Chris Vermeulen’s return to World Superbikes hasn’t quite gone as planned. The likable Australian bashed up his knee at the 2010 opener, his home race at Phillip Island, where he was quite competitive on the Kawasaki. Since then the season has seen surgery and a struggle getting back to full fitness, not to mention turning around the Kawasaki SBK program – with the Ninja once again clearly at the bottom of the performance heap. The ZX-10R’s lack of competitiveness was never more apparent than at Miller, where the Kawis languished at the bottom of the timesheets. Still, Chris V was upbeat and positive about getting back on track and optimistic about next year’s ride, with Kawasaki developing a new 2011 Superbike. We caught up with Vermeulen in his garage just hours before the Sunday doubleheader.
How’s your knee holding up?
Chris Vermeulen's knee improves but the Kawasaki still struggles against the stacked SBK competition.
It’s getting better all the time. Basically I did lot of damage in there. I got a small operation just to take the cartilage out. There’s a couple ligaments that are not in good condition and I didn’t get them fixed yet. It would have just been too long off the bike - it was a minimum of six months. But it is improving all the time and the doctors say I need time before I’m going to be 100% fit.
Are you just going to wait until after racing [to fix the knee]?
Yeah, for the main operation I’ll wait until after racing, just ‘cause the amount of time you need off. But I think now I got three weeks, almost four weeks off after this race so hopefully we’ll have time and I should be 100% fit, or close to it, when we get back to Misano.
So how’s the process with Kawasaki working? Is it frustrating?
Running well at Phillip Island, Vermeulen's Round 1 crash put a damper on his 2010 plans.
Well, we started out the season not too bad. Considering we didn’t do a lot of tests we had quite good pace at Phillip Island. We were competitive. But then I lost a lot of time on the track, I missed a couple meetings and coming back I was really slow in the beginning with the knee. It’s frustrating at the moment, we want to be going a lot quicker than we are obviously, but the guys aren’t spending a lot of money on this bike either because all of the focus is on next year’s bike.
Is it hard to get motivated some times?
No, definitely not. I don’t have that problem. I’m out to do my best every time and I love riding motorbikes, so it’s not hard to get motivated.
Do you put a number on where you want to finish? Do you set goals each race?
Not really, no. It’s just to go as fast as you can. If I’m 10th on track I want to be ninth. If I’m second I want to be first. You always want to move forward. So I don’t really set a goal, no, I just go as hard as I can.
Are you guys testing a lot of parts for the new bike? Is there a lot of development going on?
There is a lot of development going on in Japan. I haven’t ridden the new bike yet, but they’ve been running for quite a while. I think I’ll get to turn my leg over it early August for the first time in Japan, and then we’ll have it in Europe toward the end of August.
What’s your goal here in Miller?
Vermeulen managed a thirteenth-place finish in the second Miller Superbkke race, with the Kawasaki struggling.
[Laugh] When I came here it was to finish top 10s, but we’re struggling a bit more than that. So to get points would be a huge weekend I think.
Vermeulen struggled with the rest of the Kawasaki riders throughout qualifying and Superpole at Miller, but did score points in both races authoring a 15-13 byline.
This is your first time at the track. What’s your impression?
I quite like the layout, it’s a nice track to ride. It’s bumpier than I expected, but a good circuit – it’s safe and fun to ride.
What about Utah in general? Is it a little more laid back than most of the stops say in Europe?
Yeah, pretty much. It is pretty laid back around here. It’s nice. It’s the first time I’ve been to this part of the country and I only spent like a day or two before we started the meeting, mainly in Salt Lake City. But yeah, a nice area, definitely not a bad spot.