Wednesday, July 08, 2009

On Two Wheels

I'm a four wheel man, all told. I've watched the odd Moto GP race, and even took a trip to the Isle of Man for the TT a couple of years back, but fundamentally, my interest lies in cars, rather than bikes, being driven very quickly. I'm not one to turn down a freebie, though and when an old university friend volunteering as a trackside doctor offered me free tickets to last weekend's round of the British Superbike Championship in exchange for a place to crash down, I wasn't going to say no.

Joe Dickinson

It was quite an eye-opener in some ways. I'm only dimly aware of the BSB's existence - the last time I caught a race on television, it was being dominated by some Spanish guy called Lavilla, who wasn't even on the entry list at the weekend. However, it is clear that the sport has a very considerable following - the event attracted by some distance the largest crowd I've ever seen at Knockhill, including those for the BTCC rounds I've caught up there over the past few years. And to judge by the number of people wearing commemorative t-shirts from races all over the world, a good number were hard-core fans.

Me, I didn't really have an opinion on the relative merits of Josh Harris, Leon Camier, Stuart Easton (the local favourite) et al. All I cared about was seeing some good racing. So did I get what I'd come to see? Perhaps not in the Superbike races themselves. Josh Harris had nailed the pole, but Camier, who had won 8 of the previous 10 races, made short work of him in the races, and thereafter, they were a touch processional.

To be fair though, there was action further down the field, and it was noticeable that the bikes have a rather easier time of it actually passing each other around the twisty confines of Knockhill (which is only 1.3 miles in length) than most of the four wheel championships which have raced there recently have. F3, for example, abandoned the place in 2005 as passing was all but impossible, and in recent years, the Formula Renault boys have not come up on BTCC weekends.

BJ Toal

The battle for the second Superstock 1000 race, on the other hand, between Alistair Seeley and Steve Brogan (with cameo roles for Richard Cooper and Luke Quigley, who always looked ready to pounce if the lead two put a foot wrong) stands as just possibly one of the best fights I've had the pleasure of seeing at a race track in the nearly 25 years I've been watching motor racing. The two swapped positions back and forth throughout the first 18 laps of the race, rarely more than a few inches between them, but always keeping it clean and fair - at least from where I was standing, down at Butchers. Only an error down at the hairpin 2 laps from home finally settled it in Seeley's favour - enabling him to maintain his 100% victory record for the season so far.

Brogan vs Seeley

So what did my first taste of circuit bike-racing have going for it? There's certainly a more informal, friendly, feeling to the paddock than I've found at equivalent car racing events, where there can sometimes be a certain preciousness amongst those taking part. Perhaps it's something to do with the sheer amount of money floating around in categories like British F3, I don't know.

It's true, too, that racing a bike around a place like Knockhill looks more difficult than racing a car around it. Maybe it's an illusion brought on by the fact that you see more of the rider at work - throwing his body around to balance the bike through the corners, it looks in some ways more an act of acrobatics. What certainly isn't an illusion is that riders are putting life and limb on the line to a much greater degree than those on four wheels. A quick chat with my doctor friend about the injury rate in superbike racing was quite an eye-opener.

Leon Camier

So does this mean that, in future, I'll be watching Moto GP, not the F1? The BSB, not the BTCC? That Motorsports Ramblings will become Motorbike Ramblings? I'm afraid not. In the end, the sight of a car on the limit just does it for me in a way that a bike does not. Probably it's just a matter of what you have grown up with, what you have come to love, but for all I enjoyed my trip to see life on two wheels last weekend, and for all I can certainly see the attraction, it's racing on four wheels that remains my thing.

All photos author's own.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home