Author: Oli Rushby Posted: 17 Dec 2015
Leon Haslam is set to make a shock return to the British Superbike championship in 2016.
The 32-year-old will join James Ellison and Peter Hickman on a third bike in the JG Speedfit Kawasaki team after Aprilia opted not to continue with their factory World Superbike effort next year.
Haslam won two races for Aprilia this season and finished fourth in the overall standings but with Aprilia dithering over their future in the world series he was forced to look elsewhere.
“After I won the last race of the year, Aprilia said they would be doing something in World Superbikes for 2016 but asked me to wait,” said Haslam, speaking to Bike Social. “I signed a letter of intent with them but then began to realise that even if they were to do something, it wasn’t going to be a full factory effort.”
Most World Superbike teams have already sorted their rider line-ups for 2016 leaving Haslam with little option but to consider a return to the UK.
“About a month ago I decided that unless I was going to be able to challenge the top three in World Superbike, I’d come back to England and try to win rather than being even a fifth or sixth placed guy in World Superbikes.
“I feel I’ve got a score to settle in BSB, I’ve always wanted to come back at some point in my career,” he continued. “The championship is at an all-time high in terms of crowds, exposure and competition. Ducati are coming back with Shakey, Kawasaki are supporting GBmoto as a factory team and you’ve also got Honda, BMW and other guys with top riders. It’s a super-competitive championship and to be part of that is really exciting and hopefully we’ll be challenging at the front.”
While he’s never ridden for the Japanese marque, Haslam has experienced the sheer speed of the ZX-10R having fought against the dominant Kawasaki WSB duo of Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes.
“The Kawasaki has been the bike to be on in recent years. Tom Sykes jumped on the new bike and was never outside the top three and Jonathan hopped on and won the championship straight away. On top of that they’ve got a new bike out next year which is another step forward.
“The team has shown they have a winning package with James Ellison this year. All the ticks were there so that’s why we decided to go with this over other opportunities in BSB.”
Haslam finished a distant second to Shane Byrne in the 2008 British Championship with his Honda unable to find an answer for the all-conquering Ducati 1098. However, with BSB now running to a technical specification that provides improved parity across the board, Haslam feels the playing field is now more level than ever before.
“2008 was quite difficult,” he said. “Ducati had just brought out the new 1098 which was a step above everything else and wiped the floor with everything. I stepped back to Honda which had just gone from a full factory bike in ’07 to not so full factory in ’08! It was a tough year but we managed to finish second.
“I’ve obviously got to get used to the different rules but I feel that I’m going to be attacking Shakey, and all the other competitors, on a more level playing field this time. If I’m coming back to England, I’m coming back to win.
Another rule change Haslam faces upon his return is the ‘showdown’ format introduced in 2010, which sees the top six riders after nine rounds fight it out for the championship in the final three separated by just the podium credits they amass during the main season.
“The Showdown can work for you or against you but at the end of the day, the racer that I am goes out to win as many races as possible so it’s irrelevant what format the championship takes. That being said, if the showdown had been in place the two years I was second in the championship I’d have been British Champion twice!”