Former World Superbike Champion James Toseland says he is confident Sylvain Barrier will be the rider to beat in the inaugural EVO class ahead of the season opener at Phillip Island.
The Frenchman, who last season became the first rider to win back-to-back Superstock 1000 titles since James Ellison in 2001 graduates to WSBK in 2014 with BMW Italia,marking his maiden full-time foray to the premier class.
Set to lock horns once more with Superstock rivals Niccolo Canepa and Jeremy Guarnoni, as well experienced racers like Michel Fabrizio and David Salom, Barrier comes to World Superbikes having established a keen bond with Toseland following the two-time title winner's injury-induced retirement from the sport in 2011.
Indeed, with Barrier having credited Toseland's training and advice as pivotal to his emergence as a dominant force at Superstock level, the Briton is convince Barrier is now a firm favourite to triumph in the new Superbike sub-category with 'Espargaro-like' style.
“I can see him winning every EVO race with BMW,” he told Crash.net
. “The championship shouldn't be a problem for him. What I would love to see is a bit of an 'Espargaro situation', where he is finishing in whatever position in Superbikes and winning the EVO class, then when Superbike goes to EVO in 2015, he will be one of the top riders for teams. That's my plan for him and I'm sure he is more than capable of that.”
Explaining the decision to take Barrier 'under his wing', Toseland says he is pleased to have contributed to nurturing Barrier into a honed competitor.
“I was in Superbikes with BMW and he was in Superstock, but he was finishing maybe fifth and sixth with the odd podium, but he such a cheeky French chappy who likes his cheese, his bread, his red wine and his women, that he was a little bit out of shape. When I retired he came up to me and said he was a fan of mine, but he said he didn't have much clue about training and would I help him out.
“So he flew over and I looked after him for two or three weeks at my house. Every day we did something and I realised the kid was keen. He came out [in 2012], won the first two races by miles after training through the winter, but at Monza he crashed on an in-lap and dislocated his shoulder badly. In hospital he had the time to reflect on things and realised he'd done a few things wrong.
“I just showed him how I did it and I'm not saying it was right, but from that point on he has been spot on. Each session, always concentrating. He won the championship that year and then last year.”
Indeed, Barrier will run with Toseland's recognisable '52' plate in 2014 in deference of his mentor, an honour the 2004 and 2007 champion is proud to see return.
“He asked me if I minded using his number. He's done himself proud and he's done me proud. All I've shown him is what I did, but it is him that has kept it up and done it.”
Toseland will have a presence in the MotoGP paddock this year after being announced as part of BT Sport's team
for the its all-new MotoGP coverage.