Grid Talk – Leon Haslam | Columns | Gassit Garage
What’s it like riding a World Superbike after racing a domestic-spec Kawasaki ZX-10R? The 2018 British Superbike champion, Leon Haslam explains
You raced World Superbikes for seven seasons. Now you are back as world champion Jonathan Rea’s Kawasaki teammate. What’s it like?
It is kind of what I remember, which means it’s very different to British Superbikes. How you have to ride the bike, how you have to manage the bike in the garage – as far as you need certain things to be working even to be able to ride the bike rather than the bike riding you. Coming of off no electronics, no traction control, no anti-wheelie, and managing everything myself with my hand… all I was looking for in England was a bike that was connected. I could set the bike up chassis wise to do the rest. Having a stable bike was the key to doing that.
So it’s all about the electronics now?
With this (KRT bike in WorldSBK), the electronics are a big, big factor. It will only accelerate when it has got grip, will only accelerate at certain angles, so how you approach that corner can lead you into a false sense of security. You can open the throttle wherever you want, but it does not necessarily mean it is the fast way, or you will go forward. It is understanding that, of sitting down with the guys to make small changes electronically, chassis wise. And the biggest thing that affects it is me. How I ride the electronics and how I brake. Not braking like I have been in the UK; braking more in the way Johnny (Rea) does really, really helps the electronics. Little things like that are key points that I already knew, but I have to put it into practice.
So is it a case in WorldSBK of riding with as little electronic intervention as possible?
It is riding in a way to let the bike do its job, rather than riding in a way that makes the system work really hard, and you do not go anywhere. That is the key that we have got to understand, from braking to mid-corner to where you open the gas, how you open the gas. You need the set-up to be right. It is a combination of everything – from chassis, to electronics to the way I am riding it.
Tell us about the tyre technology in WSBK.
We have totally different tyres. We are running bigger rear and bigger front profiles. We did not have them in the UK at all, as we were on the old ones. How the bike reacts and turns, just the tyres alone make quite a big difference; the feel, the squash, the moveability of the tyres. There is less squash, a lot of positives from them, but how it feels is very different.
How different are BSB and WSBK bikes in terms of hardware?
Compared to my BSB bike it is Showa suspension in WorldSBK versus Öhlins, the headstock is different, the electronics completely everything, the engine character is completely different. Obviously the 2019 bike has more rpm, but generally you can tune the engine more with the electronics. In BSB you have to have a linear, low-powered engine to be rideable, without the electronics. Brakes are different, Showa suspension is very different. Brembo brakes are a higher spec here.
How did you feel after you first day back in a WSBK saddle at the Aragon test?
I feel we did well. We missed about three hours because we had a small problem on one of the bikes and had to change a lot of things over. But in the end we were only a tenth off what Johnny did when he won the race here, and I felt every session we did better, had a little bit better feeling, went faster, so we will keep chipping away.
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