The 2015 MotoGP season is providing us with many spectacular success stories from the resurgence of Rossi to the emergence of Vinales and company but the open class is providing one of its own. The spotlight may not shine quite as brightly on the open riders but Loris Baz is making himself noticed with an outstanding rookie season, and he’s doing it his way.
In Saturday’s Dutch TT, Baz claimed his second open-class victory of the season after seeing off his rivals at Mugello last month. The Frenchman switched from World Superbikes over the winter to form a new-look partnership at Forward Racing with Stefan Bradl and has already dispelled any doubts surrounding his suitability for the task, outscoring the former Moto2 champion so far.
“It’s genuinely better than I was expecting”, Baz told The Checkered Flag. “I think Stefan has been unlucky and he is certainly one of the fastest riders in the open class. He’s still faster than me but I’m closing the gap at every race. I think I’ve been a little bit luckier than him and made less mistakes in the races but he’s still one of the favourites for the open class”.
Baz has never found himself overawed by any challenge having moved to Spain as a child to follow his dream. A life-changing decision to many, but Loris described it “as the best decision in the world”, and it’s hard to argue when you monitor his progress with Baz clinching his first European title, the Superstock 600 crown, in 2008.
British Superbikes beckoned in 2010 with Loris stunning everyone as a wildcard with seventh place on his debut at Croft and although his 2011 campaign with Motorpoint Yamaha was cut short due to sponsorship issues, Baz still counts his experience in BSB as crucial in his motorcycling education.
“It is still one of my best memories because I enjoyed riding there so much. The championship, the organisation and the fans there are incredible. I learned a lot from the tracks, some slow and some fast, and I learned how to overtake there. It was my first time riding a superbike and it was my decision because I didn’t want to ride in the Superstock series any more with that bike. I learned a lot on the electronic side and there were so many experienced riders.”
Midway through 2012, the door to World Superbikes opened in unfortunate circumstances following the career-ending injury to Kawasaki’s Joan Lascorz in a testing crash at Imola but Baz wasn’t fazed by the pressure or responsibility of inheriting the Spaniard’s seat and tasted victory in just his eleventh start in mixed conditions at Silverstone.
A second victory would follow at the same venue twelve months later but despite a further nine podium finishes, Baz wouldn’t win again in WSBK. That didn’t stop him making a lasting impression though with the youngster the centre of final round controversy with the championship on the line. After a number of public disagreements with teammate Tom Sykes, Baz defied instructions from the pitwall to concede second place in the first race at Losail, leaving Sykes (who would ultimately lose the title) furious. The incident got the world talking, but Loris stands by his decision, and sticks to his beliefs.
“I would do the same if that race was tomorrow. I don’t have any regrets because the relationship with Kawasaki is still good and I’ve been meeting with my ex-mechanics and talking to the team boss last week. In time, they understood my decision and why I did it and I think my reasons were right.”
Having already demonstrated his ability to challenge the best World Superbikes has to offer, Baz wanted a new challenge and there are no doubts that he has found one at Forward Racing. The switch was motivated by a desire to test himself against the best, leaving the big fishes of WSBK for the sharks of MotoGP and Loris’ choice has already been vindicated.
“The level in World Superbike is quite high and the first riders are very fast but the difference in MotoGP is that all the riders are fast. You don’t have any slow riders”, he explained. “In world superbikes, I would say the top six are going really fast and you have a big gap to the other riders but here, if you lose two tenths, sometimes you lose four of five positions. Everything is much closer but it only makes you better.”
“I think the top four to six riders are at the level to come here and be more or less where I am. Of course, a rider like Jonathan Rea has the level to come here but I think you have to come here very young because you have to change your riding style and start again from zero. The younger you come, the better it is.”
Still only 22 years old, Baz may have time on his side but with a change from superbikes to prototypes presenting so many challenges, the Frenchman was in no mood to hang around in WSBK. With the best years of his career coming up, Loris knows he must put himself into position for a dream ride in MotoGP and as Aleix Espargaro has already proved, the Forward Yamaha is a good spot to do that in.
Baz is not afraid to admit that he isn’t the finished article yet, and there is still plenty to learn, but the early indications are that he will meet every challenge head on and make no mistake, he will do it his way.