Leon Haslam: "I am not getting on a bike that’s already winning"

Leon Haslam explains the benefits of joining the brand-new Honda project over competing with champions Kawasaki as tops first day of WorldSBK testing

Leon Haslam - Team HRC Honda CBR1000RR-R

Leon Haslam says he is excited to have the opportunity to make the brand-new Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade his own following his switch to HRC from the factory Kawasaki team.

The experienced Briton hit the headlines on Wednesday when he put the new Team HRC-prepared Honda WorldSBK machine top of the timesheets during testing in Jerez, though wet weather meant lap times were some 14secs down on the circuit record.

Nonetheless, it was still an encouraging maiden outing for the latest generation Honda effort as it looks to end a victory drought stretching almost four years this season, with Haslam insisting the bike felt good regardless of the inclement conditions.

“It has been a strange day with the weather but every time we exited the pits we got through a lot of things we wanted to try and we had a really good feeling and it is the first time we tried the Honda in the rain,” he said. “To end up P1 has definitely put a smile on my face.

“It isn’t necessarily about trying to improve yet, it is about trying all the items we have to test. These bikes are so versatile now, there are many areas of the bike that you can adapt and change. They are the items that we have got to get through.

“There are a lot of items we are waiting for it to be dry to test but at the same time it was good to do our first laps in the rain for that feeling and that understanding. There are also items that we can try in the rain so, so far, so good.”

Haslam joins Alvaro Bautista at Honda after a disappointing season with the factory Kawasaki team, where he struggled to adapt to the ZX-10RRs electronics package. Intimating it was tough to make changes to his Kawasaki then because team-mate Jonathan Rea was otherwise dominating on the same package, Haslam is excited by the prospect of adapting the Honda towards his needs.

“The biggest thing for me is the backing of Honda and HRC. It is a new bike and they have made such a big step in the development and effort behind. Also, the openness of the whole team wanting to succeed.

“The people behind the project, everything, for me it gives me confidence and it is exciting. I am not getting on a bike that is already winning and is very fixed in its ways. Everything is open and that is really, really good.”

Leon Haslam finding his groove on new Honda

There is only so much you can ever read into testing and even less when it’s wet, but Haslam can take some joy from topping the timesheets on a day when all eyes – including those of rival teams – were on Honda when it rolled out of the box. At the very least, it’s good publicity.

While his quickest time will have something to do with timing on a day of persistent rain, Haslam words here suggest the bike felt up to speed quickly… which is just as well because at 14 laps, he was one of the least productive riders of the day.

Haslam’s point about adapting the Honda to suit his needs is a veiled nod at the difficulty of being Rea’s team-mate.

With season-long issues getting to grips with a braking system set up to suit the Ulsterman often left Haslam struggling to make headway in races, the fact Honda has brought Haslam on primarily for his decades of experience suggests the Briton – who it should be remembered was still competitive in 2019 – can develop the CBR1000RR-R more to his liking.

Perhaps this is the shot Haslam has been waiting – a long time – for.