With MotoGP due to head to Assen in just over a week, here's a taster from the World Superbike round back in April. Friend of MotoMatters.com Michel Hulshof of Sports Photography used his expert local knowledge to grab some beautiful shots from the two WSBK races. Michel grew up just a stone's throw away from the iconic Dutch circuit, and it shows. You can see more of his work on his website, or you can follow him on Twitter, under the user name @ProNikon.
In the run up to the 2010 US World Superbike round in Utah, Miller Motorsports Park has been organizing a series of telephone press conferences with riders participating in the World Superbike and World Supersport series this season. Yesterday, it was the turn of Alstare Suzuki's Leon Haslam, son of Rocket Ron and current championship leader after the first two races at Phillip Island. Haslam is always an interesting interview subject, as the excellent interview which Jim Race of MotoGPOD did a couple of weeks' ago proved, and Tuesday's conference was no exception. Among the subjects Haslam touches upon are how he got into roadracing; the benefits of riding a range of machinery before landing a factory ride; the relative merits of good rides in Moto2, MotoGP and World Superbikes; and last but not least the quality of Virgin Airlines complimentary pyjamas. Find out all about it in the transcript below:
Moderator: Good morning, everybody. I am John Gardner, the Media Manager at Miller Motorsports Park. And this is our third teleconference with participants in the HANNspree Superbike World Championship leading up to the Utah USA round, which will be held at Miller Motorsports Park over Memorial Day weekend, May 29th to the 31st. Our guest today is Leon Haslam, who rides the No. 91 Suzuki GSX R-1000 for Alstare Suzuki. He is currently leading the championship, having come out of the first round at Phillip Island, Australia with a win and a second place. We're happy to have you here. Welcome, Leon.
Leon Haslam: Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me.
Moderator: So, here you are leading the World Championship. Tell us how it came to be that you're riding for Alstare Suzuki this year.
Just how big is the British invasion of the World Superbike series? It's easy to overlook just how many British riders are on the provisional World Superbike and World Supersport grid, but sit down and count them and you see 7 Brits in WSBK out of 26 entries - that's over a quarter of all riders. Exactly how much of a factor they are going to be is obvious from the video below, which was made during a Motorcycle News photoshoot, and filmed by Redwing Media, the press agency for Honda in the World Superbike series: 6 of the 14 factory riders are from Britain, with only Shakey Byrne forced to look to a private - though heavily supported - Ducati ride.
Testing concluded at Valencia for the World Superbike riders today, and it was Max Biaggi who finished the test on top of the timesheets. Biaggi broke Noriyuki Haga's existing lap record by some eight tenths of a second on his final lap of the test, before climbing off the bike and heading off to the airport to fly back home. Biaggi finished ahead of yesterday's fastest man Leon Haslam, the young Briton confirming his excellent pace on the Alstare Suzuki. Third fastest was Sterilgarda Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow, just a tenth off Haslam's time. The reigning World Supersport champion has taken no time at all to adapt to the World Superbike machines, and continues to be very quick.
Alstare Suzuki's Leon Haslam was the fastest of the World Superbike paddock on the first day of testing at Valencia. The young Briton was quickly up to speed on the new Suzuki GSX-R1000, taking two tenths of a second off Noriyuki Haga's race lap record at Valencia. That was exactly the same margin by which Haslam was faster than Max Biaggi, the Aprilia rider continuing his development of the RSV4, the bike continuing to show potential.
Leon Haslam, speaking to Tony Carter on the Eurosport coverage of the first race of the Oulton BSB round, has confirmed one of the worst-held secrets of the World Superbike silly season, namely that he'll moving over to the factory Alstare Suzuki team in 2010. Haslam didn't speculate on who might be his teammate, claiming that he has no knowledge of who it would be. Recent rampant speculation has placed current Alstare rider Max Neukirchner at odds with team owner Frankie Batta, with the German touted to leave the team and sign with Ten Kate Honda. The Haslam signing also suggests that long-time Suzuki favorite, Yukio "Crash" Kagayama, will not return to the Alstare team. Kagayama, who hasn't had a win since 2006, is widely tipped to return to the BSB.
Astare Suzuki, on a post on the team's website, has expressed surprise that Max Neukirchner, who incurred grave injuries to his back at the mid-summer Imola WSBK test, would be available for the apres-season test at Portimao, Portugal. Citing a recent physical exam at Imola, the team claims that "...doctors Costa, Corbascio and neuro-surgeon Professor Bollini all declared that they would not take responsibility for allowing Max to ride a bike again this year. "
The usually well informed Italian site GPone.com is reporting that Stiggy Honda will release rising British star Leon Haslam from whatever contractual relationship they have with the Pocket Rocket immediately after the final round at Portimao. It has been widely rumored for weeks that Haslam will sign (if he hasn't already) with Frankie Batta's Alstare Suzuki team. This release would allow Haslam to test with the team immediately following the Portugese round. Stiggy, whose financial problems have forced the team to cut their involvement in WSBK and WSS to one rider per series for the last three races of 2009 and forced a dissolution of their partnership with S2 Racing, will reportedly divulge which direction the team will take in 2010 at Portimao.
Motorcycle racers, journalists and fans tend to talk about the sport in terms of a physical struggle. Riders and teams are always fighting or battling for the lead, championship or what have you. To be sure, there are parallells between the sweet science and racing; fighters and racers both spend endless hours training to be in top condition and both have to ply their trade hurting as often as not. Strategy is important too, as the combatants look to defend their position or deliver a knock-out blow that will defeat their opponent. The two men that are left in the ring in the 2009 World Superbike series championship, Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga, came into the next to last round at Magny Cours, nearly too close to call on points, each looking for the advantage that would KO their rival or serve to let them live to fight another day.
Race 1: Don't Look Back, Something Might be Gaining on You