The NEC in Birmingham opened it’s doors for eight days of motorcycle goodness on Saturday for the first day of Motorcycle Live, the UK’s biggest bike show. As thousands of fans flocked in to meet their favourite stars and see the latest machinery, we caught up with Dan Linfoot and Jason O’Halloran of the British Superbike Honda Racing team, who spoke to us about their difficult season with the new Fireblade SP2, their hopes for the 2018 season and having a fast female as a team mate in 2016.
Dan, you took your first BSB victory in dreadful conditions at Silverstone, and followed it up with another win in the dry at Oulton Park. How did that maiden win feel?
My first win at Silverstone… obviously you take it and you’re happy to have taken your first win, but I didn’t feel like it was a genuine win. A lot of people crashed out and with it being in torrential rain, I just felt like I got lucky more than anything. I took it and took the points but I didn’t feel great about it, but I took confidence from that and went to Oulton Park a week later.
Again, race one was a wet race and I was leading but the bike broke and race two was pretty much dry with just a few damp patches. The race panned out in a different way, some of the notorious guys were not as fast at the front as what I expected, and I started strong at the front. I was just so determined to try and win it after what happened in race one, so to have taken that win… I would class as my first genuine dry win, especially to beat someone like Leon on the last lap, where he’s notoriously a bit of a fighter and difficult to pass, so that was obviously the highest point of the season for me. Unfortunately the year had been quite difficult up until then with quite a lot of lows, so those particular two highs sort of made up in some ways for the difficult season.
Jason, you’ve had three podiums this year and made it into the Showdown. How do you rate your season as a whole?
The season as a whole was difficult. The whole year for the team was difficult with the new machine, it started quite difficult for us and built as the season went on. We still made the Showdown and we finished the end of the year second at the last race with another podium and finished on a high. BSB is never easy if you’re having a tough weekend. Like if you go to the second to last round in Assen I had a thirteenth then you go to the last round at Brands and I had a second and it’s two weeks difference…when you’re having a bad day you’re having a bad day and when you have a good day you’re having a good day.
It never gets any easier, but I felt like to make the top six with our difficulties from the start of the year was strong and a good thing for us, and we need to keep working for next year now.
You’ve made the brand new Honda Fireblade work well when both the roads team and the WorldSBK team struggled. Obviously regulations are different, but do you think that played in your favour?
Dan: I do in some ways, yeah. I think with it being a controlled electronics package for everybody in BSB we’re on a level platform whereas in World Superbike it’s more open. That’s one thing that I think has helped us, but to be honest we did struggle a lot at the start of the year with that anyway so that improvement, from my point of view, was down to the teams’ effort that they put in to do some testing, to get some parts and to be motivated enough to break through the difficulties that we had.
Jason: I think the rules in BSB… you can see by how many different winners we’ve had and how many different podium people we’ve had that it keeps every manufacturer competitive. You’ve just got to make the most of what you have and everyone’s got pros and cons, but I would say it’s down to the people and the team that we ended up with the result we had, because we’re all working with the same machine and we managed to get a bit better result out of it than anyone else did.
But I would say that the rules also help us because it keeps us more competitive, whereas if you go to World Superbike you can see their results are not as good, but the regulations are so open that there’s so many different factors to get that result. We’ve done the best job we could with what we had and I’d say the whole team did a good job, and hopefully we can do better next year.
What do you do in the off-season to prepare for the next season?
Dan: Well this off-season is a little bit different because we’re actually already away testing next week. We’ve got pretty much a week away in Spain testing the bike for three days, so it’s been nice to have that to focus on since the last round of the season.
Winter’s not really kicked in yet, and there is time to kick back and do family things and prepare other things or even switch off from bikes, but always in the back of your mind you’re looking to prepare for the next time on the bike or what you have to be ready for. There’s a little bit of downtime like everyone has but still with one eye on what you need to be prepared for for the following season.
Jason: Exactly the same. It’s very, very lucky for us to have a test next week so early in the off-season. It’s been a little bit strange since Brands. I’ve had a little bit of time off but not a lot, so I’ve just kept my normal program because I’ve known that this is a very important test for us to get a direction for what we want to test at the start of next year. By the time we get to the testing next year, you’re basically going to have what you’ve got to go racing, because as we found out this year when you test late you can’t really change a lot before the start of the season.
Next week it’s a really important test for us to pick what engine spec we want, what chassis spec we want and what road we want to go down for the test next year to refine things before we go racing. This year we started with difficulties and next year I know we want to start the first race at the very sharp end and we have to know what we have, so this test next week is really important.
You’ve both signed for Honda again next year. Do you think you’ll be in a better position to fight for the title than you were this time last year seeing as you know the bike better and it’s more developed now?
Dan: Absolutely 100%. I didn’t expect 2017 to be so difficult if I’m honest, after a strong 2016 for us both with quite a lot of podiums I expected 2017 to be a lot stronger than what is was. After the development year that we’ve had this season, I fully expect to go into 2018 starting as we finished 2017.
Jason: I can just echo exactly the same thing. For me 2018 is going to be what I expected 2017 to be. We came off the back of 2016, both of us were pretty much together every single weekend, we had a bunch of podiums between us and we had a really consistent, forward motion year where it snowballed in the right direction. When we started ’17 we started in a bad place and we never actually gained any momentum – it was just a rollercoaster. One weekend would be great, one weekend wouldn’t, and it was just up and down all year. Dan won a couple of races, we had a bunch of podiums and I finished the last race on the podium, so you’d have to expect that we’d start next year in a really competitive place, especially with the off-season testing that we now have. 2018 for me now is really what I wanted this year to be.
Front row starts are something you’re both familiar with, but just how important is it to a rider? Does it give you a psychological advantage?
Dan: I think it’s important, I think the front two rows is a must, anything further back than that and you’re just losing too much time on the opening laps and you’re giving that away to the leaders. You’re not going to catch those guys if you’re back in ninth or tenth, the best you can do really is maintain that position, so you need to start with them. From that point of view, starting on the front row or as a minimum the second row is really important.
Jason: It’s more so the starting position and the first couple of laps. The first one or two laps of a BSB race can determine your whole race, if you’re in that front group it’s a much more thought about process of what everyone’s doing but when you’re starting back on row four or five everyone’s just jockeying for positions, it normally bottlenecks at some point and you can lose up to five seconds in two laps where you would never ever lose that much time. The first or second row is important for your forward momentum on the first couple of laps.
Do either of you have the desire to go to the world stage? Would you like to win the BSB title before you moved?
Dan: I think we’d both like to go to World Superbike but we’d both like to win BSB first. From my point of view I’d love to win BSB, racing here now and my best finish is fourth in the championship. I want to win it, I want to improve on that, and I guess time will only tell from whether I’d get the opportunity to go the World championship. Every rider aspires to go as far as they can in the sport, and if that was possible that would be great but if not, I’m quite content to keep racing in BSB, it’s a very high level championship with very high level teams and riders and a good place to race so if that’s where the future is for me then I’ll keep doing that.
Jason: I’d love nothing more to be British Superbike champion, and I feel like I’ll be in BSB until that happens, before I get to move on to something else. When you look at World Superbike at the minute and BSB, I would say that BSB is more exciting. There’s more fans, more interacting with it and it’s a much better show. But as a rider, you want to be as successful as you can be and the difference is, if I speak to a sponsor or a friend or a fan, they say “oh why would you want to go to World Superbike when BSB is so healthy?” which is true for an outsider looking in, it’s great and it’s fantastic to be a part of it.
As a rider, we would be much more successful if we were racing the world championship, you’re better off in many different areas and you want to be as successful as you can. The world championship is enticing because I want to be the best I can be, I’d love to race in it one day and you want to do as well as you can in racing and that’s why the world championship is a draw but from a fan point of view, from a show point of view and being involved in something that has a big buzz around it at the minute, BSB is where it’s at and I’m happy to be a part of it.
Apart from the obvious contenders, do you think there’ll be any other riders who will be difficult to beat?
Dan: Well, you look at 2017 and there was ten winners overall, but you’ve got to believe there’s fifteen guys that are capable of winning races and being in the Showdown. One weekend it can be Sylvain Guintoli winning in Assen and one weekend it can be me winning at Oulton, it’s just so up and down from track to track so that’s why it’s such a strong domestic championship with such depth in teams and riders.
What’s also difficult is on a bad day when you are ninth or tenth, and you’re so down because you’re ninth or tenth and you think “I’m ninth or tenth in a British championship, that’s terrible” but actually there’s world champions in front of you or multiple British champions in front of you. It’s such a strong field that you’ve not got to forget that.
Jason: I don’t think you can underestimate anybody in BSB, although it is a national championship, it’s very international. You’ve got ex world champions, multiple British Superbike champions, guys who have grown up racing here and you’ve got guys like myself coming from Australia, there’s just people from everywhere. It’s just a very international championship at a national level and the level is very high.
You can see this year with Leon Haslam who did a wildcard in the World Superbike championship and he finished second, then he comes back to a BSB race and he doesn’t win every one, he might have a fifth or a first or a second, it’s just so competitive. I wouldn’t like to pinpoint anyone in particular because I think everyone’s competitive and everyone’s strong, so who knows? Someone we might not even be thinking about might come out next year and be at the front and one of our main competitors. You just have to be the best you can be and hopefully that’s good enough.
Last year you had Jenny Tinmouth as a team mate. What was it like to work with her, and could you learn anything from her?
Dan: The learn a lot thing, without being rude, no, but Jenny is incredible for what she does. She’s very fast on a bike and again like we’ve just discussed the level in BSB covered how good she was. She could be between one and three seconds a lap off the fastest rider which is blooming fast, and she could go to any club race and absolutely win it by a long, long way. She’s really, really talented and it’s a shame she didn’t get to continue but there was an amount of crashes and I don’t know whether that played a part. She’s smiley, and I enjoyed her being around, but did I learn from her? No, but she was cool to get on with.
Jason: I loved Jenny and loved having her in the team, such an enthusiastic person, passionate and just loves racing motorbikes. I wish she was still a part of the team but obviously things go in different directions, there’s reasons for why it happens and why it doesn’t. I really hope she can come back racing full time in some category, whether it’s Superbike or something smaller.
But like Dan touched on, to be within two seconds or three seconds of the best guys in BSB is just phenomenal, and you go to a track day or something and a really, really good track day rider probably wouldn’t get within ten seconds, five seconds of what we’re doing and she’s within a couple. What she does got overshadowed last year because she was always at the back end of the field but doing a phenomenal job while she was there, and I hope she comes back racing soon.