At Imola Leon Haslam came back to the WorldSBK championship class for the first of two wildcard rides on an ELF-coloured Kawasaki Puccetti Racing Ninja ZX-10RR.
The current BSB Championship leader made a decent start in FP1, finishing tenth of the 22 riders, two seconds behind the fastest man, but only one second from fifth place as he gets used to electronics and Showa suspension again.
“The first session was good,” said five-times WorldSBK race winner Haslam. “We know it is going to be a massive learning curve. Imola, being one of the most difficult circuits to set-up and feel to it, all new suspension, electronics and they built the bike fresh as well. Getting it all matched in with three 40-minute sessions is going to be the key, and from my point of view it is going to be a lot more preparation over the two rounds than I did when I was at Donington last year. We have this race weekend plus Donington as well. In the first practice session here we ran the full session and my last lap was my fastest one, on an old tyre. Step-by-step.”
The main changes from his BSB bike are suspension, to some degree at least, but the biggie is electronics.
“The normal numbers do not cross over, because there is different suspension, but the biggest thing is electronics,” affirmed Haslam. “The way you ride it, the way it feels, the way it shuts off, the way it holds back, the way it accelerates and the way I have to change my style. I have been there and done it and I know it, but to get your brain to just do it all of a sudden is obviously another thing. To win you have the electronics and all the options that are there. To get all the options set-up is obviously the key. But also knowing how, to ride to get the maximum out of the settings. Johnny Rea’s FP1 time just there was faster than he went in both races last year. You do not do that without electronics. It is not a feel thing, it is knowing how to ride that bike the best you can with electronics.”
Despite engine rule changes that have limited the Kawasakis of all kinds to peak revs just over 14,000 rpm in 2018 Haslam feels no difference to the Kawasaki he took to a podium finish at his home track for Puccetti last year.
“The revs that we have are exactly the same as we had last year, because we did not have the factory bike anyway,” said Haslam. “We have the same revs as I ran at Donington anyway. I got behind a few Ducatis that looked pretty good on speed but obviously there is still figuring the rules to level that all up anyway.”