I recently sat down for a video chat with Honda Racing UK British Superbike rider Glenn Irwin ahead of the season opener in late June.
Crash.net: Let’s start with the two tests at Silverstone and Snetterton. Obviously Snet wasn’t ideal with the weather, but fastest at Silverstone which must have been pleasing. How are your initial feelings with the bike following those tests?
Glenn Irwin: "First of all it was great to be back out there and be on track with everyone else. It’s where we know where we are as such, providing everybody is working on the same strategies. At Silverstone I feel like we made some really good strides with the bike. We got it to do what I wanted it to do and enable me to ride a Superbike in the correct way, to turn but save the tyre by trying to avoid the edge of the tyre and doing everything we can from a setup point of view to use that part where most of the grip is.
"I think we did really well from a chassis point of view. We had a load of new bits to try. We had electronic strategies that made the bike easier to ride, to turn; which gave us more speed because you’re able to come off the corners a little bit better. So we had that and we also had a new swingarm as well. It’s derived from the standard one. It’s funny because they’re new to developing the standard arm, but I still think there’s strengths from the very first one we got last year which is basically standard. So as much as that was good, it does throw up a headache because there’s strengths from version one and version two.
"If you asked me which one is better I would have to say it might be a track-by-track thing at the minute but it was good to get through a raft of parts. Snetterton was what it was, somewhat of a nothing test. In the few dry laps that we got in session two I felt okay and happy but that’s all I could take away from it and it was an absolute waste of time. You couldn’t read into the bike at all because the grip levels were so poor."
Crash.net: Does it help in a situation like that where testing time was at a premium to have had good recent experience at a track?
Glenn Irwin: "Yeah I guess if it was a track where if things had gone not so well then you would be going ‘we really need to test there’, but also from then I think our rivals have improved and would probably be stronger everywhere we go, so we can’t be complacent and go ‘yeah we’re good there so it doesn’t matter because we won there last year so we’ll win there again’.
"The general setting will probably be similar at that track this year and then improvements we’ve made to other areas of the bike should in theory at Snetterton help minus any curve balls. But we still have so much to get through with chassis components and we’ve got another direction of swingarm to arrive very soon. We won’t get them for Snetterton because that’s our test there gone, but I’m confident in race weekends if we get the weather that we can catch up on what we missed at the test."
Crash.net: With the new parts you mentioned including the swingarms that are yet to be tried, is there anything specific you want to test at Oulton Park?
Glenn Irwin: "So there’s new things that will clearly look different on the bike that I will be trying. I want to test back-to-back two versions of the swingarm. I also want to back-to-back that with another manufacturer's swingarm that will be arriving. There’s a lot of work with that as you need to give each one more than 5-6 laps to get the potential out of it and really know which is the best. There’s also areas to work on like our weaknesses - that of the rider and the bike. Without anti-wheelie in BSB the Hondas struggle a bit in those areas. We have the wings which help on corner entry but perhaps not a massive help on wheelie.
"I’ve had a chat with a couple of the guys and asked to do a load of homework before Oulton to see where I’m wheelieing, when it starts, what RPM, where it is, and then when we arrive we can go out with last year's bike first. It was quite good from a chassis point of view but it was just difficult to ride after 15 laps or so. We could be as fast as anyone over a couple of laps, but that’s not enough to get what we need from race weekends."
Crash.net: With it being your second year at Honda, is there any race track where the new parts or just your familiarity with the bike could help improve compared to last year, and therefore be what you need to fight for the championship until the last race?
Glenn Irwin: "You can also look at it like that but I think it’s important to do that and then look at it more collectively. Last year it was a great season, but then what we do when the time is right is take from that - for example, at Oulton Park we had never been there before the race weekend last year and we went fast in qualifying and thought, ‘okay maybe we’re quick, we’re second on the grid, maybe a quarter of a tenth off pole’, but what we experienced in the races is that it was difficult to sustain this. I feel like I’m one of the fittest guys out there and work really, really hard. But it was hard and I was quite tired.
"So I guess what you take from last year to this year is the likes of tracks where we didn’t win or fight for the podium till the last lap, and know that top fives and six is still okay because you can’t win every week or be on the podium. I think Oulton is one where we have the potential to improve into that next battle. It’s just about going ahead and just pinpointing an area and for me we need to work on wheelie a little bit. That’s the benefit we have for being in year two (with Honda).
"The guys can be well prepared before we go and instead not go there; struggle and think ‘oh no, we’re struggling with wheelie what are we gonna do’. It’s hard when it happens during a race weekend because every level could lead to a panic mode and it’s just what we do as human beings, so having that experience behind us allows us to be fully prepared. But yeah, I need improvements there and at Brands Hatch. I’m also looking forward to the tracks we haven’t been to like Cadwell, Knockhill and Thruxton. Last year had a lot of variables and it changed week-to-week, but if at least two of those tracks could be in our favor then I couldn’t complain too much with that."
Crash.net: New team-mate this season with Takumi Takahashi who brings WorldSBK and Suzuka 8 hours experience. You have the most experience on this bike, but what can he help bring and how can he help with the development do you feel?
Glenn Irwin: "Yeah it’s great having the boys (Takahashi, Mizuno). They’re both riders with a lot of pedigree and Takumi was the lap record holder at Suzuka I think for many years before Jonathan [Rea] perhaps pipped it off him. He’s a phenomenal rider and I don’t believe we saw the best of him in WorldSBK last year. The Moriwaki team has always had a presence in the championship but I can only speak from what I’ve seen and it hasn’t been much more than a presence when you look at results.
"But since he’s come in they’ve both done a great job. Their feedback is very good and both Japanese riders seem to be at one with the bike. We’re also agreeing on strengths and weaknesses which I think is the biggest help and that’s what he can bring to the team. His feedback is something I trust, the engineers trust, and it gives the team a more clear direction or ‘okay both guys or all three guys are saying this, so we’re going to rectify this area’, so yeah he’s been brilliant.
"They both come from totally different racing backgrounds and I would be a fool not to be open-minded and try to extract anything that I can from them. But at the same time I’m really willing to help them. I think most people were wrapped up in their hotels on Wednesday night I think at Snetterton, but we were walking halfway round the track, just trying to help out the boys and we got caught in a hail storm [laughs], so I try to give my help in return and that’s the type of person I am. They seem to be very respectful and we all feel at home as I did last year with my brother, so it’s a good team of people."
Crash.net: You mentioned the Suzuka 8 hours and given you're with Honda which is a team that holds a lot of importance to that race, is that something you have your eyes on and would like to be involved with at some stage?
Glenn Irwin: "I’ve got my own amex card now so if I have to I can book my own travel to Japan [chuckles], but yeah I’m really interested in the Suzuka 8 hours. There’s a bucket list of events with the Bol D’or, Daytona, Isle of Man TT and the Suzuka 8 hours is right up there.
"I think what’s really exciting about it is being with Honda and being I hope long-term here. Hopefully this is something we can build on and if I can get into the Suzuka race in this early part of my career, then maybe one day we can be in one of the best teams.
"There’s a couple of teams that give you the chance to fight for the podium there. I wanted it this year but obviously Covid is still impacting sports around the world. I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen, but I'm very much for it and if I got the opportunity to do it, it’s something I would give my best effort at."