It takes a phenomenal amount of effort to pack your gear bag up, jump on a plane, and hit the racetracks of Europe. This year sees not only our own Avalon Biddle heading to the World Superbike paddock, but also her long-time mate, Connor London.
While Av will be blasting about in the newly created World Supersport 300 class with Dutch team Sourzfoodz Benjan Motorsport, Connor will be hitting the track in the World Supersport class with Italian Suzuki team, RSV Phoenix, on a GSX-R600. Like Av, Connor has risen up the ranks of New Zealand’s motorcycling series, and we’ve had the privilege of watching him grow as a rider. From racing in the Hyosung Cup, to taking on the European Junior Cup last year, Connor has come a long way in a few short years. As Connor’s Dad, Phil London says, Connor’s not the fastest rider out there, there are plenty of blisteringly quick Kiwis out on the track every weekend. But what sets Connor apart is the fact that he’s grabbed every opportunity that’s passed his way and put in the dedication to try and make it stick. And that is what really counts. This year’s move to Italy is no different. After a somewhat unhappy time at last season’s WilSport European Junior Cup, Connor set out to put his name out there in the paddock. “Last year in the European Junior Cup, I was just, well, I wouldn’t say
struggling, but I was just going slow to be honest. I wasn’t enjoying the bike and I wasn’t going fast,” explained Connor. “So, I just wanted to show I could ride, and I know I can ride a 600 better than any other bike, so I went around asking and shaking hands with every team manager I could find. I got talking to one team, RSV Phoenix, who were running a guy I know, Kevin Manfredi, as a wildcard
in the World Supersport Championship, and they were looking for another rider for the Italian championship. They were just like “yeah, we’ll give you a shot, have a try” and third race in I won at Mugello.” Winning a race is always going to get you noticed, and luckily for Connor at Mugello as he passed the chequered flag, there was a whole lot of important people, without whom this year’s move to Europe wouldn’t have happened. “So, the race I won at Mugello was the same weekend that all the sponsors were there and Suzuki Italia was there as well. That was the same weekend they picked up the contract for the World Supersport. So it was just good timing to win the race, and yeah, I’d worked pretty hard towards the 600 and it paid off with a subsidised ride this year.” A lesson for everyone out there expecting a ride at the top level to fall into your lap, you have to make it happen and get yourself out there in front of the right people. That said, even once you’ve gotten noticed
and score yourself a contract with a team, there’s still plenty of work to do as even without the exchange rate it is incredibly expensive to race in Europe. There is still plenty of fund raising and sacrifices to be made in order to make everything work.
“I got myself a night job working from 4pm and finishing in the early hours of the morning,” says Connor. “Then I get up at around eight o’clock and go training and about midday I go around trying to find people to help me fundraise. For what I’m doing, someone would usually pay 200,000 to 250,000 euros for the amount of riding that I’m getting, because it includes a house and a lot of costs are covered. I’m pretty lucky, I wouldn’t be going if it wasn’t subsidised by the team. The hardest thing is packing everything up and going to Europe, really. To commit like that is a big thing. I was doing my apprenticeship with Restoration Motorcycles, but I made the choice to leave it and go try again in Europe.”
Connor shipped off on February 10th for Rome, where he will be based for pretty much the rest of the year. With a house and car supplied by the team, along with a Supermoto and Enduro bike for training purposes, it isn’t going to be a holiday for Connor (though to us dreamers it sure does sound like it). Instead, he’ll be focusing on training and keeping out of trouble. Then, of course, there is the language barrier to contend with… “Last year I had a mechanic who spoke English but he’s not working with me this year. So, I’ve got two Italian boys who are my main mechanics, I’ve got a data technician who speaks a bit of English, and my suspension technician doesn’t have a word of English. Then there’s the team manager and the big boss man. They speak a bit of English as well so no worries, and I’ll have my trainer there as well. I’ll be able to get by, but I will have to learn Italian because where I’m living in Italy there’s no one that speaks English. So if I want to get some food, I have to speak in Italian! That’s what I’ve been doing, trying to learn a bit of Italian. I need to speak to Av, because she knows Italian!” Even with the need to learn Italian, Connor’s main focus will be the racing and perfecting his form. The tracks in Europe are a world away from the tracks of NZ, and Connor will be trying to get his head into the European game before the season kicks off. “The tracks are so different over there.
They’re so much faster and so much more, well, it takes a whole lot more balls than it does here. You don’t really find yourself in fourth and fifth gear flat out with your knee down very often in New Zealand. I’ve always struggled with Imola in Italy, it’s sorta been my worst track ever since I first went there. I’ve had two big crashes there and left in an ambulance. In 2014, I was battling for the podium at Aragon in the European championship, then I got seventh at Assen and then got to Imola and just hit a wall, really. I just struggled with the track - it just goes steep and the corners are blind, so yeah, it’s just real difficult. We worked on it last year on the 600 and I did quite a few laps there. I worked on it a lot. We got a lot faster in the end and I started running in the top five in the Italian races. My lap times came down and my confidence went up, so it was good. Hopefully, this year, we move forward with it.” With a contract for two years of racing, this year will be all about development for Connor. Mastering the European tracks will be high on his priority list, with the team hoping to develop Connor further. “With the two-year contract, their goal is to have me on the new GSX-R1000. They were saying it last year that my riding style and the way I attack things is more suited for a 1000, but they want me on a 600, so this year is like a development year. They’re going to be pushing me to not necessarily get results but to learn the ropes and learn how to be a top-level rider.”
We can’t wait to see how Connor progresses during his time in Europe, and we’ll be catching up with him again later on in the season to see just how well he’s doing.