Currently leading the British Superbike Championship on his JG Speedfit Kawasaki Leon is set to join Rea and Kazuma Watanabe next week to compete in the 41st Coca-Cola Suzuka 8-Hour race as part of the official Team Green effort. Haslam has been Rea’s WorldSBK team-mate before, shortly before Rea first joined Kawasaki.
Leon is an experienced WorldSBK campaigner, with five race wins and 39 podiums to his credit. He has recently competed as a wild card for Kawasaki at selected WorldSBK events, in between his regular commitments in BSB for Kawasaki Motors UK. Haslam has won six races from ten in the British championship so far and enjoys a lead of 74 points.
A rider of vast experience in almost all forms of racing, Haslam’s best WorldSBK season to date was 2010, when he finished championship runner-up. Leon will begin his working relationship with KRT during this year’s winter test programme.
Guim Roda, KRT Team Manager, stated: “It’s understandably tough to replace a rider of Tom’s quality and the final decision to sign Leon for 2019 was made after considering many factors, some obvious and others to answer internal team factors. There’s a complex sporting strategy behind this decision, and to satisfy our team goals we felt that Leon was the best possible rider for the job. Rumours and speculation have filled many of the last weeks and we are happy to finally confirm Leon as the KRT choice. KHI knows, I know, he knows, and crew chief Marcel Duinker knows that he takes onto his shoulders a big responsibility and, at 35 years of age, to get this opportunity is his best chance to prove he still has something extra to contribute. We have a clear idea where to find this contribution and I’m personally motivated to use his experience matched to ours to try to make a stronger package that nobody has yet witnessed from Leon. As we say in KRT… “Results are the greatest evidence of endeavour”.
Steve Guttridge, KME Racing Manager, stated: “Bringing Leon into the KRT WorldSBK team is a great way to show that within the Kawasaki racing structure there is a pathway to the top! Since he joined Kawasaki UK’s BSB team, we’ve enjoyed a very fruitful relationship that included Leon assisting KHI inside our Team Green squad at Suzuka and with additional rides and good feedback in WorldSBK for the Puccetti and Pedercini teams. Most important to us is his enthusiasm to work hard, his boundless energy, proving age is just a number. I have no doubt that his personal motivation will be to push Jonathan at every round next season for podium places. From the upcoming winter test onwards I’m excited to support the very best potential from Leon, back inside the World Superbike arena but now on our Championship winning KRT machinery.
Ken Ondo, Senior Manager Kawasaki Heavy Industries Racing Department, stated: “It is a great pleasure for all at Kawasaki to have Leon as a KRT rider. He is on the top of current BSB ranking and put Team Green on the Suzuka podium twice as well as helping development in KHI Japan through his wild card entry in the JSB series. The upcoming Suzuka 8 hour race will be a very good preview for the 2019 KRT duo. Leon, together with Kazuma Watanabe, has spent lot of time in Suzuka to develop the 8-Hour machine. Now is harvest time!”
Leon Haslam: “I have to say a big thanks to Kawasaki for this opportunity. Returning to the World Superbike Championship is something I’m really looking forward to. After scoring race wins, lap records, pole positions and a championship runner-up position in my seven years there it’s going to be great to get back to WorldSBK. The support of Kawasaki throughout my three years in the British Superbike Championship and via KHI at the Suzuka 8-Hour race has been exceptional. The like-minded approach from Kawasaki UK and KHI in Japan has been really appreciated and I’m now hoping to repay them with the 2018 British Superbike title and then to challenge for next year’s WorldSBK Championship. The 2019 season will throw up some new challenges as the competitiveness between the manufacturers continues to be at the highest level but I’m confident that with the professional and successful team behind me we can enjoy plenty of success.”