The demure waitresses at James Toseland's hotel in Japan gathered in awe around the grand piano in the foyer, spellbound by his Elton John rendition. Three months down the line of his debut World Superbike season, similar quietly assured performances on the track are commanding comparable admiration.
As the young understudy to Neil Hodgson in the GSE Racing team, Toseland could have comfortably settled for the role of pillion passenger. Instead, his own virtuoso instincts have been nurtured and, in time for today's showpiece Brands Hatch round, Toseland is rapidly approaching the day when he can conduct his own masterclass.
The odds against that scenario were stacked against the 20-year-old from Sheffield. Not only is this his first season on a superbike, Toseland had to cope with the added handicap of recovery from serious injury suffered at a test session at Cadwell Park last season, when he was flicked off his Honda and landed flush on the corner of the kerb.
"When I stopped rolling, my first inkling was that the leg was dislocated because I thought to myself 'I've never been able to bite my toenails before.' When I tried to move on to my back the leg was grinding and I knew it was serious. My femur was smashed in three places and it took 45 minutes for the helicopter to arrive to fly me to hospital. Unfortunately I didn't pass out," he recalled.
So when Toseland hobbled into the offices of the GSE Racing team boss Colin Wright on crutches last September, he was not expecting to be offered a three-year contract with the privately funded outfit. And, although the future of the team hangs on its owner Darrell Healey's ability to attract sponsorship in time for next season, Toseland's services are certain to remain in demand.
For not only has he demonstrated the riding skills necessary to turn the occasional top-ten finish into more consistent championship returns, Toseland's personable nature is a draw for potential team sponsors and complements the professional, clean-cut image that is fostered by both the GSE team and his team-mate Hodgson.
"We have the same sense of humour and I suppose we are not too dissimilar. I think it's the northern influence. I wouldn't be getting the same results without feedback from Neil's experience. But, quietly, I've always had the hunger and next year I want to finish in the top six of the championship. Especially after the last round at Laguna, when I was seventh behind the world champion Colin Edwards, I feel that I'm capable of doing that in races now that I've got to grips with the Ducati and got to know the team," he said.
The British pair have inherited the huge support generated by Carl Fogarty, which has made the Brands Hatch round of the championship a festival for the biking public and the best-attended single-day event in the sporting calendar with a crowd of more than 100,000 again expected. And, although neither rider displays the same aggressive, win-at-all-costs attitude that was an integral part of Fogarty's appeal, the four-times world champion is nevertheless another admirer of the Toseland approach.
"He's made that big step this year, to get into the top ten, that I thought he would struggle with. But it has been a nice surprise. And the way he is improving all the time I don't see why he can't make another step forward next year. He's not a million miles off the pace and should be looking for a top 10 finish this weekend. It would be good for him to beat the British wild cards, such as Steve Hislop and John Reynolds. But they have already raced there once this year and broke the lap record. So that could be tough," said Fogarty.
Both Toseland and Hodgson, however, made qualifying appear a simple process. While Hodgson stole the glory with his third pole position of the year, Toseland will also start from his highest grid position of the year. He was able to claim the scalps of the likes of championship leader Troy Bayliss and Troy Corser while setting the sixth fastest time of the Superpole one-lap shoot-out.Reuse content