Interviews 12 May 2009

Moto Talk with Shannon Johnson

Shannon Johnson was left without a ride for 2009, but now he’s back with a vengeance and bringing KTM with him.

Johnson with his new toy at Eastern Creek during the national dealer launch of the RC8R

Johnson with his new toy at Eastern Creek during the national dealer launch of the RC8R

Following an injury-plagued 2008 season riding for the Kawasaki Racing Team in the Australian Superbike Championship, Victorian Shannon Johnson found himself without a ride for this year.

But things are beginning to turn around for the determined 28-year-old, teaming up with KTM Australia in a development role that could eventually see the pair grid up in the ASBK series.

In just two days on the RC8R Superstock-spec bike mounted with slicks, Johnson lapped Eastern Creek in an incredible 1:33.2 lap time, which is just over a second off his best on a factory Superbike in the past.

Also winning the Victorian titles opening round for Procon Racing Honda, Johnson has had a solid year so far despite not landing a paid ride for the season. caught up with the former Australian Supersport Champion and Superbike runner-up to get the inside line on his future on the Austrian-built RC8R race bike.

You’ve been testing with KTM on the RC8R – what’s the future hold for you and KTM?

Right now we’re just taking it one day at a time. Our objective of working together is not to bite off more than we can chew, taking it one day at a time to see where my riding level is at and the competitiveness of the motorcycle.

As it turns out we are gelling very well together, the bike and myself, and the lap times are really competitive. We have an event coming up this weekend at Winton, so if the result is what we are looking for I don’t think it will be too long before we are racing in the national Superbike scene with the RC8R.

You seem to have gotten off on the right foot straight away with the RC8R. How serious is it right now for both yourself and KTM?

Obviously we both take our jobs very seriously. KTM is dead set on creating a competitive Superbike that’s capable of winning world and national Superbike races.

With the background of the boss of KTM Australia, Jeff Leisk, who was a competitive professional motorcycle racer, and he understands riders needs and wants, and also understands how important it is to have behind a really competitive product such as the RC8R.

I think that the future’s looking pretty good.

Happy to be back on a race bike again?

Absolutely. I’m really excited to have a company such as KTM put a lot of trust and faith in my riding ability and my set-up ability to start the development and testing program of this motorcycle. It’s fantastic.

Those lap times you’ve been posting on the RC8R are strong – you must be excited?

Absolutely, for sure. Considering it’s my first ever time on a twin-cylinder motorcycle and it’s the guys from KTM’s first real go at road racing. The knowledge that Rob Twyerold has with KTM is second to none – if there’s something that Rob doesn’t know about KTM it’s really not worth knowing.

I have guys in my corner working on my motorcycle who have a very competitive background and who know the motorcycle very well, so it makes my job that much easier when I get on the bike.

As you said, it’s your first twin-cylinder that you’ve ridden. What’s it like to ride?

Really, really easy. I’m more than surprised with how good the motorcycle handles, how easy it is to ride, and also the smoothness of the power. You really can open the throttle a lot earlier in the turn than what you can on a four-cylinder, because a four is very aggressive, but the twin is so smooth.

The bike feels nimble enough to put it through a corner like a lightweight grand prix bike, and the change of direction is fantastic. Not only that, but the brakes are the best I’ve ever used.

How do you compare it to the factory Japanese bikes you’ve raced in the past?

For the more recent bikes that I’ve ridden it’s not really fair to compare – there’s really a clear cut winner and that would be KTM with performance, ergonomics, and everything.

Going back a few years I could confidently say that the KTM, being a 2009 model compared to the older models, is quite superior to any Japanese bike that I have ridden in handling, braking, and of course the huge horsepower from the 1200cc twin.

Johnson on the KTM RC8R production bike at Eastern Creek

Johnson on the KTM RC8R production bike at Eastern Creek

Do you believe the RC8R has what it takes for ASBK?

Absolutely this motorcycle can be competitive in the ASBK and I really believe we can in the not too distant future after I have more time to understand how to get the best out of the bike.

The team and I are working on fine tuning the bike to the Australian conditions and the tyres that we have available, so yeah, I really am confident that it can be a front runner and hopefully I’m the one chosen to go forward and deliver the results to KTM as a thank you.

So when will we see you line up on the grid then?

This weekend we will enter a national race meeting that’s held at Winton in the BEARS and Pro Twins classes so we can compare oranges with oranges – excuse the pun – so we can see exactly where the KTM is against the other twins. After recently testing the bike I’m more confident that orange twins are faster than red ones.

Thanks Shannon and we look forward to watching both you and KTM progress.

Thank you very much for your time, Alex.