With Pol Espargaro ruled out of this weekend's British Grand Prix, Loris Baz will fill the void at KTM. With replacement riders once again in the MotoGP news, how does it feel to jump onto a MotoGP bike?
“It was like I'd never ridden a motorbike before,” is Leon Camier’s review on his MotoGP debut when he deputized for Nicky Hayden in 2014. With such a steep learning curve, what can you gain by jumping on a MotoGP bike for one weekend? It's a hiding to nothing according to many, but as Camier attests, world class riders can get up to speed quickly.
“It's tough mentally and it was draining to try to learn so much in such a short space of time. Understanding the tires was the biggest thing to learn because the brakes are quite normal; they stop the bike when you pull the lever! The tires take time to get the most out of them. You'll figure out how to get the most from them for one lap pretty quickly, but understanding them for a race takes longer.”
The WorldSBK series may be on its summer hiatus, but there is still plenty of news going on. After the official announcement that Tom Sykes would not be back with the KRT Kawasaki team, it is the turn of the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK squad to make announcements. Today, the team issued a statement saying that current riders Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes will remain with the team for the 2019 season.
Though the announcement did not come as a surprise, it does close the door to Tom Sykes, who had been linked to a possible ride with Pata Yamaha, had either Van der Mark or Lowes moved to the Kawasaki team to replace him. But with Leon Haslam set to take the second seat next to Jonathan Rea, Sykes will have to look elsewhere.
These are the first signs that WorldSBK's silly season is about to accelerate over the summer. There are still a lot of open questions left in the WorldSBK series, and a lot of open seats. Complicating issues is the fact that there could be an influx of riders from the MotoGP series now that rides are all tied up in that championship.
Leon Camier has plenty of experience at Misano. The Red Bull Honda WorldSBK star has ridden at the Italian circuit in Grand Prix and also on a Superbike. He's spent time learning the nuances of the Rimini venue and over that time he's found out one thing: patience is key!
“Misano is a tricky circuit but it's got some interesting quirks,” said Camier. “The opening sector of the lap is very challenging, because if you make a mistake in Turn 1 it affects you for the whole sector. From Turn 1 to Turn 4 it's connected and your speed at the apex of the first corner is the key. You have to carry so much speed through the opening corner but that makes it very easy to run wide and lose time. You have to make sure to get the bike stopped at Turn 1 but you still need to carry massive speed through the corner while not running wide because you need to be in the right place for the entry to Turn 2.
“Carrying so much speed through that corner is exciting but it's also so easy to over cook it. You have to turn the bike on the edge of the tire after you've let off the brake so it's easy to be too hot into that corner. Having a good line through Turn 2 second gear and very important because you carry that speed all the way through to Turn 4. You take a short shift for Turn 3 and carry that speed to Turn 4.”
2017 was a crisis for Honda in WorldSBK, but the future looks much brighter now
If you'd said in November, at the first WorldSBK test of the year, that Honda would have been in the fight for podiums in the early season races you'd have received a lot of puzzled looks. The program struggled through a turbulent 2017 but has come out the other side to an impressive start to the campaign.
In Thailand Leon Camier proved the promise of the season opener in Australia by fighting for the podium. It was a dogged performance by the Englishman, but one that came from realizing the potential of the Fireblade rather than exceeding it.
For Chris Pike, Honda Motor Europe's newly installed Operations Manager for WorldSBK, the early rounds are all about understanding a base level for the team as he settles into his new role. The former engineer has worked in MotoGP, WorldSBK and the Endurance World Championship in recent years and brings with him a vast array of knowledge of skill that he hopes can be translated into his new role.
If the second round of the 2018 WorldSBK season is anything to go by the regulation shake-up could see an absolutely compelling season. Buriram gave plenty to talk about...
No team has undergone more change than Ten Kate Honda this winter. With a new team manager and rider line-up will they have a change of fortunes?
It's hard to imagine a more tumultuous season than the one Ten Kate went through in 2017. On and off the track the team faced incredible challenges. The death of Nicky Hayden robbed the team of their leader and hindered the developed of a troubled bike. They had a season unlike any other and the winter has seen them make drastic changes for the 2018 WorldSBK season.
The introduction of the new Fireblade was supposed to be a game changer rather than a headache. A season that saw a best finish of seventh illustrated the task ahead of the team and wholesale changes have been made for 2018. Kervin Bos has been promoted to team manager, and Leon Camier has been brought in to lead the team as a rider.
For Bos, a long-time Ten Kate employee and former rider, the challenge is huge. The 30 year old replaces Ronald ten Kate, and inevitably with any change of management, the vision and direction of the team also changes.
The start of December marks the beginning of what is rapidly becoming a tradition in the world of motorcycle racing. After the Jerez test in late November, it is now "Why Is Jonathan Rea Faster Than A MotoGP Bike" season. At Jerez, Rea pushed his Kawasaki ZX-10R WorldSBK machine – down 35+ bhp and up 10+ kg – to the fourth fastest overall time of the week, ahead of eleven MotoGP regulars (including two rookies), three MotoGP test riders and Alex Márquez, who the Marc VDS team were using to train up the new crew recruited to look after Tom Luthi's side of the garage while the Swiss rider is still injured.
How is this possible? And what does this mean? Are WorldSBK machines too close to MotoGP bikes? Why are MotoGP manufacturers spending ten times as much to be shown up at a test by Jonathan Rea? And why, for the sake of all that is holy, does Jonathan Rea not have a MotoGP ride?
The answer to all but the last of those questions is buried away in the bigger picture of the laps posted throughout the week. When you examine the numbers, the picture is a lot more complex than the headline times seem to suggest. Tires, temperature, and track all play a part. But all of that can't disguise a rather outsize dose of talent.
When a rider changes team they also face the same question; will I sink or swim? First impressions from riding the Honda are that Camier will be swimming
Leon Camier was the central pin of the 2018 rider market in WorldSBK. The former British champion was sought after having proven his worth as a development rider in turning around the fortunes of MV Agusta. He faces a similar task for next year having joined the unfancied and under performing Honda squad.
First impressions for Camier have left the Englishman confident of a season where he can once again perform above expectations. After three days of winter testing at Jerez Camier enthused his excitement for the year ahead and the possibilities of a bright future for Honda.
“I'm very excited after the test because I wasn't expecting us to be this quick at the first test,” said Camier. “To be straight into the battle with Fores and Van der Mark is very positive for us. We need to make the right changes going forward and put us in the right direction for development for the winter so that we're ready at the next test to keep progressing.