"I want to do a solid job in superstock, win the championship and feel like i've earned a superbike ride."
In 2020, young gun Tom Neave firmly put his mark on the National Superstock Championship and celebrated his most successful year in the series taking his maiden Superstock 1000 win at the first round aboard the new CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP, and narrowly missed out on the championship title.
Having been in the Superstock 1000 class for a number of years, a race win eluded Tom, but at the opening round at Donington Park he led the entire race to claim his maiden win, as well as the first-ever Superstock 1000 race victory for the 2020 Fireblade SP.
Not stopping at just one win, the Honda rider went onto score another three during the season, claiming the most race wins in the 2020 Superstock 1000 championship and finished runner-up after a hugely impressive season.
With the start of the Pirelli National Superstock Championship pushed back until the end of June, we caught up with Tom to talk about the off-season, a Superbike ride and his thoughts on last year …
What have you been getting up to during the off-season?
My off-season had been going the best it’s ever been in the last six years, I always have something, some little injury, something go wrong which requires recovery or rehab, but this year was the first season where everything went perfectly and I made it all the way through to March! I had an old injury flare up in my knee, just as I thought I’d gotten away with it, which then required keyhole surgery and has steadied my training for four-five weeks, but I have been able to still keep fit. Of course, it’s frustrating but it’s highlighted a few things to me, and I don’t see it as a negative.
Last year you took your first Superstock 1000 win, has this changed your mentality at all now you have the first win in the bag?
Yeah completely, until you get that first win it’s what you’re always striving for, always working for, and then when I got that win it completely got the monkey off my back – not that I didn’t believe in myself before, but it just took that pressure away. I wanted to prove to the team and take my first win while riding for Honda, so not only was it my first win in Superstock 1000, it was my first win with a team like Honda. It definitely gives you that extra confidence boost!
What learnings from last year will you take into this season?
Not to crash out at the last round and not to miss the grid start! No, I learnt so much last year and I think the main thing I took from the season was how to compose myself over a race weekend more than anything. Being surrounded by the Superbike boys [Glenn and Andrew Irwin], I learnt from them, the team structure, Harv’s input – just the professionalism of the team started to wear off on me more. Last season I didn’t feel like such a rabbit in the headlights like I did the year before. I felt I improved in all aspects of what I was doing and not just racing, but with my training, fitness and nutrition, it was a big step forward. The biggest thing for me though was believing more, not just in myself but with the team, the Fireblade and with everything focused on what we were doing, and not looking at what others were doing, I felt that really paid off.
You’re staying in Superstock 1000 for another season, were you tempted to make the move up to BSB?
I was at such a crossroads to be honest. Within Honda there wasn’t as such the opportunity for me to move up to a Superbike, but to leave Honda to go to another team for a Superbike ride was completely off the cards, as I feel I’ve got something pretty special where I am and to risk that for a Superbike ride just wouldn’t be worth it, I want to progress through the ranks with Honda Racing UK. Of course, a Superbike ride would have been mega, but sitting down with Harv and discussing the options I re-evaluated everything and realised there was room for improvement in Superstock. Moving onto a Superbike with a team like Honda, would automatically put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform, but I want to do a solid job in Superstock, win the championship and feel like I’ve earned a Superbike ride.
What impressed you most with the new CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP?
Everything! I don’t want to compare against the previous bike, but for me everything was just spot on with the new Fireblade SP. I think the stand-out for me was how confidence inspiring it was. When you’re pushing for those last few tenths, it’s never easy and it’s never just going to do it for you, but the Fireblade was so user friendly and as I got on with it straight away, I felt I was able to push more. There’s still room for improvement of course, and I know the team have been hard at work over the winter, but I think we can do a good job this year harnessing all of last years’ experience.
Were you expecting the Fireblade to be as competitive as it was at the first round?
No! In the back of my mind I always wanted it to be, but for a brand-new bike, with hardly any testing, I think we were the first Superstock team, certainly in Europe to race with it. We had a good first test and we were in the ballpark, but for me coming off the back of foot and shoulder surgery in the winter I’d hardly done any riding at all, and to go into the opening round to get a win and a lap record in my first race was the biggest achievement for myself and the team. I think Andrew winning the first race at Donington with Glenn second, gave me a kick up the backside to make it happen, I watched their race and thought ‘right if Andrew’s proven it in Superbike, I’ve got to do it in Superstock!’ It would have been the perfect weekend if I could have done the double.
Who do you think is your main competition this season?
There’s no one I feel particularly threatened by this year, which is a good start. You obviously can’t discount Chrissy [Rouse] as he won the championship last year, Taylor [Mackenzie] will be good – he’s back with Bathams where he finished runner-up in 2019. I think my brother Tim will be fast this year, it’s his second year with Buildbase, he had a win last year and he’s continuing to build too. Keith Farmer is back, he’s a four-time British champion, so it’s a strong field but you never know with this class, one of the other lads could just pop up and shock everyone! I think it’s going to be an exciting year, probably the best line up the class has ever seen with a lot of the Superbike teams making a Superstock effort. There are probably seven or eight riders who could fight for the win!