WSB: Haslam says 'Anyone could win the Sprint Race!'
Leon Haslam believes the new World Superbike Sprint Race, or Tissot-Superpole Race as it is officially known, will provide a wide range of winners this season.
For the first time, World Superbikes will feature three races per weekend: two full-length races, one each on Saturday and Sunday, plus a sprint on Sunday mornings.
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The new sprint will consist of ten laps, regardless of the circuit, and offer points to the top nine finishers. The same top nine will start Sunday’s final race in that order, while the rest of the final race grid will be sorted according to qualifying positions.
"From a spectator point of view, three races is great," says Haslam, returning as British Superbike champion to become Jonathan Rea’s team-mate at Kawasaki.
"It will be tricky for the regular front-runners for several reasons: there are points available, so you do have to fight for them, but the risk will be higher because it is such a short race and the pack will be very bunched up. Anyone could win it!
"Another risk is that the sprint race is so close to the second Sunday race, so you can’t risk damaging your bike because there won’t be much time for repairs. It is a lot of risk for little reward. I had this with the BSB format.
"Once the Showdown comes, you get people who are willing to risk everything to get a job for the following season. For the six guys fighting in the Showdown the last thing you want is a crash because, by that stage of the season, all of the championship points have been reset.
"In World Superbikes this year, the last thing you want is to crash in the Sprint Race because you would lose points and compromise your grid position for the last race. On the other hand, it will open it up to anyone who has nothing to lose. It makes things very different from a mentality point of view.
"It could be all about compromise. Imagine JR wins race one on Saturday and then settles for fifth place in the Sprint Race, he won’t lose too many points but he will be fifth on the grid for the third race, which is still better than row three of the reversed grid last year. The new race will be an interesting balance to weigh up."
Haslam will use the upcoming Phillip Island test (18 and 19 February) to continue adapting to the 2019-specification bikes. The Australian circuit is one of his favourites and the scene of two of his five career wins, including the closest finish in the championship's history when he beat Michel Fabrizio by 0.004 seconds in 2010.
"Phillip Island is definitely one of my best tracks. It’s fast and flowing. which suits my style. It won’t be as tough as other circuits, where I’ll need to adapt more."