Author: Bike Social Sports Reporter Posted: 17 Apr 2014
Thirteen-and-a-bit years ago, a young Chris Walker famously lost out on the British Superbike title to Neil Hodgson at Donington Park. All these years later, he’s still scrapping in the British Superbike championship and despite getting older, he doesn’t seem to be getting any slower.
Walker switches to the GBmoto Kawasaki team for 2014 and after an extensive winter testing programme in Spain, the ‘Stalker’ set the fourth fastest time at the Donington Park test and went one better last week at Snetterton. Could he be set to have his best season since 2000? We caught up with the Stalker for a quick chat ahead of the season.
You’re looking pretty fast in testing, how’s it been going?
“We went off to Spain with brand new bikes that had never turned a wheel and came back happy with where we were at but you never really know until you go up against everybody else. We got chance to do that in the UK tests over the past few weeks and it was good. We didn’t even change too much from Spain really, it was just good to get out there with other superbikes to see what the engine felt like and it was really strong.
“The signs are all good, I’ve really enjoyed testing, we’ve done nine days on the bikes and that’s more testing than I’ve done in the last five years! From the first laps at Donington I felt for the guys who haven’t had the luxury of doing the same amount of testing as us, I was pretty shaky on my first time out after not being on a bike since October! That might attribute to our strong testing position but that being said I do think it’s a fair assessment of where our bike actually is.”
You’ve joined GBmoto Kawasaki this year, how are you getting on with the team?
“The motivation for a change this year was that if you keep doing the same thing you keep getting the same result. I spent a couple of great years with the Bournemouth guys but I was ready for something to give me one last chance of taking things up a notch. I do miss working with Ray as we had a fantastic time working together but I did manage to steal Chris Hunt away from the team who I’ve known for years. The rest of the guys in this team are real strong and I’m really impressed with how quickly they’ve managed to get this bike competitive.
“At Cartagena we had a three day test and the first day was literally just installation laps, getting the shifter working, checking the engines were OK and making sure everything was safe so to be leaving testing overall in one of the highest positions I’ve been in at a test in ages I have to say I’m chuffed to bits.”
It must feel good to be fast early doors?
“There is still a lot of work to do, we need to improve the bikes and test them out speed-wise. Somebody needs to catch Shakey [Byrne], he seems to have raised the bar once again! To be as close to the other guys as I have been and it not being a one-lap wonder really does feel good. Having a fast team mate also pushes you on so having James [Ellison] in the camp is great as well.
How are you getting on with James?
“We work together quite a lot; the way this team is set up is like an open book. One guy does the suspension for both of riders so each of us have access to the same information, the electronics guy spent a bit more time with James in Spain while I spent more time with the suspension guy just to develop the bike along different paths and then exchange notes at the end of the day. I ended up with settings that James was using on the electronics and he ended up with some of my suspension settings.
“It is definitely helping and I don’t see that changing, we work well together. James has been a championship contender on the last three bikes he has ridden in the British Championship and I don’t see it being any different this year. If I can be as close to him as possible each weekend and hopefully beat him every now and then, we should have a good season between us!”
After just missing out on the showdown last year, top six has to be the goal?
“I don’t know how many more years I’ll get out of this job, I’m under no illusion, I’ve got fewer races in front of me than behind so I’ll go to every race meeting and give it all I’ve got and desperately hope we can get in that top six. The last three rounds seem to make a bit more sense if you’re in the top six, I missed out last year. I was in the top six at one point in the season but before you know it with a couple of DNFs I was back out of it and then never got another look in.
“We need to get a good strong first round under our belts without trying to go too fast too quickly and doing anything silly. We need to chip away as you’ve got to be strong at the end of the year as that’s where it matters in British Superbikes.”
You’ve been in this championship for decades, how would you say it’s changed in this time?
“The championship has changed incredibly in the time I’ve been around, which let’s face it is probably too long! It’s a lot more business like now, you used to turn up in a horse box and wheel your bikes out of the back and the slower one out of me and MacKenzie had to make the tea! Now there is a lot more money involved to make it go around, it’s a big circus, everything about it has gone up a stage or even two.
“The racing has never been dull over the years. There have been those premium years like the Hill vs Hopper scrap, the Shakey vs Lowes scrap of last year and over a decade ago now mine and Hodgson’s scrap! The championship has always ended up like that. Love or hate the showdown, I think it works from a spectator point of view. Once you’ve got your head round the rules, you sort of understand that it’s a championship within a championship and it really does keep it alive.
“We’ve had runaway victors in the past like Camier in 2009 which was probably the one year that BSB just wasn’t right as it was all over by half way through the season. Shakey’s done it a couple of times before too but the showdown stops that from happening without stopping the great racing. You need the championship to go down to the wire to get the old BSB fans pumped and excited.
With Peter Baker joining the grid for 2014, you’re no longer the oldest!
“I can’t believe that I’m not the oldest rider on the grid anymore! There’s only a month or two between me and Rutter anyway and we’ve both got a racing age but old Baker, long may he continue I say as then I don’t have the oldest man on the grid accolade! Age doesn’t matter anyway, take a look at the back of my helmet: “Old but gold” is this year’s slogan!”
Photos: GBmoto Racing