By Christian Tiburtius

Moto2 race winner and rookie World Supersport title runner-up Jules Cluzel is making the step-up to the World Superbike Championship with Fixi Crescent Suzuki this season. caught up with the 24-year-old Frenchman before he heads to Phillip Island in Australia, for the final pre-season tests and then the first round of the year on February 24...
How's the off-season going?

Jules Cluzel:
I'm training hard and I'm flying out to Philip Island on Sunday evening, arriving Tuesday for testing.
Are you feeling nervous?

Jules Cluzel:
About the flight or the race? I don't like flying, but not so much about the race because we've got two days testing on the 14th and 15th and two more days on the 18th and 19th, so I'll be fully ready when the race weekend comes.

I feel more nervous about the flight than the race. Since I started in GP's in 2005 I have always had problems with the flights, but it's my job and I love racing so I would prefer doing that than staying at home!
Taking you back to when you started racing, which riders did you admire?

Jules Cluzel:
I didn't really have any heroes, but for me the great example was Olivier Jacque and I also followed Valentino's career because he was then in 250s. I really enjoyed seeing him on TV.
What did your father say when you told him you wanted to become a motorbike rider?

Jules Cluzel:
My father was very happy because both my parents love motorsports and bike racing. My mother is a go-kart racer and my father competed in motocross and go karts.

So for me when I was young I always wanted to race and my parents were really happy and supportive when I first started bike racing. They've got a motorcycle shop so motorsports is a family business.
Can your mother beat you at go karts?

Jules Cluzel:
We've never raced together, but no way! My girlfriend was a kart racer and she is very close to me when we race together, but with my mother, I'm sure I can beat her. You can't lose to your mother!
How did you first start racing motorcycles?

Jules Cluzel:
In GPs that was in 2006 with Equipe de France and my team-mate was Sylvain Guintoli, it was my first year in GPs. My problem then was that I had no experience. I had only started racing seriously in 2004, did a couple of races in 125GP and in 2006, after not quite two years racing I was in 250 GPs! It was a really quick progression, the pressure was high and it was not easy. I had a lot of crashes and I had to learn in the bigger class, it really wasn't easy.
You had a reputation as a pretty wild racer?

Jules Cluzel:
Yeah, I think I was really fast, but I had no experience. I tried to push really hard but I had no base to work from. So I made a lot of mistakes. Also I don't think I had the bike to win races, there were three levels of Aprilia: Official, LE and Private.

Sylvain had an LE and I had a Private one. Also I sometimes tried to follow him but that meant I was pushing the bike faster than it would go, he had a higher level bike and better experience and it was still only my second year. I tried to follow and pass him but naturally I crashed!

I feel nostalgic for the two stroke motorbikes, they just had a different feeling and they made a beautiful sound which you never heard on a street bike. They just had great character and smell. I am just happy to have raced on those bikes. I don't necessarily prefer two strokes, I would love to race one again, but the future is four strokes.

At the end of my two stroke career, I was just starting to get on with the bike and be fast at every track when I had to change everything again to go on to four strokes.
The Jules Cluzel who was calmly following Sam Lowes in the Silverstone WSS race looked to be a very different rider to the one who crashed in 250 GP's?

Jules Cluzel:
I think my style had changed; I didn't really feel the change because it happened slowly. But everything was starting to feel easier particularly after about four races that year. I don't know why, it's just normal. Once I was making fast laps, it was easier to think about race strategy and just be calm mentally.

At the start of that year, I again had no experience on the bike and everything happened really late, I had only signed with [PTR boss] Simon Buckmaster one week before the first race in Australia and I was back to zero again with the bike, tyre and engine.

Also Simon changed my crew chief to Chris Anderson in Monza. At the beginning Simon didn't think I had a chance of winning the championship, but after three or four races he said that it might be better to have a more experienced crew chief.

Chris helped me a lot, I had a great feeling with my mechanics and crew chief last year. I was just really comfortable and I thought it was possible to get the title - it was a great year. I hope I will be able to feel the same after four races in Superbikes.
How would you compare the Moto2 and World Supersport machines?

Jules Cluzel:
The first thing is the engine, there's more power with the Supersport and secondly the difference in tyre feeling.

It was so much easier to judge the feeling of the Pirelli tyre, you feel the movement and it talks to you. The Dunlop tyre was different, it's stiffer and you can't judge it. With the Dunlop, when you lost it, you lost it.

I just enjoyed the feeling of the Pirelli, it gives you more warning before it did something. I think that's why I was so fast in WSS, it was because the tyre was easy to understand. The WSS bike is just more comfortable.

Another big difference between the two tyres was at the end of the race. With the WSS you really have to save the tyre and you have to work more with a race distance strategy and the electronics
Your move from grand prix to production racing, was that a strategy?

Jules Cluzel:
To keep motivated, I need to find a way of being world champion in the best class I can, I am really happy to be in WSBK this season, but in my mind I am also going to be a MotoGP world champion. So my plan is not to be 10 or 3 times WSS world champion, it's to be the best in the world regardless, just once. If I don't have this kind of belief and ambition, I'll stop racing because otherwise it is difficult to stay motivated.
How do the WSBK and MotoGP paddocks compare?

Jules Cluzel:
I like both, because I am here to work not to party, but I had a really good feeling with the other riders in the WSBK paddock. Everybody says hello and it's very human. Everyone is more friendly in the Superbike paddock. But I don't care, I'm there to win races and both paddocks have great teams.
Why did you leave Moto2?

Jules Cluzel:
Because there were no more opportunities for me there to get paid. The problem at the moment everywhere is funding and I have no money and need to have a pay packet. It just wasn't possible to continue in Moto2 for those reasons and also, why, if you can only finish 13th or 14th?
But you won at Silverstone?

Jules Cluzel:
Yes, I think that is one of my tracks, I won there in Supersport too. It's not my favourite circuit, but maybe it's a good circuit for my style, like Qatar. I do well there, but don't really like it. When I think of Silverstone I have great memories.

My favourite track is probably Monza, it's strange and doesn't look like other circuits, it's beautiful and has really fast corners. On the Supersport on some corners you could be almost full gas. I just like fast corners.

Also it was there where I had my big step forward for my WSS season because of the crew changes Simon made.
What were your impressions of the Fixi Crescent Suzuki?

Jules Cluzel:
It's excellent. I'd never tried a 1000cc bike, it's got a really, really different style and is far more powerful. But as soon as I sat on the bike, I felt very comfortable, but afterwards to be fast it's a different story. You have a lot of work to do, you have to adapt your style and get the hang of the slick tyre. I enjoyed every lap on the bike because I love the power.
How is it going with the team?

Jules Cluzel:
They are very professional. I like working with English people, I like the English style. They are really serious and professional, but when it's time to be friendly, they're that too. I feel this with the team at the moment and this helps me to be really motivated.
Which aspects of the bike will you be working on most in testing?

Jules Cluzel:
For me it's just a question of doing lap after lap after lap, I just need to feel at one with the bike. At the moment the bike feels stronger than me, so I also need to do race distances.

I also need to work on my style because at the moment I've a got too much of a 250GP/Moto2/WSS style with a high corner speed, I need to work on this with my crew chief.

My problem is that I often want to go too fast too quickly and then I lose it, this a real problem and weak point of mine
How about your pit crew?

Jules Cluzel:
I've got a whole new crew, new bike, new championship. I haven't bought anyone with me, but that is probably for the best as everyone is used to working with Paul [Denning - team manager] and know the bike. Les [Pearson - crew chief] is a really great guy and you feel that he has the experience that I need.
Last season it was said that the Yoshimura engine was lacking power?

Jules Cluzel:
Yes, they have worked on the engine and found more power but I have nothing to compare it with. The team looks happy with it though. I'm not really a technical person and can't give a good answer. Having said that I do believe in the team, they are so professional and motivated - and motivated people find solutions. They give me the bike and I ride it.
What kind of results are you expecting?

Jules Cluzel:
I'm not making plans for the first race, I want to take my time. The team isn't putting any pressure on me, they are saying take your time, understand the bike and that's it. But in testing in Spain I was close to some great riders like Leon Haslam or Chaz Davies.

A problem I can have at the beginning is to concentrate too much on the lap times, I need to forget about that and just get some laps done. I just need to feel natural on the bike. Having said that though, I can tell you that I'll be checking the lap times like anyone else!

For me my expectation for the first race is to do my best. Last year in my first race I finished fourth and was angry. This is one of my problems, I finish in a good position but feel frustrated with myself because I could have done better. When I'm angry I just don't race too well.

In World Superbikes the level is very high though and if you make even one mistake you can finish nowhere.
How is it going with Leon Camier?

Jules Cluzel:
We met in London in November. He's a really nice guy, if I ask him something, he always helps me and if he asks anything of me, I'll do the same. He's very friendly and we have compared notes and we are coming from the same place so I'm sure we can work easily together. Leon is also good fun; he's natural and hasn't got a big head.
How do you feel at the beginning of a race?

Jules Cluzel:
I feel nervous, the more nervous I feel, the more I concentrate. I need to feel nervous before a race, you don't feel good, but I have to be like this.
Do you ever think about the danger?

Jules Cluzel:
Yes, I think about it. It's truly difficult to talk about this because people say that you shouldn't, and that if you think about it you have to stop racing. Having said that I think every rider has this in the back of their mind. It's a natural feeling and with 1000cc's the danger is greater, the margin for error is very small
Are you recognised, are you famous?

Jules Cluzel:
My town only has 50,000 people so some recognise me, but outside my city, people may know my name but not my face. Sometimes people say, 'What Cluzel, the racer?' but I don't really mind, it's good to improve the profile of the sport.

In comparison with other French riders, I have a good public awareness, I think the people who do recognise me, like me. In France we don't follow bike racing so much. It's not like England, you are lucky about that. You have a great BSB championship, the races are great, there are a lot of people and everyone is friendly. I told you I love the English style!
But you keep beating English riders?

Jules Cluzel:
Hah, sure!
Thank you Jules, and good luck.

Jules Cluzel:
No problem.