you’d go through 20 sets of steel brake instead of three sets of carbon. They did that for cost. It was dearer to go to steel. They really need to watch how they manipulate the rules. Now they only have one bike. How is that good for a privateer? If a privateer crashes one bike, how’s he supposed to carry around enough parts to put another bike out? They really need to be careful with what sort of rules they come up with. For me, some of the rules that you hear, I don’t think they’ve had half a clue.

Crash.net:
Has the championship lost a bit of its identity?

Aaron Slight:
Having the one owner [Dorna], is that really good? I don’t know. When you’ve got someone fighting for their championship to be on par with the other championship, that’s going to be better for the series. Lost its identity? Everybody is doing a good job with what they’ve got. How do you manipulate the factories to come back? How do you get the right ‘Ride it on Sunday, sell it on Monday’ back?

Crash.net:
Did you ever come close to coming across and riding in the GP paddock?

Aaron Slight:
In ’95 I rode one of Mick’s [Doohan] bikes down at Phillip Island. It was a three-day test and I rode it for an afternoon. At that test, I was two seconds slower than Mick, and he had been there for three days. I was faster than [Shinichi] Itoh and the same speed as [Loris] Capirossi. I had only been there for half a day. So I just thought, ‘Where do I sign?’ Honda said ‘That’s fine, we’re paying Mick the big bucks. Loris brings money from Europe and Itoh’s the Japanese rider. Would you like to ride for nothing or stay in World Superbikes?’ That was really it. I’d have loved to jump on the grand prix thing but I went to Superbikes and it made me rich. I had offers to ride those other big twins as well with other teams but I chose the way I did in the end to make a point.

Crash.net:
So was that test in Australia at the start of ’95?

Aaron Slight:
That was the start, because Doug [Polen] rode for half a day as well, and Doug only lasted three rounds that year. So I thought, ‘These are your guys this year, but next year…’

Crash.net:
Have you maintained contact with Carl or any of the other guys with whom you used to race?

Aaron Slight:
No, I don’t. I would maintain contact with my mechanics and stuff. They were really my family so I would speak to those guys, not other riders. I met Carl about five years ago at the 25th anniversary of World Superbikes. We chatted. He’s had a whole change in attitude. But that’s it. You know, there’s a lot of water under the bridge. A lot of s**t was done. Suddenly to change it… good for him. But I don’t have to endorse it. You can’t be a c**t half your life and expect everyone to get on great. You know, I’m not interested in his life and he shouldn’t be interested in mine.

Crash.net:
You were actually quite friendly at the start of your careers in World Superbikes. Didn’t you stay at his house some times?

Aaron Slight:
I was. I stayed in the motorhome at his house. I don’t know. That’s his personality and it’s what’s great about the sport. He needed to be like that, to piss everyone else off to get fired up. And in his defence, the whole publicity was English, really. We didn’t stand a chance.

Crash.net:
Do you still follow racing nowadays?

Aaron Slight:
I watch all the races. I don’t read about it. I don’t know what everyone’s doing next year. I’m not into it. If I miss a race, it doesn’t upset me. But yeah, I still follow it.

Crash.net:
What are you thoughts on the current crop of riders in both MotoGP and World Superbikes?

Aaron Slight:
Well, I don’t like this era of electronics. I think it just sucks. That’s what really does my head in, that you can open the throttle until the stops while you’re on the rumble strips and nothing happens. To me, that pisses me off. But the good guys will still get to the top. The good guys are still good. But I’d rather see bigger black lines and lots of smoke, you know? That too, brings a difference in the results, that you can manage the tyre. When you’ve all got the same traction control and the same ECU, you’re taking another element away. You’re mixing up ABS on the bikes so then you can’t brake late. You don’t need to remove an element. Once you do that, the racing just becomes bland.

In this day and age with high definition TV you can see everything that’s happening. I remember when I was riding. You’d say [to your team], ‘Did you see that?’ Then you’d look at it on the TV and it was just a little wiggle. Now with the high definition the things you can see are just incredible. Watching Marquez lose the front, like he did when I was in the commentary box this morning [the interview was conducted after FP1], he lost it twice in one corner… That’s pretty cool. But you do get to see a whole lot more. It’s just the way you ride them these days. Things move on. If I was around today, I’d be riding the same.

Crash.net:
Is commentary something that interests you?

Aaron Slight:
Yeah. I’ve dabbled with it a little before. You can see stuff that people just don’t see. Like I said, a little movement, you know what’s happening. And you can see it unfolding, with what tyre they’ve got on. Sometimes you end up yelling at the commentary on the TV, saying, ‘How did you not see that?’ But that’s the great thing about motorcycling in general, I think. As a rider, everyone has got their own style and their own opinion. So if you’re riding on the street and you pull up, everyone’s got a story. You can’t ‘dis’ the other person’s story because you weren’t there. You’ve all got something to talk about and you all ride differently.

Crash.net:
Did your motorcycle racing career end a bit prematurely? You were hoping to continue into 2001 when the news came that Honda wouldn’t be keeping you on…

Aaron Slight:
If it wasn’t for the surgery, I think I would have had another good couple of years at the top. I think time, age and experience is a bit of a crossover. Around 28 to 30 is good and then you’ve got the experience to carry on. You do stuff like Frankie [Pier Francesco Chili] did, and you just stick around too long. You know, you’re like, ‘Just stay home!’ In a way it was a compulsory way of retiring. I don’t how I would have made the call otherwise. But to finish that was sour at the time. But they had a call to make. There was big factory involvement, and they had to end up winding the thing down. That’s the call they made. I respect that.

Crash.net:
At the Suzuka 8-Hour this year, Katsuyuki Nakasuga won the race for the third year running. The only other rider to have done that is you. I guess that must stand as another career highlight.

Aaron Slight:
Yeah. And [with] three different team-mates. The first one was quite big because it was with Kawasaki. It was the last chance that they could have won it with that prototype F1 bike. It had never won it. And then with different team-mates every year, it was special for me. In ’94 I won it and beat my team-mate [Scott Russell] from the year before and won it by 0.3 of a second. It was the closest finish I think there ever was. That was the first Superbike year [with the RC45]. And now the pussies have three riders, it doesn’t really count! I keep hearing about all these old fellas coming back to ride the 8 Hour. Well, if you only have to do one stint then maybe I should have a go. Do a 30-minute stint and call it a win!

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Very well said about Fogarty. I always thought he behaved like a moron and as said here you can't do that half your life and then expect everyone to forget or forgive just because you have changed your mind.

lots of other good points in the interview too. A good read.

Good read. 

Straight talking and no PR crap. Brilliant. 

Though there isn't much these days that doesn't piss him off ! ☺