As main man at trackday giants No Limits, Mark has seen it all, from fights to 15-year-olds lapping the fast group and Ducati Desmosedicis in his pitlane to £90,000 gambles...
FISTICUFFS? IT HAPPENSWe had one at Anglesey last week. Fast group, first session of the day and one rider went underneath another. To be fair he gave him plenty of room but unfortunately he then fell off, slid into the other guy and took him out. The fight started in the gravel and they had to be parted again in the ambulance.TRACKDAY FIRMS HAVE HAD TO THINK BIG OR DIEThe heyday was around 2004, 2005. There was a lot more choice back then, with probably 20 companies doing it. Then we only did 14 trackdays a year. Now we do something like 130, some of them in Europe. The circuits’ rates have gone up but peoples’ willingness to pay hasn’t; you either grew large or you fell by the wayside.CIRCUIT CHARGES HAVE DOUBLED IN THE LAST FIVE YEARSIn 2004 people were paying £99 for a day at Cadwell Park. Back then the circuit hire cost us £4,000. Now, in the summer, Cadwell is about £7,700 and people still don’t like paying any more than £99. Where as before, if only 50 people turned up you’d be okay, now if only 50 people turn up you’re giving away about £3,500, including expenses. I found an invoice for Donington Park the other day. In 2003, we paid £12,000. We were there last week and it cost £23,500. It’s doubled in six years. The circuits don’t really justify the increase. If you won’t pay it, someone else will.MY FAVOURITE TRACK IS CADWELL PARKIt’s unique, there’s nowhere else like it, and our customers love it too – we run so many days at Cadwell each year, 34 in 2009, and they always sell out. Anglesey comes a close second for me. It’s awesome, and it’s great someone’s built a new track in the right way. It’s so wide and the run-off areas are huge, so from a safety point of view it’s brilliant. And it has the best bits from loads of other circuits. There’s a banked bit like Shell Oils at Oulton, but faster, and a corkscrew coming down the hill, which is awesome, but there are fast sections too; it all just flows fantastically. Then there’s Oulton Park. Oulton’s beautiful but it scares the bejesus out of me. It’s so fast – if you’re in the fast group and you come off it’s going to hurt.I DON’T SEE ANY EVIDENCE OF THE CREDIT CRUNCH IN PITLANEWe had four Ducati Desmosedicis with us at Portimao last month. The haulage company was having a coronary with some of the bikes going into the truck. The recession definitely hadn’t hit that trip. Some of the stuff we see, honestly – at Portimao there were a fair few £30,000 plus bikes.MORE THAN HALF THE BIKES ON OUR DAYS TEND TO BE TRACK BIKESI rode to my first trackday on a Firestorm. Back then there were a lot of road bikes. Now I’d say it’s 65-70 percent track bikes on our days. It’s just practical. It’s cheaper to crash a track bike and it’s cheaper to buy one. You can pick up a written-off CBR600RR for about £2,000, put a cheap set of race fairings on it and you’re done. Why would you spend £5,000 on a road bike? I’d say a good 50 percent of our customers no longer ride on the road. It comes down to why you ride a motorcycle. If you ride it for a buzz, then once you’ve done a couple of trackdays you can’t get that buzz on the road anymore, not if you want to live. So, the level at which you have to ride goes up, so you either end up riding on the road for other reasons, to be social or for transport, or you don’t bother.I’VE SEEN RACE TEAMS OFFER TRACKDAY RIDERS CONTRACTS AFTER SEEING THEM RIDEJoe Burns is 17 and he’s been coming on our trackdays for a couple of years. Two years ago he was at Mallory Park on an R6 on one of our days, lapping everybody. He’d just turned 15 and Crescent Suzuki offered him a ride. His dad turned them down but he was on the podium for the first 600 Superstock race of 2009. But it doesn’t happen very often – you’ve got to be pretty lucky.I’M YET TO BE SUED...We do nothing differently with regards to our briefings than we did five years ago. If you were doing it correctly then, nothing’s changed. I’ve had three or four people over the last couple of years who have tried to have a pop at us, but it’s always been the most ridiculous things. One was a guy who crashed into a bike that was already lying on the circuit. It’d only gone down twenty seconds beforehand but he tried to sue us saying no one had informed him it was there. But he’d already sailed through three waved yellows. It’s that sort of nonsense. I just pass them on to my insurance company and that’s the last I hear of them.RIDERS ARE GETTING FASTERThe standard of track riding has definitely gone up in the time I’ve been observing. I put that down to people simply doing more trackdays. Tracks are more accessible now than they’ve ever been. People are still paying what they were paying six or seven years ago, but wages have gone up.CRASHES? I’VE SEEN A FEWI had an instructor in intensive care for three months. That’s one of the worst I’ve known.OUR CUSTOMERS LOVE THE NEW PARKALGAR CIRCUIT IN PORTUGAL TO PIECESOn our last trip there we had 126 bikes to transport and 97 rooms booked – it’s a lot to organise. And those trips aren’t as profitable as you might think. But you’ve got to offer that sort of thing as well. It came out of customer demand. When the track first opened, just before Christmas, we baulked at the costs – it was £46,000 for three days. That’s a lot of money, and you’ve got £20,000 on top of that to transport the bikes. In total the trip must have cost £85,000-£90,000 to run – do you want to gamble that? We weren’t going to do it, but so many customers were enquiring about it we thought we’d take a punt. It filled in four weeks. We’ve got another trip going in November and it’s two-thirds full already.YOU CAN’T TELL A CRASHER IN THE BRIEFING ROOMBut it doesn’t take long once they’re out on track. They just look like they’re trying too hard. If a rider looks relaxed, regardless of how fast he’s going, they’ll be okay. But if they come over the Mountain as ragged as you like, you can have a word with the marshal and say: “My money’s on him”. Invariably you’ll be right.
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