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, 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?

Leon Haslam
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?

Leon Haslam:
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?

Leon Haslam:
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?

Leon Haslam:
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?

Leon Haslam:
The bike is new, but when Ten Kate first made the move from Supersports to Superbike, they finished second with Chris Vermeulen. At the end of the day, you gather data over the years in whatever class it is and with the staff that we have, they have brought a lot of information from other teams. I am feeling confident, because I have knowledge of around 80 per cent of the tracks.
How confident are you that you can challenge the factory Ten Kate Honda riders?

Leon Haslam:
As a rider, first and foremost, you want to win. The whole team wants to achieve that, but on the side of that you want to be the first Brit, beat your team-mate and be the best of whatever manufacturer you are riding for. I want to beat Ten Kate and be the first Honda, as well as the first Brit. If I can achieve those two things, then we can probably be inside the top three. For the first year, with a brand new team, I will be over the moon with that. They are your own little challenges and goals, but Stiggy as a team has the same aims. They want to be the top Honda and beat the official team, so to have that behind you and a nice, calm atmosphere, it is really good.
Do you get the impression that Honda would prefer it if one of the Ten Kate riders win and therefore send more development parts there way?

Leon Haslam:
Not at all. I know how Honda works. I was with HM Plant and they got more equipment than Ten Kate got. The way the Honda is going in World Superbikes, it is a pretty open book on that front. A lot of the work Ten Kate do, they do themselves. There aren't many 'special' parts around these days and the ones that are around are available to all of the teams, so I am not worried on that front. Anything that they have got that works, it comes down to experience.
How concerned are you about some of the unknown circuits, such as Miller Motorsports Park? Will you approach those weekends differently?

Leon Haslam:
There are three that I haven't encountered before. I have not done Miller, Nurburgring or Misano. I have had some of my best results at tracks I have not visited before, while there are going to be several riders who haven't been there before either, like Byrne and Sykes. All of the top runners, such as Corser, Biaggi and Haga, they are all on different machines, so while they may know the circuits, they have to set the bike up for that track. It is going to be a mega exciting year because all of the riders you would put your money on are on different bikes. In my opinion, the only competitive riders that have stayed on the same bike are Checa and Kiyonari, but for whatever reason they have not been topping the timesheets recently, so that is a good benchmark to where they are and where we should be.
How do you feel going into this season, compared to when you last raced in WSBK?

Leon Haslam:
I first came to World Superbikes in 2004 and it was my first season on Superbikes. It was a massive eye opener! I was team-mate to Noriyuki Haga, who was challenging for the championship, and I managed to get a podium, but I also got injured and missed the second half of the season with a broken wrist. It was a tough blending year on a Superbike, but I loved every moment of it. I grew up on the European tracks, so I am looking forward to getting back on that scene and returning to circuits where you can really battle and overtake on.
Where do you expect to be during the first round in Australia?

Leon Haslam:
Phillip Island is one of my favourite circuits. This will be the fifth time I have raced in Australia, which is more than some English circuits! We had the one test in Portugal, which wasn't the best of weather, so we lacked a bit of track time, but luckily we will be testing there for two days prior to that. If the test in Australia goes well and we have the bike 80 to 90 per cent complete, I am confident we can be pushing for top fives and podiums on the race weekend.
What exactly would have liked to have achieved by the end of the season?
Leon Haslam:
If I can be the first Brit and the first Honda, then that will be my number one priority. If I can achieve that with the competition of Shane, Tom and Jonathan Rea, then they are all guys who can be top three or five. If I beat them, then I know I will be in that area too. That will be perfect for the first year with a new team and I'd definitely look forward to the next season when I try to win it.
Did you expect to be graduating to World Superbikes so soon after joining Honda?

Leon Haslam:
The last three years I have been promised by GSE, Ducati and HM Plant Honda that they would make the move, but each year it hasn't happened. When I signed to Honda, I told them I want to be with them but I was told they would progress to World Superbikes too. It was exactly the same as what happened with GSE and, for whatever reason, it didn't happen. I'd have loved to have moved with GSE or HM Plant over the last two or three years, but it didn't happen. I am really happy now that I have made the move, especially with the way the World Superbike Championship has gone. It is always something that I wanted to do, knowing that I could be competitive. I did at race at Donington and Portugal, and in all the races I was battling for podiums, so I know I can make an impression on the championship.
There is an influx of British riders entering WSBK this season - do you think this is the start of a golden era for Britain?

Leon Haslam:
Definitely. It was a real shame last year that there were no Brits in World Superbikes, particularly considering the calibre of the young British riders coming up now. James has done us proud out there, but with him moving on, either myself, or Shane, or Johnny should have been moving up into his shoes. Now though, it is looking like World Superbikes is stronger than it has ever been; Five Brits in Superbike and two in Supersport, it is looking like it will be one of the best seasons yet from a British point of view.
With yourself, Shane Byrne and Tom Sykes coming directly from the British Championship, how pleased are you to see the series getting recognition on the world stage?

Leon Haslam:
The way the climate is, it is tough in racing at the moment, so it is great that the British Championship has all the teams there still. It is a shame Ducati have left but we have a factory Yamaha there, as well as Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki... The British Championship is strong and I think it is the best domestic championship in the world, although it is really hard to progress from there. It has been a good few years racing at home, but I want to become world champion. If you run at the front in Britain, then you know you are going to be competitive elsewhere. It is a very tough championship and the likes of Lavilla and Kiyonari have already proven themselves at world level. It just shows how competitive the championship is.
Finally, looking ahead to the 2009 British Superbike Championship, what are your predictions for the coming season?

Leon Haslam:
Karl Harris is going to be a dark horse and I think he is going to be one for the championship. He's got the talent, although he's had a couple of bad seasons. I know he has been working hard in the gym, while the Hydrex team are a good one, so I think he is going to be competitive. Glen Richards will be [competitive] too. He has stepped into my side of the garage and I know the guys and the structure... the support might not be what it has been in the British Championship for the last couple of years, but they do run a good team and Glen has proven himself in Supersport and Superstock to be a class act. GSE run a good package, so I expect it to be between Yamaha and Honda, but I think Karl Harris will be in the mix too.



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