Team Honda’s Paul Free on season 2014 – Images by Russell Colvin, Keith Muir and Trevor Hedge

Team Honda Racing Manager Paul Free talks to Trevor Hedge about season 2014, and the relative strengths of the four riders that made up Team Honda Racing in 2014; Josh Hook and Honda’s long term plans for him in Japan, Troy Herfoss , Jamie Stauffer and the 2014 Swann Australasian Superbike Champion Wayne Maxwell.

Trevor: Season 2014, Paul, it must have surpassed your expectations, any realistic expectations by far.

Paul: “Yeah, it did, absolutely, Trev. To start off with only two contracted riders and then that expanding to three with Wayne, after the fallout with Team Suzuki pulling the pin, and then to moving along with Troy… We always had a plan to support Troy in some way, but just not anywhere near the level that we did, but, geez, it worked out well and all four of them there flying the flag, all equally competitive and winning the races that day, it was brilliant.”

Trevor: And with four riders, that’s a lot of egos and these boys, they’re competitive to the nth degree, but it was a relatively harmonious pit box; they get on relatively well, but once they’re on track, they all want to win, was it hard work at times managing that?

Paul: “I can honestly say it was pretty easy. Yes, there is some big egos in amongst those guys, but they all have respect for each other in that sense, we had a good talk at the start of the year, I had a good talk to them all and told them where it was at, how it was going to be and from my point and an honest point of view, we didn’t really care who won, as long as one of our guys won and that no one was on the ground because of one of your teammates. So they all respected that and did a great job and I said to them, “You’re going to have to pass each other in races and you’ve just got to do it clean, I don’t care how hard you pass the opposition, but just pass your teammates clean,” and they did that and did a good job of it.”

Trevor: And to go through the four riders; Hook, he obviously had a fantastic start to the season at Phillip Island World Superbike, then in the last race he had that big off, it pretty much took him half the season to get fully back to speed again.

Paul: “Yeah, he just missed the first round of ASC at Wakefield Park and then he was back on the bike testing for Mallala. And yeah, you’re right, it did take him a few events to find his feet again and get back on terms, but yeah, once he did, he was away.”

Trevor: And Josh Hook is of course off to Japanese Superbike next year, a couple of guys from the FCC TSR Team spent the final round of the AC FX with you guys down in Sydney, getting to know Hook a little bit better. Hook went over there later in the season, an 8th and a 9th at I think it was a wet event there towards the end of their Japanese Superbike season. So exciting times for Josh next year. What’s his and your realistic expectations for his progress there next year?

Paul: “The Japanese have obviously got a hell of a lot of respect for the kid’s ability, as we do, and they’ve recognized him as a real talent for the future at GP level, so yeah, they’re happy to invest time and money into him to develop him to the next level. So yeah, that’s pretty exciting, I said to Glyn (Griffiths) from Honda just the other day, “Josh, young Hooky, would be I would say our best, the best result we’ve ever got if you like from Honda Australia and our relationship with Honda Japan, in regards to moving him out from here, from our team here into something real special and he is going to something real special.”

Trevor: And your take on Hooky, what’s his biggest strength?

Paul: “His sheer determination and just his natural ability to ride a motorcycle real fast. The motorcycle doesn’t have to be perfect for Josh to be right at the front and winning races. And he’s got just a determination to get to the front like I’ve never seen.”

Trevor: And what’s his area where he could probably perhaps most improve in your view?

Paul: “Talking to the Japanese, on a positive side they said that his throttle control from their data, comparing his data to the likes of Jonny Rae and also the Japanese riders that they’ve had of late on that bike, on the CBR 1000 in Japan, they said his throttle control, he’s as good or better than any rider they’ve had, which is pretty special I would have thought.  An area that they say that he really needs to improve is on the brakes and on corner entry. They think he can really pick up a lot of speed there. They obviously understand their bike and their data very, very well, and their riders, and know what to look for, so their plan with him, and this is where it’s taken a little bit of time to get everything across the line and get it underway, they say that needs to have a lot of time on a motorcycle to develop those skills and further develop him as a motorcycle racer. So they’ve got the OK and the budget to do that now, and their plan is just to get him on a motorcycle as often as possible.”

Trevor: Moving through the rest of your line-up, we’ll ask the same question, what’s Troy Herfoss’s biggest strength?

Paul: “I would say once again probably his natural ability. It doesn’t matter, if it’s got two wheels, he’ll ride it to the limit, whether it’s a bicycle or motorcycle, road bike, dirt bike, whatever, he seems to have a fantastic feel and ability to take that motorcycle to the absolute limit. He’s an incredibly fit guy and I think that goes a long way towards helping him mentally and physically with his racing, riding, whatever.”

Trevor: And where’s his area for improvement?

Paul: “I think because we don’t do a massive amount of racing here in Australia, I think one area where we could improve any of our riders in Australia is to have them on a motorcycle more often. So yeah, I think if Troy just has the time and the available bike to do more laps and turn more laps, he’ll just develop real fast.”

Trevor: And Jamie Stauffer? Again, his most positive attribute and perhaps where he can improve?

Paul: “Jamie once again, I’m pretty lucky, it sounds like all my riders are naturally talented, but Jamie is one of those guys, we call him the “Ice Man”, because he just never looks like he’s trying hard and some people have even criticised that he doesn’t look like he’s trying at all. But that’s just Jamie and that’s just the way he rides and approaches his racing. But yeah, just so, so naturally talented and I think once again more bike time will help him shine.

Trevor: And talking about bike time, Wayne Maxwell bought the title home for you this year. Of course he gets a huge amount of track time, through his work with Champions Ride Days, so perhaps that sort of helps give him that little edge but again, what’s Wayne’s perhaps most positive attribute and somewhere where he perhaps could improve?

Paul: “It’s a difficult one, Wayne does get a lot of track time and I think that’s obvious, I think that he can hop on his race bike at a test or a practice or at the race event and within two or three laps he’s going within tenths of his fastest lap for the whole weekend. So that track time he gets, also overseas (Wayne tested and rode some World Endurance events with YART this year), helps him out a lot. He’s a very determined character, Wayne, puts the hard passes in and he’s extremely, extremely smooth on the throttle, like he doesn’t turn the throttle, he just squeezes it and he can get the best out of a motorcycle that way, when the other guys are complaining about grip, Wayne’s not complaining about grip. So yeah, he’s got a lot of strengths, Wayne, and all the best to him with his new adventure.”

Trevor: And with his move to Yamaha in 2015, I believe you expected him to be on a Honda for 2015, but that hasn’t come about, has that been an amicable separation in some ways?

Paul: “Yeah, absolutely. We sat down with Wayne, myself and Glyn (Honda Australia Motorsport) over breakfast just the other Friday where we learnt that Wayne was going to shift to Yamaha. You know, every rider has his dreams of what he wants to do and Wayne has aspirations of doing more riding and racing over in Japan and in Europe, Yamaha could offer him those opportunities where just at the moment we couldn’t. We could definitely organise something for Wayne at the Suzuka 8 Hours, but that was about the limit of what we could do. So yeah, like I said, that’s what he wants to do and we’ve got no problems with that.”

In part two we talk further with Paul but change tack and look forward to season 2015 and Team Honda’s plans for the new year, disparities in the regulations between ASC-FX and ASBK, and the budgets required to go racing.  Stay tuned for more…

Team Honda 2014
Team Honda 2014
Paul Free with Jamie Stauffer
Paul Free with Jamie Stauffer
Paul Free pictured centre between Wayne Maxwell  and Jamie Stauffer
Paul Free pictured centre between Wayne Maxwell and Jamie Stauffer
Paul Free with 2014 Swann Australasian Superbike Champion Wayne Maxwell at Eastern Creek
Paul Free with 2014 Swann Australasian Superbike Champion Wayne Maxwell at Eastern Creek
Paul Free with Troy Herfoss
Paul Free with Troy Herfoss
Wayne Maxwell's Swann Australasian FX Superbike Championship winning Honda CBR1000RR SP Fireblade
Wayne Maxwell’s Swann Australasian FX Superbike Championship winning Honda CBR1000RR SP Fireblade
Team Honda 2014
Team Honda 2014
Team Honda Superbike Podium
Team Honda Superbike Podium
Wayne Maxwell with mechanic Warren Monson
Wayne Maxwell with mechanic Warren Monson
Jamie Stauffer
Jamie Stauffer
Wayne Maxwell Team Honda 2014
Wayne Maxwell Team Honda 2014
Jamie Stauffer, Josh Hook and Troy Herfoss lead the pack at Sydney Motorsports Park
Jamie Stauffer, Josh Hook and Troy Herfoss lead the pack at Sydney Motorsports Park
Wayne Maxwell and Josh Hook
Wayne Maxwell and Josh Hook
Team Honda boys helping each other out at Wakefield Park
Team Honda boys helping each other out at Wakefield Park

In part two we talk further with Paul but change tack and look forward to season 2015 and Team Honda’s plans for the new year, disparities in the regulations between ASC-FX and ASBK, and the budgets required to go racing.  Stay tuned for more…