Whitham and why wildcard rides are always great…


Image: Impact Images

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

John Reynolds, Shane Byrne, Steve Hislop and our very own James Whitham, to name but a few, reveled 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 wild card is the one used by Rory Skinner for a crack in Moto2 at the MotoGP meeting at Silverstone in August and also at the Red Bull Ring.

How does Whitham feel about his chances. Bikesportnews.com asked him about the risks involved and could it be the young Scot’s make or break – a big prospect?

Whitham: There is a chance it will and a very small chance it will break him unless he crashes and gets injured properly, costing him the British Superbike Championship. That aside, the problem he has is that the chance to get into Moto2 full-time is going to take a lot of money. And, in fact, even then, there are plenty of oncoming runners.

There are so many good riders in MotoGP at the moment that it is difficult to establish yourself. Now, if Rory can make some jokers and impress the right people who will be in the paddock watching then who knows? It’s a long way off but the only downside, as I said, is that he could get injured and risk something he’s fully capable of winning.

BSN: After Rory crashed out leading the final race at Knockhill, a wag, who will remain anonymous, emailed his dad giving the famous quote from the great Bob McIntyre: ‘If you don’t fall off once in a while you’re ‘t trying hard enough’ – he got caught in a good mood. He must be trying hard enough and at 20 he’s young enough?

Whitham: Yes and he has the dream of MotoGP. In fact, he’s been trying to get into Moto2 for a while but he doesn’t want to be much older because at 23 or 24 you could be considered too old to start there.

There are just a lot of kids who are 18 or 19 coming from Moto3, Talent Series or other power classes. And World Superbikes and Supersport are populated by Moto2 or even MotoGP.

I know he was disappointed when he didn’t get a place in Moto3 after winning the Talent Cup in Valencia three years ago, but he has regrouped, has talent and I hope the GP will work for him because he is a good boy. Is he the best prospect we have? Given his age and how he made the transition from a Supersport to a Superbike and his established approach to racing, I think he probably is.

So why not take a chance if his UK FS-3 team will support him. By the way, they are a brilliant team, they put a good bike under him and he understands that. They work well together and if he makes a joker 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 could and one thing is certain, if you’re not there, it won’t be.

BSN: What about other guys who could be wildcards at Donington?

Whitham: Tarran Mackenzie will be there, Leon Haslam will have a Pedercini bike and Peter Hickman is also there. They won’t win like the good old days when the rules were the same but they will be under WSBK rules so who knows. John Reynolds was a wildcard, if I remember correctly Shakey won a few at Brands.

The problem now is that the rules are different and although they run under them, getting a bike and a team in one go and getting the most out of the electronics is a big ask.

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

Whitham: I think for riders it’s a bit of a thank you and some may have it in their contract so it could be a contractual obligation. And it’s nice to have the opportunity to compete against the best in the world and maybe learn a bit. I remember making jokers and thinking “Well,
I will show them! A little harder now but I appreciate their desire to do it.

BSN: The points you are raising now, and have been for some time, are the difficulty of British riders getting into the World Series and your appreciation for the efforts of people like Michael Laverty, Leon Haslam and their backers to get young people in sports. Not forgetting Faye Ho and FHO Racing to get more girls into the sport.

Whitham: Because Dorna’s system of getting people through Talent Cups, Moto3, Moto2 and into MotoGP is so successful, it means riders of a very good standard are now looking at World Superbikes or Supersport thinking “I could become world champion here” but not in MotoGP. The national championships are therefore no longer as important as before.

BSN: About talent and the World Superbike, what about Toprak Razgatlioglu’s test on a Yamaha MotoGP in Aragon. What do you think ? And there are those who think he’s too old and too fat?

Whitham: I don’t know how it turned out, but I think Toprak would be a perfect fit for MotoGP. They said they wouldn’t go for anything less than a factory bike. I was talking to Kenan Sofuoglu at Misano, which he confirmed. Do I think he would do well? Yes, I know, he would be strong. Too big? He is certainly tall but quite light and at 25 he is at an age where some might think he is too old for this stage.

A few years ago there was a guy called Troy Bayliss who, after winning the World Superbike title, was offered a factory Ducati for Valencia and won it. We never know. Fairy tales come true, once in a while!

BSN: And finally, do you have something to say about the TT?

Whitham: At this time of year, a lot of people say ‘it shouldn’t happen’, ‘it’s too dangerous’ and everything. My attitude to this is quite simple – anyone who enjoys motorcycling, horseback riding, flying, rock climbing, skydiving, or any number of dangerous sports, needs to be very careful. You have to decide what risk is acceptable to you.

Once other people can decide what you can do, that’s the thin end of the wedge and I would defend to the bitter end the right for someone to decide what danger they put themselves in.

About Todd Wurtsbach

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