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The Betfair big interview: Leon Haslam

Other RSS / / 26 June 2008 / Leave a Comment

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This week Betfair got our leathers on, and went to speak to Superbikes rider Leon Haslam, son of motorcycle legend 'Rocket' Ron, about the boom in British motor sport at the moment. The 'Pocket Rocket' has got another meeting in the British series at Mallory Park this weekend

So Leon there's Lewis Hamilton in Grand Prix, James Toseland in the MotoGP and you in Superbikes. What effect is that having?

Absolutely brillilant. I don't think English riders or drivers have necessarily ever had the backing they get in the rest of the world so it's terrific to show what can be achieved. I'm especially excited seeing JT doing so well. I remember when he won the British championship in 2003 that was my first year on a Superbike, and I raced against him and beat him on the track and in qualifying. To see what he's achieved since shows it's possible for English riders, and it's a career path I want to follow. He's three or four years older than me so it sets a time frame to aim for.

Do you follow the cars as well as bikes?

Of course. Lewis has been amazing with what he's done for Formula One, and the next step is we need somebody in World Superbikes. Hopefully I can be that person next year. The sport itself is getting bigger and bigger. Eurosport covering it means it will get an even bigger fanbase.

You do a lot of work for the THINK! road safety campaign. Does the extra profile help that?

Definitely. A lot of the instruction at my dad's race school is about safety. Explore your limits, explore the bike on the track, and then that will make you a safer rider on the road and that's what it is all about

So how do you feel about your season so far?

Do you want me to be honest? Crap! We've had a real bad start. The Honda I'm riding is a brand new bike and we've had a few things with it that are not quite there. On top of that I've had a few real bad crashes which has knocked my confidence a little bit. I've had points taken off, mechanical failures, we've been leading most of the races and should have been at least second and ended up fifth through other people's mistakes. We've not been lucky. A lot of little things like that have created a crap season so far

But for all that you aren't a long way off the pace in the title race

Well the bike is good enough, we just need a bit more consistency and a bit more reliability out of it. But we are nearly at the half way point so we do need to turn it around and start getting some wins.

Explain why a brand new bike makes it so difficult.

Well I've never ridden a four cylinder before, I was used to the Ducatti twin, so going on to it I didn't know what I wanted or needed. We've been going on the areas the old bike has been in, and this new one is in a different area. It's also the first time we've been on Pirelli tyres which is a main factor on how the bikes handle. So there are a lot of unknowns and it's been tough.

You're being very honest. We're surprised you say the crashes have dented your confidence because you've been riding bikes since you were five so you must have come off them a good few times before

Yeah, but for the last three years I've been the most consistent rider out of everybody, and in the last two years I only had two crashes in the whole two seasons, and I think I'm on my 12th already this year. The bike itself is a different way of riding so I'm finding out how to ride the bike as well. You are pushing different limits and different styles and when it keeps catching you out it backs you off a bit. When we get the bike right the riding will be better too. It's a catch 22. Everything feels bad at the moment but we are still in the competition so if we can get it right it might not be too late

The safety is fantastic when you are talking about coming off at 170 mph plus. You shouldn't be able to walk after 12 crashes.

The improvements on that are amazing, and to be honest coming off is all part of the sport. That doesn't affect my confidence. What worries me is to feel confident on the bike that I know its potential and limits and I'm still finding those out. If I'd won every race I think I would still feel I didn't know the bike properly.

So it's a big learning curve this year.

I knew it would be hard, but we probably didn't realise how good the Ducatti would be and how far away the Honda would be. But we're still not far away and I'm pretty confident we can get up to second in the championship. The main aim is to win races and that's what I'm there to do. Once we get a good feel of the bike I still believe we can do that. Everyone forgets I've been the number one Brit for the last few years and always been on top form, so this year it has been tough that I'm not winning. I thought myself I would go out and win every race so that's been tough mentally.

Tell us about growing up with bikes, with your Dad who was a legend

Yeah, the relationship which we've got now is so good, we're more like brothers than father and son. From when he was racing to when he came back to England to when I started he never pushed me into racing, it has always been fun, and that's what I need. In riding when it gets all serious and you are pushing for what you know you can achieve then you don't ride your best. It's been great that my Dad and I have been able to go off and whether riding trial bikes or playing golf or whatever it has still been fun

Your life has been the polar opposite of Lewis Hamilton's dad who had no background in the sport at all. You grew up living and breathing it. So has that helped or hindered?

I think it has helped to be fair. At the end of the day no matter who your father is or what they have done you still have to ride the bike. The biggest area he helps in is when you are having a bad time - the reassurance of someone of his experience and his knowledge is immense. He's also considered by most people the best development rider in the world, and to have that in the corner is a huge bonus

So how do you prepare for another race weekend?

That's another major issue this year. I've had such a busy schedule this year and to be honest I've been neglecting my training. I've not been in the gym as often as I'd like, doing the things I would normally do. This last week and a half I've been able to get in the gym, been trialling with my dad, and got back to the stuff I know works. That's basically getting my head in gear. Been at Donnington on Wednesday and just preparing for Sunday

Thanks for your time. We've got a free £50 bet for your favourite charity.

Great - that can go to the Air Ambulance in the Midlands. We've had them on the racecourse a few times and they are the guys who get you where you need to be and save lives. As for the bet let's stick with good times for motor sport - I'll back Lewis Hamilton to win the British Grand Prix at Silverstone next weekend at [3.6].

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