Made In Britain

Britain can be considered, in many regards, as an epicentre of world racing. Come again?


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Need convincing? Your scepticism is wholly understandable. Our collective knee-jerk reactions to the question of where the centres of world racing are likely to be are Spain (MotoGP), Italy (SBK, some bike manufacturers) and Japan (virtually all the bike manufacturers), but in dear old blighted Blighty we play a bigger role than first inspection uncovers. Historically, we Brits were bloody brilliant at racing; names like Duke, Surtees, Hailwood, Read and Sheene making us still one of the best in the all-time lists of racing winners.

It's been a long time since we had a World Champion in GPs, but in Superbike we've had far greater success. Four-time Foggy plus one-offers Hodgson and Toseland have carried all before them in World Supers. Brands Hatch is still, despite the loss of the Foggy factor and the rise of MotoGP, SBK's flagship event. Having the F1 cachet of Silverstone is also not something SBK views lightly, with two rounds a season and a strong bedrock of support for it and even now, with MotoGP at an all-time high.

Funny we should mention MotoGP. Donington may be a relic, a superb piece of tarmac with a crumbling set of cramped and disordered facilities, but it is a race of major importance for Dorna. If not it would have been ditched long ago, such is the distance it lags behind almost every other GP venue.

Where Britain has accelerated in recent years is in the standard of our domestic championship. BSB is the most important domestic series in Europe by a country kilometre, and one of the big three in the world with the AMA and all Japan series. The British series is better supported by fans than either, has more riders capable of race wins and has a full factory machinery and tyre war going on. We currently have a championship in the UK which has nicely filled a hole left after World Superbike and the main racing factories fell out so spectacularly a couple of years ago. What holes? Holes for tyre competition and factory machine development.

One is the inclusion in our series of an official HRC team, complete with a favourite son rider in Ryuichi Kiyonari and Japanese team boss Tadayuki Okada. The second is they have a full-on Michelin contract, a unique thing these days. The reasons for HRC and Michelin pitching up in the UK are more than singular, but in simple terms they preferred to do a lot of their tyre testing (not possible in SBK with the Pirelli monorubber rule) and preparations for the still all-important Suzuka 8-Hour race in the UK. Having pulled out of SBK, everything was in place to have an HRC set-up here as the previous WSB effort was based in Louth. But the fact that Honda has put so much into its British effort in '04 and '05 is possibly the biggest boost British racing has had for years. Last year, during a tour of HRC's headquarters in Japan, there was much play made of how big a deal racing in the British Championship was to them, with the results of Rutter and Kiyonari mapped out on the main office wall week-by-week, alongside all of HRC's big racing projects.

Honda and Michelin go hand-in-hand at the Suzuka 8-Hour, and this is why we have a French presence in the UK. The camions full of tyres are full of Michelin's cutting edge Superbike product, direct descendants of their GP development programmes. When one of Michelin's latest tyres was nicked from their truck in Mondello, it underlined the fact that it was available to be used in Britain in the first place.

BSB took another step forward when it announced last year that Dorna, the Spanish company which owns the promotion and TV rights to MotoGP, would be taking over those roles for the UK series. Despite losing BBC coverage, and the C4 programme coming on in the middle of the night, the stature of the series continues to grow. A world championship it ain't but a big championship it is. Just ask Colin Wright, boss of GSE racing, who quit these shores for World Superbike then came back this year.

"The professionalism and structure of BSB is comparable to World Championship racing," said Wright. "When we left the series it wasn't quite that way." In several ways Britain has also attracted a remarkable seam of talent. We have always had fast Aussie riders and the odd New Zealander come over here to further their careers, young lads who always seemed to have a hunger to succeed that made the locals look pedestrian. Think of Wayne Gardner as the most obvious example, a man who used to sleep in his car when he started out. He used the Brit scene as a stepping stone to winning the 1987 500cc World Championship.

Up to now, Aussie accents have been thick in the fog of Mallory winter testing. Look at the R6 Cup, now with its own fast and aggressive Aussie dudes at the front.

Chris Vermeulen was one high profile Aussie who went onto other things, tipped as Honda's Next Big Thing in MotoGP. "Barry Sheene was the reason I went to England," said Chris. "It was perfect for the language, it's part of Europe and British Superbike teams are top teams. Europe is the centre of racing and Britain is part of it. I went to there to get recognised and I was."

What we have this year is a whole new level of external interest in BSB thanks to two riders and their astonishingly forceful riding, combined with an attitude to work, training and winning that has blown the lid right off our home series.

In Ryuichi Kiyonari we have an all-but unbeatable hurricane force competitor. He learned the tracks last year and is now giving almost everyone a lesson this year in the HM Plant Honda team. The arrival of Gregorio Lavilla in the Airwaves Ducati squad was controversial but his results have often been transcendent, on a machine which many thought was no longer fully competitive.

In terms of riders like Lavilla and Kiyonari, the British scene may not be so much of a made in Britain, as remade in Britain, as they are no doubt using their current status to push themselves back into global racing.

And the British riders have got a new high bar of excellence to aim for, which can only be good news for those talented and determined enough to go all the way.

The big question

Okay, so if we're such an epicentre, how come it's foreigners doing the winning - with the odd exceptions in World Superbike?There's enough material to fill a couple of books with arguments about that, but there seem to be two main things at work. One is a genuine lack of ambition on behalf of too many UK riders and teams, each of which has grown too big to stay but do anyway. The second, and most mystifying, is that there appears to be no system to get and keep British talent in the MotoGP and World Superbike unless they do it by themselves.

Other countries have teams - their own teams - in these championships and they get enough support from their home industry to allow their young talent a proper run at GP racing. They view their home series as stepping stones for their riders, sending enough of them off to foreign fields to ensure that sooner or later they hit gold.

Instead of moaning that there aren't enough Brits in GPs, maybe we should get our teams, sponsors, movers and shakers to put them there. Our most successful recent GP rider, Jeremy McWilliams, got to the status of 250 GP race winner by staying in GPs year on grinding year, taking un-competitive rides until his talent got him competitive ones. Podiums and a race win followed. Now imagine if Jez had gone there at 16, like most of the big names now.

Hats off to the Red Bull Rookie system, a diamond of a thing that's struck gold on the domestic front. And hats off to the MotoGP Academy in Spain, which takes riders from key markets - Britain included - and trains them in the art of racing. But should we rely on Spain to train our future GP riders?

Maybe we're on the turn, according to MCRCB Events Director Stuart Higgs. "We have made a lot of changes but it does take a lot of time for the results of those changes to filter through. I think we are only now seeing the fruits of the changes that happened in 1996 when the MCRCB came into being.

We are seeing a whole new generation of riders breaking into superbike and supersport. The likes of Jonathan Rea, Tommy Hill and lots more like them will be the ones to see the benefit of the increased recognition of the British Championships. Nicky Hayden won the AMA championship and went straight from there to MotoGP. What he did over there was not any better than if he had won the British Superbike title, so there has to be a situation where winning the British Championship will bring the same kind of opportunities."

Industrial revolutions

WE may no longer be an industrial manufacturing powerhouse, but the UK is still capable of providing artisanship in metal and carbon. No accident then that the real DIY racing efforts in both MotoGP and SBK are based in the UK. WCM and Team Roberts rely heavily on the UK for the manufacture of the vast majority of their parts. Team KR could probably only have done what they do now in the UK, relying heavily on Oxfordshire's F1 belt.

Despite Petronas taking great pains to underline the Malaysian aspect of their operations, it is based in Burton-on-Trent, and despite the aforementioned teams having little in the way of success on track, they can still source the highest class components and craftsmanship.

But the biggest single influence Britain has in racing supply comes from Dunlop. With bases in Japan and the UK, Dunlop is still a major player in the racing scene. Most of the racing efforts are headed up by Brits, charging around the world's paddocks, Brummie tones and Tetley teabags to the fore.

Exiles at the gates of the universe

Now here's a thing. With more money than most of us will ever see just dripping out their pockets, thanks to overblown factory contracts, a goodly number of foreign riders have chosen to make Britain the base of their operations.

Tax exiles used to flee the UK, but in these upside-down days, with a top rate of 40%, the UK is proving a lucrative place to live for the likes of - well, the Daddy of them all - Valentino Rossi. He's been based in London for years, enjoying the astonishing anonymity that we Brits seem uniquely capable of delivering to the rich and famous. Near his west London pad, Rossi can shop, eat in restaurants, and just basically be another film star/TV personality/design guru about town. Hard though it may be for us to figure, Valentino Rossi won't be the most famous bloke in his street, never mind his postcode.

Lesser gods like Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri have made the UK their home, Melandri in Derbyshire and Checa, first in County Durham and latterly London.

Three more big-time spokes in a wheel that has its hub centred in the United Kingdom.

Racing migrations: Who's here in the United Kingdom, where have they come from and why?

Dunlop: British
Still a major force on the world scene , supplying rubber to 125 and 250GPs, plus national series all around the globe

Kenny Roberts Racing: British
When King Kenny wanted to make his own racing motorcycles, he set up shop in Britain's F1 belt to do it

Pere Riba: Spain
Former GP and World Supersport rider, invited to the UK to ride for MSS Kawasaki. He's still here

Gregorio Lavilla: Spain
Unemployed in early '05. Stood in for, then replaced injured Haydon in the Airwaves team, now a BSB contender

Carlos Checa: Spain
Spanish MotoGP star shacked up in, er, County Durham for bracing air and tax reasons. Now has a home in London

Jullien Da Costa: France
Rising star of the French racing scene, came to the UK this year to further his career with MSS Kawasaki

Dorna: Spain
Spanish promotional company owns rights to MotoGP, now has its fingers in the BSB pie

Michelin: France
Came back to BSB at HRC's request to develop tyres for Honda's Suzuka 8-Hour effort. They're currently cleaning up

Valentino Rossi: Italy
Moved to the UK a few years back to escape hero-worshippers at home in Italy. Has homes in London and Ibiza

Marco Melandri: Italy
Followed former great mate Rossi to the UK, but lives in Derbyshire, not far from Donington Park

Sylvain Guintoli: France
Hot-shot French 250GP privateer now lives in Leicester. What is it with the Midlands?

The Ekerolds: S. Africa
Sons of former 350 Champ Jon, brothers Gary and Johnnie came to the UK to make names for themselves

Foggy Petronas Racing: Malaysia
The Malayasian money behind the aquamarine World Supers effort is spent in Staffordshire

Honda Racing Corporation: JapanHonda's racing arm moved superbike and tyre development from World Supers to BSB

Ryuichi Kiyonari: JapanFavoured son of HRC and in the ascendence. Sent to Britain to help develop the Fireblade. Doing quite well at it too

Tady Okada: Japan
Former GP and SBK star, now based in the UK and heading up HRC's BSB effort. He means business

Yukio Kagayama: Japan
Suzuki company man, sent to the UK in 2003 to help the Rizla BSB team effort. Crowd's favourite, now in SBK

Glen Richards: Australia
Came to the UK in the late '90s. Raced super-sport and superstock. Now a BSB front runner

Chris Vermeulen: AustraliaUsed the UK scene as a stepping stone to WSS and SBK Next stop MotoGP?