Skip to main content

Neave twins make BSB history as Tom relishes “extra incentive”

BikeSocial Web Editor. Content man - reviewer, road tester, video presenter, interviewer, commissioner, organiser. First ride was a 1979 Honda ST70 in the back garden aged 6. Not too shabby on track, loves a sportsbike, worries about helmet hair, occasionally plays golf and squash but enjoys being a father to a 6-year old the most.

Posted:

19.03.2023

2023 BSB Tom Neave interview_04
2023 BSB Tom Neave interview_03
2023 BSB Tom Neave interview_02

 

As the start of the 2023 Bennetts British Superbike championship peeks into view, Honda Racing’s Tom Neave has identified an opportunity to shuffle up the grid with the lack of reigning and previous champions Brad Ray and Tarran Mackenzie plus Rory Skinner and Tom Sykes who have all moved on to pastures new. Though one of his main competitors is his twin brother, Tim.

In an exclusive interview with BikeSocial immediately after taking the chequered flag at a BSB riders vs. BikeSocial members go-karting event, Neave who completed his rookie BSB season with Honda Racing in 2022 looks back on his debut year, talks about his concussion symptoms, how the two-man team in 2023 will benefit him, swapping one Irwin for another as his team-mate, competitiveness with his twin brother, bike upgrades, a revised focus, and his thoughts on the new showdown format.

 

Exclusive interview: Honda Racing’s BSB star, Tom Neave

Tom Neave looks back on his debut year, talks about swapping one Irwin for another as his team-mate, and the competitiveness with his twin brother

 

We’re at the go-karting event where Bennetts customers/BikeSocial members can get involved, how has the experience been today?

I’ve still got helmet hair! It feels like pre-season testing has begun, half the field’s here! To see all the superbike guys again is good, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s go-karting, football, anything, if there’s competition involved, everyone wants to set the fastest time. So today was a nice little warm-up, we’ve had plenty of bumping and scraping. It’s been a mega event.

I was just speaking to a few customers this morning, and they’re all buzzing that they get to come racing with us riders and get so close and get to know people as well. Today we’ve had a 2-hour race with a team of four, and I was team captain for my team, so we had our tactics and get together and it brings us all together. It’s a cool event and mega fun.

 

Looking back at the 2022 Bennetts British Superbike championship which was your first as a full-time Honda Racing rider, how did you approach the season as the Superstock champion, did you carry momentum and confidence?

I was coming off the back of a high winning the Superstock championship, and the goal has always been to go to Superbikes. Honda took a chance on me back in 2019 and we’ve come through the ranks with them, and to be able to go and progress with the same team, a team that I’ve always loved, it’s been really, really cool. It was a dream come true but I also felt quite a lot of pressure, there’s no denying that I’m getting a bit older now and I came into road racing quite late compared to some of the other guys that I’m racing against now who started at 6 or 7 years old on tarmac.

There’s always a bit of pressure to perform straight away because everyone knows the Honda superbike team don’t give out rides just for the sake of it, there’s always young guys chomping at your heels.

I’d won the championship and I went into it with an expectation comparing it to what other lads had done in the past, seeing where my lap times were in Superstock compared to Superbike times the year before. You draw comparisons and you have a rough idea of where you think you should be.

It was difficult, I had a few injuries – and I hold my hand up because some of them were my fault, but some of them weren’t. Some of the more significant injuries weren’t my fault, like when I had that bad concussion at Round 2 which really unsettled me to be fair. We started off nice and strong with some points scoring finishes, and then it put a bit of a dent in my season really, it took a bit of momentum to get back going and I lost a bit of confidence. I could make excuses, and nobody wants to hear excuses. It was a roller coaster year, it wasn’t all bad, we had some good results and some good lap times which I’m proud of but as a racer who had been used to having podiums and taking wins when all of a sudden you’re not getting those results, it’s a kick in the knackers to be fair. I don’t care what any racer says, you only enjoy it when you’re winning! If you’ve had that success, that’s the drug you always crave. Riding around and finishing in the back end of the points doesn’t really float my boat. I was hard on myself, way too hard on myself but I’ve had an off-season to reflect, work on a few things. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself as we go into this year because anything can happen, I’m just going to try and strip things back a little bit and not overthink things which I certainly did last year. Go in with an open mind, try and enjoy my racing, and everyone knows, a happy rider is a fast rider, so we’ll see.

 

 

When you say you lost confidence after the crash, are you referring to your ability, the bike, the grip? Is it a combination, can you pinpoint it?

There’s many factors. I remember speaking to Chrissy (Rouse) actually because he got knocked out quite badly at round 1, me and Chrissy were quite close and we both progressed in a similar sort of pattern coming through Superstock into Superbike and we were on a very even level, and we’d often talk about things. He said to me after I got concussed, “I went through it after round one, you expect to feel down, a bit depressed and anxious, you have all these mood swings off the back of a heavy concussion that are normal symptoms.” I guess I was experiencing a bit of all that, and then I came back and had another big crash. Just one thing after another, it chips away at you. There’s no hiding from it BSB, you give them an inch they’ll take a mile. You’re in the spotlight, everything’s shown and you can’t hide away from anything like that so if you’ve got a little chink in your armour, it’s exploited. I guess when I didn’t back it up with results after that, it just got my head down a little bit. A lot of riders go through it but I don’t want too many excuses, I’ve just got to ride a wave and see what happens.

 

What are your goals and ambitions in your second year as a full-time Honda BSB rider, you’ve even swapped teammates – one Irwin for another?

So many things have changed with the dynamics of the team with my team, the bike, the crew chief, mechanics, we’ve got some upgrades coming for the bike. Obviously, Glenn’s gone, and Andrew’s come back in. I’ve got a really good relationship with both the Irwin’s but they’re very different characters, so it’ll be interesting to see how that dynamic affects the team feeling and the environment.

I’ve certainly got goals, I need to improve from last year - my qualifying was poor, I need to be making Q2 essentially, every single weekend. And then the tier of finishing positions I was always in was between 12th – 18th, the back end of the points, so I need top 10s. Everyone is sensing an opportunity with four top riders having moved on with Skinner, Tom Sykes, Taz and Brad Ray, everyone is going to shuffle up the grid, everyone thinks ‘I’m going to take their spot’ so there’s a sense of hope there. So, I’m excited for the opportunity.

 

With your two Japanese teammates from last year having moved on, you’re down to a two-ride team, does that help you?

I think so, yeah. I wouldn’t say the team was diluted but it was a very busy team, it was the biggest team in the paddock last year with four of us on the bike. It wasn’t divided, there were four crew chiefs, and everyone had their crew with them. There was a lot of information being passed around, Glenn was going in one direction with the bike while Takumi and Ryo were going in a different direction, they all had a lot more experience on a superbike than me, so I was trying to find my feet but then obviously wanting to take on board what these guys were doing, so I probably got a little bit lost in the set-up to be fair. Going back to a two-man team, it’ll be a much more clean cut, easier to share information and more one-to-one, I think. Hopefully Harv will be a little less stressed as well!

 

Glenn showed a lot of success on the Fireblade last year, does that bring confidence to you that the bike can do it?

Yes, absolutely. I’m not going to blame the machinery, never have, I’m not going to fall down that trap. A lot of riders blame this, blame that. I just think the rider can make the biggest difference; I need to pull my finger out. Glenn did the treble at round one, he was on the podium throughout the year, and won again at the last round at Brands Hatch, so the bike’s proven. Experience plays a big part in this game, a massive part. You see all the guys at the front, and they’ve had quite a few years at it, it took Brad, Taz four, five, six seasons in Superbike to get to the front. Same with Glenn winning races, he’s been at it a long, long time. When I measure things against that, it’s quite comforting to think it’s ok, when I look at my age, I came into it quite late and I’m the same age as those guys who are winning now. But they started 7, 8, 10 years before I did, but I’ve been road-racing now, that was my ninth season just gone, so I’ve got experience so it’s time to make it happen and get it done.

 

 

I’ll tell you who else is the same age: your brother. Seeing him on a competitive bike in BSB, does that give you an extra incentive?

100%! I shouldn’t need that extra incentive to find that little bit extra but if you’ve got a brother, or a sister, or a twin especially, everyone knows there’s a special bond and the level of competition is heightened massively, and I think me and Tim spur each other on massively, everything’s been a competition between us. We’ve followed such a similar progression route, but I’ve always just been able to be a little bit ahead of him! I feel like I react better when my back’s up against the wall, under pressure, and coming off the back of last year, and Tim coming in this year on a competitive bike, so it's really pricking my ears up and I’m up for the fight, I can’t wait!

 

There’ll be two sets of brothers with the Irwin’s and yourselves too…

Yes, but I think me and Tim are the first twins in history to race against each other. Sam and Alex (Lowes) were in British Championship but Alex was in Superbike and Sam was in Supersport then they both went their own way. I think we’ll be making history, which is quite special really. And it’s cool that me and Tim are on equally competitive machinery, different manufacturers, red team vs blue team, I think it’s going to be really exciting.

 

What are your thoughts on the new Showdown format?

Again, I think change is good. I think the old format and structure had run its course, it was apparent how hectic and hairy it was getting coming to the las three rounds. Oulton Park, first round of the showdown last year, was just carnage. Our bikes are only getting faster, and the tracks aren’t growing, they’re not getting wider. I think running it with the structure for this year will allow people to go about their business a little bit differently, using slightly different tactics, and it’s much more even opportunity for everyone. It’s not like if you’re not in this position with three rounds to go, you can’t win the championship, it’s going to be much more closed in all thorough the year, consistency’s going to play a huge part. The racing’s still going to be good.

 

What about the bike, has that changed since last year?

I believe we’ve got a new swing arm coming, which I think will improve the bike massively if it does what is said it’s going to do, so that should help. There’s a few different engine specs to try. Other than that, the bike was already winning races with Glenn so it’s not a million miles away to be a competitive package at every single circuit we go to.

 

It’s not like these superbikes need any more power, is it?!

No, if anything we’re taking power away now, they’re absolute animals, especially with no electronics at Cadwell or Oulton where they just want to wheelie everywhere! The bike’s good, that’s always been clear in the back of my head, it’s not like I’m dwelling on things that, I don’t think like that.

 

We wish Tom a speedy recover from his broken collarbone which came in pre-season testing just after this interview.

The first round of the 2023 Bennetts BSB season takes place at Silverstone, 7-9 April 2023.

 

Share on social media: