Haslam targets fitness and fine-tuning for 2014
— Q&A with Pata Honda World Superbike rider Leon Haslam
Leon Haslam’s return to the Honda fold with the Pata Honda World Superbike team for 2013 was a reunion between two racing families steeped in world championship racing. A 30-year Honda-Haslam partnership that began with Leon’s father Ron racing on Honda GP machinery was renewed.
However, by round three of this year’s World Superbike championship, Haslam’s season was in tatters thanks to a double-break of his left leg sustained in a practice crash at a wet Assen circuit in The Netherlands.
After an air-ambulance flight back to the UK the following day, Haslam’s leg was pinned rather than plated to hasten his return to racing, which took place just four weeks later during practice and qualifying for his home race at Donington Park.
Apart from the racer’s instinct, the philosophy behind the rapid return to action was an urge to continue development of a new electronics package for 2013 that was being used on the Pata Honda CB1000RR Fireblades.
Haslam’s injuries actually prevented him from racing on that Donington weekend, and he struggled at the following round in Portugal. But, by the end of June the 30-year-old from Derbyshire in the UK was scoring top ten finishes and spent the rest of the World Superbike season combining recovery with racing.
Q: You must have known, when you broke your leg at round three this year, that 2013 wasn’t going to be your season. How did you get motivated to return to the team so quickly?
A: Yes, after braking my leg I was keen to bounce back as quickly as possible as I have always be able to overcome all the injuries I have had in the past. But honestly this has been by far the worse injury I’ve had, not so much with the break of the bones, but with all the soft-tissue damage and the lack of power that I had in the leg.
Q: How difficult has it been combining your rehabilitation with racing every other weekend?
A: It has been really hard to mix racing with the recovery as my injury definitely had an effect on how I was able to ride the bike. It’s been made a bit more difficult because this year was more about learning about the new components that were being used on the bike and gathering as much data as possible.
Q: How much more medical work and training will you need before you’re back to 100% fitness?
A: My injury right now is on the mend and I have recently had another operation. I’ve had some work done on my knee and some of the screws in the leg that were holding the pin in place have been removed. I’ll be working really hard with my trainer Kirk Gibbons through the winter and aim to be fully fit for the start of next season in Australia.
Q: Honda’s CBR came into 2013 with some major changes and an intense development schedule. How has your injury affected that development?
Yes, this year has been quite a learning curve from a technical side as we received a totally new electronics package before the season began. Without much testing time and with braking my leg, it has been very difficult to stabilise and set the new system. But I really feel that, with a full winter of testing, we can achieve everything we need to so that we can run at the front again with the new CBR.
Q: How different is the bike now, compared to the way it started the 2013 season?
A: The bike right now is actually quite similar to the start, but we have a lot more information on how to run this electronics system and we now can put that in place for the winter tests. I’m confident that that will allow us to maximise the package and attack next season in the way we wanted to attack 2013.
Q: Your father Ron spends a lot of time watching you out on track. What does he see that doesn’t show up on the data?
A: My father gets to watch a lot on track which gives a lot of good information for the team. It lets us see not just what we’re doing but how our package compares to what the other machines are doing. His feedback also allows us to visualise our problems on a screen and the key area is to overlay that with the data and then make whatever changes are needed to the machine.
Q: What are the main areas of the bike that you plan and your crew to work on during the winter testing schedule?
A: The key area of focus is still to the get the electronics to work in a stable and correct way. The CBR’s chassis and engine are more than capable of winning races so I think it’s just a question of fine-tuning everything to work better together so that we can be winning races again.
Q: Your return to Honda was a very positive start to 2013. What positives can you take into 2014?
A: My first priority is to get properly fit and really concentrate on these upcoming tests to create a stable working machine. Hopefully that will give us a really fresh start to 2014 because I still feel very confident that we can be at the pointy end where we belong