World Superbike Interview: Leon Camier

April 29, 2011
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

Former British Superbike and Supersport Champion Leon Camier enters his second season of World Superbike aboard the factory Aprilia.

Leon Camier knows a thing or two about racing sportbikes. The English rider claimed the 2009 British Superbike title with absolutely dominating form – nabbing 19 wins that season. Camier prefaced that accomplishment with a British Supersport title in 2005. Making the leap to World Superbike in 2010, Camier enjoyed a solid rookie season for the factory Aprilia squad. Earning three podiums in 2010, the highlight performance was a second-place finish at Miller alongside teammate Max Biaggi – which delivered Aprilia its first-ever 1-2 finish in the series.

Camier enters his sophomore SBK campaign looking to establish himself as a more consistent podium threat and title contender. The season got off to a rough start, however, as the 24-year-old came down with Glandular Fever (that’s mononucleosis for us stateside). Characterized by fatigue, the illness slowed down Camier, but not enough to inhibit already snatching an SBK podium – a third-place result at Round 2 of the season, his home circuit of Donington Park. Motorcycle USA got up to speed with Camier on how his second season is shaping up just before the last round at Assen.

Motorcycle USA: Second year in Superbike, how is your season so far and what are your expectations?

Leon Camier: Really a bit frustrating early on, with a virus [Glandular Fever] going on in Phillip Island. That’s where it started, as soon as I got out there. It sort of threw me out of the week, and I couldn’t ride properly at all – it was just try and get some points and finish as best I could really. That was really frustrating to be honest, but we managed to get a sixth-place in the second race, which is really good considering everything that was going on.

At Donington I was still lacking some strength, just lacking power really. We sort of did a not so bad weekend, managed to get a third-place in the second race. At the minute we’re just concentrating on trying to get rid of this virus, and just trying to recover as best as possible.

Are you feeling better at all? Is it improving, or just staying there?

I feel slightly better, but as soon as I start to do anything then I’m still lacking strength. I’m just weak basically, and the heart rate’s really high. As soon as I’m working, it’s higher than it should be.

Aprilias Leon Camier  #2  was able to minimize the damage in Race 2 after climbing up to sixth place while struggling with the flu. - Phillip Island
Leon Camier’s 2011 SBK campaign has been hindered by Glandular Fever, aka mononucleosis, robbing the English rider of his strength. In spite of the condition, the 24-year-old managed a podium finish at Donington.

What’s the prognosis for something like that? Is it just something that takes its toll for a month or two?

Normally it’s sort of a two to three month thing where you’re meant to do nothing. And after Phillip Island I literally did nothing, just sat on the sofa the whole time. That’s all you can do really, just try to rest as much as possible. And that’s exactly what I’ve got to do again between now and Assen [Camier would go on to record a DNF in Race 1 and fourth-place result in Race 2 at the Dutch circuit]. They’re running some more blood tests and stuff, trying to figure out how it is and what else I can do to recover as fast as possible. At the minute it’s just a case of doing nothing.

As far as the bike in the offseason, how much has it changed and how has it affected your riding?

Nothing’s really changed, it’s the same bike. There’s always a couple new bits and baubles which got upgraded on it… …Engine-wise there’s little upgrades, but fundamentally the bike’s identical. It’s just a case of trying to improve settings, and getting slightly better feel with it.

There are so many talented riders in the SBK paddock. How do you rate your chances against these guys, as the talent pool just keeps getting bigger?

It’s just a case of working the bike out yourself. If we can get it doing exactly what I want, than it’s not a problem. I’m at the pace quite often, it’s just getting everything to work smoothly, over a whole weekend as well. We’ve had a few little problems, but I think now being our second year, I know what to expect from the team and we can work a little better. But for sure we’re still reaching progress, and it starts with the bike. It’s definitely capable, but it needs a bit more to go to the next step I think. It’s all looking pretty positive, but we just got to keep working and figure a few more little things out. Hopefully we’re not that far from some really good results.

Leon Camier  #2  had a terrific battle with Marco Melandri for second in Race 2  but ultimately finished third after wear on the brakes prevented him from taking it down to the wire. - Donington
For two seasons the factory Aprilia squad has been Camier (#2) and Max Biaggi (#1) – the Roman rider now the reigning SBK Champion.

Tell us a little bit about the dynamics of the team. What’s it like being teamed with Max Biaggi?

He’s been good to me. We get on good, there’s no problem between us. We sort of talk about stuff, and there’s been no problem. I’ve made the effort to be friendly to him and not be a pain in the ass, and it’s all worked pretty good. There has been some politics and stuff, but it’s no real… hopefully this year it shouldn’t make a difference, I’m hoping.

You must have been a fan when you were growing up watching these guys race in Grand Prix. What’s it like racing with a hero or villain from your past, as a kid growing up?

Absolutely, its mega for sure. I’ve got a lot to learn from him. He keeps stuff quiet about what he’s up to, obviously, because I’m sort of competition. But I’ve got a lot to learn from him about how he carries on, just his general way of working, how professional he is and everything else. You can pick stuff up like that pretty well. It’s just good to get on track and you learn his strengths, his weaknesses. Obviously, he’s had a good career in the sport and he’s still one of the fastest riders out there. So it’s good to just learn as much as possible really.

You graduated out of British Superbikes and there are a lot of fellow Brits in the series now. Who do you size up as your greatest rival? Is there anyone you like beating more than the rest?

Leon Camier - Assen 2011
His final season in British Superbike saw Camier snag a whopping 19 victories. The Englishman is still searching for that first SBK victory.

Not particularly. No. It doesn’t matter whether it’s another British rider, or whoever it is, it’s someone on the track who’s trying to get past. It doesn’t really make a difference. Just with some of the riders you know what to expect a little bit more, ‘cause you’ve grown up racing with a few of them.

What’s been the biggest challenge stepping up from British Superbikes? The new tracks, the new travel, the increased talent… What’s been the biggest challenge?

I reckon from the British Championship, if you’re capable of winning there you’re definitely not far off at the World Championship. It’s not like it’s that much harder. The difference I’d say is, the equipment difference is definitely more, but the depth of the field is the main thing. If you’re a half-second off in qualifying, or a second off or whatever, even if you’re race pace is still good enough, you’re going to be so far back that you’re never going to do any good, because you’re so far back on the grid.

When you finished on the podium in Donington, afterward you credited Keith Code. Talk a little bit about your relationship with him and how he’s contributed to your racing success.

Max Biaggi  center   Leon Camier  right  and Cal Crutchlow  left  filled the Race 2 Podium at Utah.
Camier’s best finish in World Superbike came in 2010, when he was runner up to teammate Max Biaggi in Race 2 at Miller Motorsports Park. It was Aprilia’s first 1-2 finish in SBK.

I started off just doing a school, I think in Spain, and he happened to be there. I went through the normal procedures, doing the school. Afterward, we sort of kept in touch, and then I did a few more schools. Then we got quite close, I went out to America and did some stuff with him. He’s been to a couple races – he went out to Miller last year was the first one, that happened to be where I got a second place. We just work on the same stuff as he teaches at the school. He knows my strengths and weaknesses, what I need to work on. He’s been to Miller last year, Donington this year, and also coming to Assen and hopefully Monza. He does a session and goes around the track and watches, sees how I’m struggling. Then we just work on, normally it’s visual stuff, and we work through my problems.

You’re rather tall for a road racer [6’2″]. Does that factor in at all in your style or your technique?

Yeah a little bit… the problem is sort of being cramped up on a little bike doesn’t help. But it’s not that big a problem. Also I’ve been doing it long enough and I’m so used to it body-wise that I can cope with it.

You grew up racing grass track, which is similar to dirt track racing, how a lot of American road racers are brought up. When did you first start road racing and how did your grass track background help you with that?

I’d say from grass track, the thing that sort of I learned there was you spin and steer with the rear wheel. Also throttle control it’s helped me with. It’s definitely a good thing having a lot of throttle control, especially on the bigger bikes, when you’ve got to save the tire – now and again you need to turn it on the rear wheel and be pretty precise with it. That’s been the biggest advantage I’d say. I started road racing when I was 12 or 13. I did grasstrack when I was six to 12.

What are your ultimate racing goals? Stick with Superbikes for a while, or are you eyeing Grand Prix in the future. Is that the end goal?

In GP if it’s on something that’s not that competitive, I wouldn’t go there just for the sake of being there, just to be in MotoGP. I want something competitive. Obviously, you can’t go to a factory bike, but a good second-rate bike. I wouldn’t do it on anything else.