Whitham and why wildcard rides are still great…

| | MotoGP
Picture: Impact Images

In the good old days, crowds were drawn to the British round of World Superbikes by local heroes taking on the greats of the time, of which the UK produced a few, and beating them.

John Reynolds, Shane Byrne, Steve Hislop and our own James Whitham, to mention just a few, revelled in the challenge. And at the Donington round next weekend it looks like we’ll have Tarran Mackenzie, Leon Haslam and Peter Hickman looking to repeat history.

But perhaps the most interesting wildcard is the one being used by Rory Skinner for a crack in Moto2 at Silverstone’s MotoGP meeting in August and also at the Red Bull Ring.

What does Whitham think of his chances. He was asked by Bikesportnews.com of the risks involved and might it be the making or breaking of the Scottish youngster - a great prospect?

Whitham: There is a chance it might make him and very little chance it will break him unless he falls off and gets properly hurt which costs him the British Superbike Championship. That apart, the problem he’s got is the chance of getting into Moto2 full time is going to take a lot of money. And, in fact, even then there’s a lot of riders coming the opposite way.

There are just so many good riders in MotoGP just now it is difficult to get a foothold at all. Now, if Rory can do a couple of wildcards and impress the right people who will be in the paddock watching then, who knows? It’s a long shot but the only downside, as I said, is he might hurt himself and risk something he is very capable of winning.

BSN: Following Rory’s exit when leading the final race at Knockhill, some wag, who shall remain nameless, sent an email to his dad giving the great Bob McIntyre’s famous quote: ‘If you don’t fall off every now and again you aren’t trying hard enough’ - it was taken in good spirits. He has to try quite hard and at 20 years old he is young enough?

Whitham: Yes and he’s got the MotoGP dream. In fact, he’s been trying to get into Moto2 for a while but he doesn’t want to be a lot older because by the time you’re 23 or 24 it might be considered that you’re too old to get a start there.

There’s just lots of kids coming through who are 18 or 19 and getting in from Moto3, the Talent series or other feeder classes. And World Superbikes and Supersport is being populated from Moto2 or even MotoGP.

I know that he was disappointed when he didn’t get a Moto3 spot after winning the Talent Cup at Valencia three years ago but he’s regrouped, has the talent and I hope the GP thing works for him because he’s a good kid. Is he the best prospect we have? Given his age and the way he has made the transition from a Supersport bike to a Superbike and his settled approach to racing I think he probably is.

So why not take the chance if his UK team FS-3 will support him. They are, by the way, a brilliant team, have put a good bike underneath him and he understands that. They work well together and if he goes wildcarding with their blessing, which he obviously does, well why not/ If he clicks with the bike and has a really good result - it might not happen but it might and one thing is certain, if you’re not there it won’t.

BSN: What about the other guys who may be wildcarding at Donington?”

Whitham: Tarran Mackenzie will be there, Leon Haslam will have a Pedercini bike and Peter Hickman is also in. They’re not going to win it like the old days when the rules were the same but they will be under WSBK rules so who knows. John Reynolds was a wild card winner, if my memory’s correct Shakey won a couple at Brands.

The problem now is that the rules are different and although they will be racing under them getting a bike and a team as a one-off and getting the best out of the electronics is a big ask.

BSN: So, do you think it is a good thing to do what you and others were doing? It must cost the teams something, so there must be something in it for somebody?

Whitham: I think for the riders it’s a bit of a thank you and some may have had it in their contract so it might be a contractual obligation. And it’s nice to have the opportunity to measure yourself against the best in the world and maybe learn a little bit. I remember doing wildcards and thinking ‘Right,
I’ll show ‘em!’ A bit more difficult now but I appreciate their desire to do it.

BSN: The points you’re making now, and have been for some time, is the difficulty it is for British riders to get into world series and your appreciation of the efforts of people like Michael Laverty, Leon Haslam and their backers to get youngsters into the sport. Not forgetting Faye Ho and FHO Racing in getting more girls into the sport.

Whitham: Because Dorna’s system for getting people through Talent Cups, Moto3, Moto2 and into MotoGP is so successful it means that riders of a really good standard now look at World Superbikes or Supersport thinking ‘I could become a world champion here’ but not in MotoGP. So national championships are not as important as they once were.

BSN: On the subject of talent and World Superbikes what about Toprak Razgatlioglu’s test on a MotoGP Yamaha at Aragon. What do you make of that? And there are those who think he is too old and too big?

Whitham: I don’t know how it’s gone but I think Toprak would fit perfectly well in MotoGP. They’ve said they won’t go for anything less than a factory bike. I was chatting to Kenan Sofuoglu at Misano which he confirmed. Do I think he’d do alright? Yes, I do, he’d be strong. Too big? He’s certainly tall but fairly light and at 25 he’s at an age where some might think he’s too old for that step.

A few years ago there was a bloke called Troy Bayliss who, after winning the World Superbike title, was offered a factory Ducati for Valencia and won it. You never know. Fairy tales do come true, occasionally!

BSN: And finally, is there anything you want to say about the TT?

Whitham: At this time of year you always get a lot of people saying ‘it shouldn’t happen’, ‘it’s too dangerous’ and all the rest of it. My attitude to that is quite straightforward - anyone who likes motorbikes or horse riding or flying or rock climbing or parachuting or any number of dangerous sports, have to be very careful. You have to decide what is acceptable risk for you.

Once other people can decide what you can do it is the thin end of the wedge and I would defend to the hilt the right for someone to decide what danger they put themselves in.