Whitham and the future of the BSB twentysomethings

| | British Superbikes
Picture: Impact Images

Uplifting appearances from riders in their early 20 on the Bennetts British Superbike podium certainly pleased even the ‘we’re doomed’ brigade which bemoans the lack of Brits on the MotoGP grid, delights in discussing how things used to be and cannot see the times a-changing.

There is no doubt that seeing Brad Ray, Kyle Ryde and Rory Skinner displaying their youthful enthusiasm is cheering to fans who have been waiting for youngsters to emerge, and a great boost to promoter MSV which may have been relying too much on one-time stars returning from World Superbikes and, while still capable of winning, are probably past their best.

But are the doom mongers right and if so what can be done about it? Bikesportnews.com called upon the wisdom of James Whitham to shed a little light on the present situation, what is happening and why.

“It’s a long time since a fella could set off with his mate and a bike in a van, knock on the circuit door and ask to qualify,” said Whitham.

“The days when Jarno Saarinen would drive from Finland with a privately-prepared Yamaha and win a Grand Prix are never going to come back again.

“Now unless you’re very successful in MotoGP even though you are successful in other classes you are looked on as a failure. Every single class, Moto2 or Moto3, is seen as a feeder class and not as important, so you don’t get Anton Mang, Jorge Martinez, Angel Nieto and others who rode until they were 40, made a good living and were recognised as world champions.

“Now they put age limits on classes so you can get in when you’re 15 but have to be out when you’re 23 or something. What kind of world championship is that?

BSN: “And just to go back to the three riders who dominated the racing at Oulton Park and may dominate the championship you believe that even now they are too old to get anywhere in MotoGP?”

Whitham: “I don’t want to say this but yes. It is possible but they are not going to be looked on as young riders anymore because of the system. It’s sad and I don’t agree with it. The chances of them going through the system - Rookies, Moto3, Moto2 with a bit of overspill into the Superbike and Supersport route - is difficult unless they can jump on the conveyer belt halfway through.”

BSN: “But you’ve got to be a teenager, right? And it starts in Spain, right? At 15 Scott Redding became the youngest to win a 125cc GP from there and Rory Skinner the European Talent Cup from which he expected to win a Moto3 ride. Disappointment followed when father Mike discovered it would have to be accompanied with a large cheque. Didn’t this happen with Taz Mackenzie when after becoming British Superbike Champion last year his expected ride with an Italian team had to be accompanied by a rather large cheque?”

Whitham: ‘One of the big problems I see with this is you’re getting riders who are really refugees from the MotoGP paddock, and there are lots of them coming now because they know they can go and ride a Superbike and especially Supersport really well. And they’re paying, yes paying, for top bikes.

“So, people like Randy Krummenacher won a championship and he’d paid for his ride. Somebody winning world championship who’s paid for his ride - a bit odd to me. What chance have you if you are Jack Kennedy, who had genuine WorldSSP potential with a couple of rostrum finishes and could have done really well in that championship. He tried but as the teams wanted somewhere between 250 and 300 thousand quid…”

BSN: “Well it’s a pity there’s just not the money or enthusiasm in this country to do it but we must applaud the efforts of Michael Laverty and Chas Mortimer, and their sponsors, in trying to get youngsters into it.”

Whitham: “Absolutely because that is the system. And if you want to get a British world champion it’s the game you’ve got to play. It also has to be said that in Spain and Italy it is very normal to see lots of kids riding scooters and small motorbikes with lots of little circuits to ride on. And of the things against us and always has been the weather which doesn’t encourage dads to take their kids to mini-moto tracks when it is pouring with rain.”

BSN: “But what is also now missing from MotoGP, exciting though it is, are the numbers of riders from the US, Australia and South Africa with one or two notable exceptions, Jack Miller and the Binder boys being among them. It is becoming less international than it was.”

Whitham: “I think Dorna do want international riders and certainly some from Britain. It appears to have become very Spanish and being run from Spain that is a factor.

“The fact that so many people come through the current system almost devalues everything. It as if anybody can be picked and do it if they’re on that GP conveyor belt.”

BSN: “For many people, certainly in Britain, watching WorldSBK is preferable to MotoGP because of a sense of familiarity with the established riders rather than a lot of unknowns.”

Whitham: “Yes, I think people need to associate with people. It’s alright seeing good racing and it’s exciting, but you need to be able to associate with a particular rider, find out what they are doing and read about them.

“Rossi was the last of the big characters and there are others - Jack Miller is one - but it is almost as if they’re not allowed to be characters anymore. They’re almost a commodity or a product.”