Leon Haslam hoping a new season and a new bike will bring a change of fortune
LEON Haslam enters another World Superbike campaign tomorrow confident that the ill fortune that plagued him last season can be consigned to the waste bin of history.
A year that started badly never really improved for the Smalley star as he fought both injury and a recalcitrant BMW machine to finish 2012 eighth in the points table.
That might not sound too bad – and by most riders' standards, it would not be.
But the startling fact is that the 29-year-old finished 158.5 points behind eventual champion Max Biaggi, who might have amassed a significantly higher score but for some erratic performances.
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In the end, the Italian took the title by a mere 0.5 points – the closest in the history of the championship – from Tom Sykes, the highest-placed Briton.
Haslam was the third British rider behind Jonathan Rea, who wound up fifth – and from that, he can draw comfort because he is now a member of the same works-supported Pata Honda team as the Northern Irishman.
And after official testing at the Phillip Island circuit off the coast of Australia near Melbourne, that feeling was reinforced – although there is much work to be done.
Haslam ended the two days seventh quickest overall, once place behind Rea, after the pair recorded virtually identical times.
He said: "Our testing has been frustrating at times and in Jerez last month, we lost the first day to the weather and the second day with some electronics teething problems.
"I think we made more progress in the first three hours here at Phillip Island than in two days in Jerez, so these two tests here have been really important.
"We didn't progress too much more on the second day because we had a problem with the weather in the morning and still had some gremlins with the electronics.
"But we've found out what the problem is and, even with the bike cutting out intermittently all the way round my best lap in the afternoon, I still managed to do a decent time.
"We've still got more work to do and more things to try but now we go into qualifying looking for a set-up that will make the tyres last when it comes to race day.
"I'm happy to be in that position and, if all goes well, we can maybe try some of those new things – but the priority now is race set-up and tyres."
Last season, Haslam's best – and worst moments – came in the European round at Donington Park where, after finishing second in the opening race, he was involved in a last-corner collision with his then team-mate Marco Melandri as the chequered flag fluttered enticingly less than 100 metres away.
That was the closest he came to victory and from that point in the year, a third place in Misano, Italy, was as good as it got. The low point was in Portugal, from where he returned scoreless.
Now, after two years with BMW, he is back with Honda, with whom the Haslam family have a strong association.
His dad, Ron, was a works GP rider and Formula One world champion for the Japanese manufacturer and the younger Haslam had successful seasons riding with the Stiggy team in WSB and HM Plant in British Superbikes.
However, the Honda, even in its latest incarnation, is regarded as possibly being a little long in the tooth in comparison with the opposition.
There are other factors to take into account – Sykes will again be aboard the works Kawasaki that proved so fast last year, Eugene Laverty will have number one status at Aprilia following Biaggi's retirement and Melandri will be comfortable aboard the BMW as he enters a second season with the German manufacturer.
Former champ Carlos Checa will have a brand-spanking Ducati at his disposal and shrugged off any suggestion that he would need time to come to terms with his new steed by topping the timesheets in the test.
First qualifying takes place in the early hours, British time, tomorrow with two more sessions, including Superpole, on Saturday before the two races on Sunday.