Leon Haslam reflects on his dramatic near-misses on the Bennetts British Superbike title, why 2018 is his year plus his hotly-anticipated return to the World Superbike championship at Kawasaki alongside Jonathan Rea.

The JG Speedfit Kawasaki rider currently holds an 82-point lead in the BSB championship with just two rounds remaining before the Showdown comes into play. Heading to Cadwell Park, a circuit Haslam has dominated at in his BSB career, he has a key opportunity to break his championship hoodoo.

So at the moment with an 82 point lead in the BSB championship things have to be looking quite sweet?

Leon Haslam: Obviously with Shakey having been out since round 3 and we’ve won 7 of the 14 rounds things are looking good [Byrne suffered neck and spine injuries at a Snetterton test in May]. More than that I’ve managed to get wins at circuits where I’ve struggled in the past and my win at Thruxton meant that I ticked the box showing that I’ve won at every circuit – you could say so far so good.

Apart from that it’s been a busy year with me doing the Suzuka 8 hour and some WorldSBK rounds with all the associated testing so now just having the business end of the BSB season ahead of me means that I can focus there.

But you’ve got to be feeling more relaxed about the end of the BSB season than you have done in the past?

LH: But the 82 point lead I’ve got at the moment is really irrelevant because it all gets put back to 0 for the shootout – it’s all about the podium credits.

Last year I went into the last round with a 34-point lead and we had a disaster with the bike so we’ve got to keep our heads down. We can’t make assumptions. The idea is to go into the Showdown with as many podium credits as possible after a strong Assen and Oulton Park and see where we are then.

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Where is the Kawasaki strong?

LH: Just look at the places where everyone on Kawasakis do well, places like Knockhill which is a stop-start undulating circuit where the bike can use its strength on brakes. Kawasaki dominate the podium there every year.

Other circuits like Brands Hatch GP are more of a Yamaha/Ducati kind of circuit with longer flowing corners.

The good thing for me is that I think my win rate at Oulton Park is more or less 90% and that’s a Showdown circuit. I seem to win every year at Assen and this year at Brands we’re a lot closer to the Yamahas and Ducatis because we’ve made some good changes on the bike to bridge the gap on certain circuits. So even if it does go down to a last round decider we’ve got a package we can fight with and that for me is exciting.

We’re in the great position of looking for wins everywhere and we just need to go into the championship proper with as many podium credits as possible.

So I guess the BSB shootout formula isn’t too popular with you this season?

LH: It’s not going to be nice giving away an 80-plus lead but I’ve been on the receiving end of it too. Back in 2006 I might have been champion if there’d been a Showdown and if we hadn’t had the system in 2016 it could have gone my way too. It works both ways and it’s the same for everyone.

Given your years in BSB, surely this has to be serious unfinished business?

LH: Yes, but I go for championships every year. I moved to world championships early so was away from the UK for nine years or so but the time we have raced here we’ve come close numerous times and sometimes I felt that we really should have won it if it weren’t for a bit of bad luck. So yes the aim to tick the BSB box is very strong this year.

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You’ve got many years of experience in BSB – how hot does the competition feel this year?

LH: BSB is always super competitive and all the guys who come back from world level and then struggle proves that. To be fighting at the sharp end of BSB is always nice and show off your talents particularly when you consider how many nationalities take part. When you win in BSB it really means something.

But would it be nice to also beat Shakey for the title?

LH: Obviously all you can do is race the opposition you’ve got. But I’ve raced him a couple of years on the world stage and plenty in the UK and we’ve beaten him on the Ducati and on the Kawasaki he just pipped us at the last round. We actually scored more points than him but only lost because of the Showdown format and last year again we went into the final round with a big points lead and couldn’t put it to bed.

Both of those situations were out of my hands but we were easily there. Shakey’s a great competitor but it’s not like we haven’t beaten him. I really respect him as a rider and we’ve had some great battles together so it would be great for everyone if he can just get over his injuries and come back.

How is your fitness going into the Showdown?

LH: I’ve collected a lot of injuries over the years but I’m working with a good team of people. In my crash at the end of last year I snapped all the ligament in my tibia so I’ve had quite an extensive operation to have that screwed together so I’ve got some metal work for that in there and I’m hoping to have that removed this winter. I still haven’t got a full range of movement in the ankle but it’s not stopping me riding, as it stands I’m fit to finish the season.

Do you still have the rod in your leg bone from the bad break you had in your Pata Honda days?

LH: No I’ve had all that metal work removed – obviously that was the sixth time I broke that leg so I needed that rod because I’d also had a lot of soft tissue damage as well as the tibia break.

I’ve had the femur break which needed external fixation, the other tibia and femur I’ve broken twice. I’m quite a frequent visitor to the leg break clinic and I try to get the metal work out as soon as possible because it’s never good if you crash again with all that stuff in there. Unfortunately, the name of the game is getting back quickly after injuries.

Turning to next year, short of a Repsol Honda MotoGP ride, is the factory Kawasaki WorldBK one of the most coveted in bike racing?

LH: Yes, for sure. When I left the world championship in 2015 I remember winning the last race of the year and feeling so frustrated that I couldn’t continue in that championship on a bike I could win on with only the Kawasaki and Ducati being able to do well, so it was that that made me come back to the UK.

I’ve had chances to go back every year with a satellite ride but the right bike just wasn’t there. It’s the same with MotoGP, I wouldn’t go back there unless I could get a bike that could finish top 10 and with WorldSBK I needed a top five ride.

I have made my peace with that situation so when the chance came up to be the official Kawasaki rider it was a no brainer.

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So you had options after Aprilia?

LH: Oh sure but only on bikes that weren’t going to win anything so when I came back to the UK it was to be on a competitive bike. I made that clear to the people at Kawasaki and the teams I helped out in the world championship when I did the wildcard that even though they wanted me to be there with them, my desire was to do what Kawasaki wanted me to do but also be on something competitive.

That’s why I spent some time working with them in Japan, I did a race in the Japanese championship for them, testing for the Suzuka 8 Hours for the last three years and also had some involvement in development. I think it’s that contact and work I did for them that gave me the shove to be their official rider in WorldSBK.

Who is your contract with at the moment?

LH: My contract for the last three years has been with Kawasaki directly. When I ride in Japan it’s with Kawasaki Japan and in BSB its Kawasaki UK. My BSB team is actually owned by Pete Extance of Bournemouth Kawasaki and he employs Luke [Mossey, Haslam’s team-mate] as a rider whereas I’m employed by Kawasaki themselves.

It sounds like you’re well managed, how does that work?

LH: Well I’ve had a manager for a fair few years now but I do a lot of the negotiations myself now. I’ve had plenty of years in the game. I just interacted directly with them and because I’m already in the Kawasaki family it was really just internal negotiations.

I always made my feeling clear to them that if the opportunity did arise then I’d be more than interested so it was really just a question of working within the company.

How long ago was that decided?

LH: There were talks from the middle of the season but it’s not something which happens just like that because they had previous riders and also many other riders that wanted that role. In the end it wasn’t me pushing for it, they presented the chance to me.

Guessing that it’s not a one year learning and the next year results contract, there’ll be pressure from the start?

LH: They’re expecting me to go for wins from the start, they don’t employ riders not to win races and I’ve now got the bike and team to do that. There’s still going to be a lot of learning to do getting used to the higher electronic level and the new team. But from my side there are no excuses.

Also I’ll be in full competition with Jonathan [Rea] who’s just taken his fourth title in a row and is breaking all the records so even though I know it’s my best chance at the title I’ll be up against someone who’s absolutely on the crest of the wave.

Yes, JR is in truly frightening form at the moment…

LH: It’s the best I’ve seen him go and I’ve been going against him since 2004 I think. We’ve had some great battles and also get on extremely well. We used to motocross together and we’re good friends, there’ll be no problems there.

Tom Sykes had a pretty slick organisation going there with Marcel Duinker his crew chief, are you going to pretty much parachute into that situation or are you putting together a new crew?

LH: I believe that I’m moving directly into his side and working with Marcel. There will be some mechanic moves but I should just be taking over that situation.  I’ve worked with Marcel and Pere Riba in Japan and got on great. Working with people like that means the potential is so high and makes the season really exciting.

What length of contract do you have?

LH: It’s a one-year plus option for a second year but so many things have to fall into place for the option to become active but if I do my job on this bike, I should be winning.

The Haslam racing effort is very much a family concern, do your family welcome getting back into the globetrotting lifestyle?

LH: Well, it’s my job and we did a lot of travelling together in the past but now with the kids in school I’m going to have to play it by ear. Even though I’m currently racing in the UK, I’ve really been so busy with 20 races a year, Suzuka and WorldSBK duties. If I race in the UK there are also more sponsors duties to take care of which is a lot less on the world stage. In WorldSBK I just need to do the races.

I’m hoping the family will be able to come to as many rounds as possible because a rider’s duties now are all year and if you didn’t take those kind of opportunities you’d probably never see them.

Thanks for the chat Leon.

LH: That’s fine, no worries.