Ben Watson landed a massive deal in the off-season, as he will spend the next three years with Kemea Yamaha. The debut that he had with the team in Italy last weekend was far from ideal, as a clutch issue forced him to withdraw, but things went much better at Hawkstone Park on Sunday. Watson was consistent all day and then really shined in the Superfinal, so Lewis Phillips caught up with him to learn more about everything that is going on.
A pretty solid day for you. There were not really many ups or downs. You just got some solid results on the board, which I presume is what you want with a new team, especially after how last weekend went.
Yeah. I am not exactly happy leaving the day, but it is what it is. It is a full new year with a full new team. Obviously, I have been riding a different brand bike for the last five years now. It is a completely fresh start and it is going to take a lot of getting used to. I had two fifths and then in the final race I’m not sure. I felt much better. I’m actually leaving quite happy now, because I showed my true potential whereas in the first two races I came in and I was just fresh like not even in the race. It was just feeling so easy, but I was just not going faster. After the final race I was feeling a little bit better.
Are these races useful for you with the new team? I am guessing you are learning every time you go out there and you have probably made some big set-up changes today?
Yeah, definitely. That is the reason we are doing it. Obviously, everything is new. It is taking a lot of getting used to. Even now when I get my leg over the bike, it’s like you can still feel that it’s different. It takes some getting used to and that is why we are doing it. I’m really happy with my speed that I’ve shown, even in Riola and here at Hawkstone. Hopefully we can keep it rolling and start doing it where it actually matters.
Is there one thing about the bike that you really like compared to the KTM or one thing particularly that you are struggling to get used to? Just something that is going to take a bit more time?
Not really. The handling of the bike is unbelievable. I’m really happy with the feeling and how it rides. We are working on the starts. On the track the engine is really good and actually at Riola I had a really good start. I was in fourth and there were the top riders there getting holeshots in GPs, so I’m actually really happy with that. Just got to keep going, keep working and keep improving.
I guess it is even hard to have to adapt to being on a factory team. There must be a lot of meetings, debriefs and technical talk. How is that all going?
Yeah, definitely. Like last year I was washing my own bike. Not at the race, obviously, just during the week. Now I kind of finish riding, just go home and that is it. That’s my day done. I’m really concentrating on riding a lot more. It’s a lot more full-on. You can definitely feel that here is where I can take the next step in my career. I’ve just got to get my head down and work as hard as I can and see how it goes.
Does that bring added pressure or is that actually a help, because you feel more confident on the line? Are you thinking that it is time to perform now and eighth, for instance, isn’t going to be good enough?
No, definitely not. Just if I try my hardest and I’m coming off the track knowing that I have done the best that I can, then I’ll be happy. I don’t put any more pressure on myself from this year to last year. Just I’ve got maybe a little bit more support, yeah, but I’m still out there riding my bike. When I put my helmet on, I just do the best I can every time.
I guess that if you do not get one podium all year, you’ll probably end the season gutted. That has got to be the first step in your plan, right?
Yeah. Obviously it is a massive goal. I had ten top eights, or eight top ten finishes, last year. I can’t remember which way around it was. I had a fourth position. I’m near it, I just need to find that little bit extra all around. Even with the support from the team, which I have obviously got now. The confidence is there for that. I have just got to keep working my hardest. Some riders have moved up from last year, so there are a few of the winners taken out this year. It gives a little bit more confidence and a little bit more drive to know that it’s even more possible than last year.
I guess you do not really want to talk about full-on expectations, but in the back of your mind you must know that a lot is possible. It really wouldn't take much for you to win a moto or even a qualifying heat, just something like that.
No. Obviously, I’ve got my own goals in my head and the team have their own goals. But, like I said before, I’m just going to do the best I can. I know what I can do, so it is in the back of my mind what I want to do. I know that if by the end of the year I haven’t got at least one of them then I’m going to be gutted.
There is going to be a massive battle between you, Adam and Conrad. You are battling for this top British rider kind of thing. You are all in the same spot. So you obviously don’t want them to beat you…
Yeah, definitely. Obviously, all three of us were really close again today. Adam passed me and Conrad passed me too I think. We switched roles in the final race. I didn’t actually pass Conrad, but I finished near him. I was much happier with that to actually show my true potential. We’ll see. Obviously, all the British fans are going to be happy for whoever it is. We’ll all just be working as hard as we can.
What have you got planned in the weeks leading up to Argentina? I guess back to Belgium and a lot more testing?
Yeah. We are going to race the French International at LaCapelle, then we are going to stay in south of France to do some training for a week there. In Belgium you never know what can happen with the weather and it’s mainly sand tracks. We’re going to go and try to get some better weather and a little bit of a harder surface. We’ll see how it goes.
You obviously knocked your face on the handlebars in the off-season and knocked some teeth loose. How long ago was that? Did it really have any effect at all? I guess you only missed like ten days.
Yeah, it was about a month ago now. I just landed funny on a jump. I didn’t actually crash, but I hit my head on the bars and the mouthpiece of the helmet just cut my lip open and knocked one of my front teeth back. I flew straight home to the dentist and had it stitched up, then just over a week later I was back on the bike again. I was still able to do my physical training and all that. It didn’t impact me at all. I just missed a few days off the bike.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: ConwayMX