Have the last two British Superbike meetings at Thruxton and Cadwell Park increased our optimism that we are still breeding young riders capable of taking on the stars both at home and abroad?
The Dad’s Army “We’re All Doomed Brigade” refer constantly to not having a single rider in MotoGP and our last World Champion being Danny Kent winning Moto3 in 2015 and our most recent MotoGP world champion Barry Sheene in 1976 and 1977.
And even at home BSB has, with one or two exceptions, been dominated by riders in their 30s and 40s in recent times.
But our man Whitham, who’s forgotten more than most others know in this game is confident that “A Change is Gonna Come” as the great Sam Cooke sang it.
The last two BSB rounds at vastly different tracks have convinced him. Talking of Charlie Nesbitt and Max Cook among others...
”It’s a big ask for someone coming straight from a class that’s only got from 125 to 130 horsepower to one that’s got nearly double that so they’ve both been really good," he told BSN. "Thruxton was brilliant for them but I think a little bit that happened there in terms of them both being right at the front - Charlie got three podiums and Max was off the podium a couple of times by thousandths - was probably down to the track and there were other people who on a normal weekend would probably have finished in front of them - like the Ducatis and some BMs being well off the pace.
“Both had a nightmare at Cadwell for various reasons but they are the ones for me who are looking like they’ve got a fairly big future.
"They are the ones who’ve been given a go, certainly Max has and he’s a fairly steady bloke like when you’re speaking to him it like you’re speaking to an older person.
"He’s not going to do anything stupid and a lot of youngsters at his age on a Superbike would make a mess of things and therefore cost the team quite a lot of money.”
There a lot of names like Charlie Nesbit, Stormy Nesbit and others. What do you make of them?
Charlie Nesbitt (22) is good. Storm Stacey is not so much a youngster although he is only 20, but he’s been in the championship a long time and he is good, a cracking rider. It has been a slow burn with him but he has lots of talent. Max (20) is looking like getting a podium in his first year, Charlie has got three podiums in his first year which is impressive stuff.
Kyle Ryde who is sometimes regarded as an old rider now but is just in his mid-twenties, and not when compared with the winners who are in their mid-thirties. And someone who is doing as well as him at 25 is pretty damned good isn’t it?
Yes, it certainly is. He is one of those riders we know has a lot of talent, we’ve always known that, and he has come right through the mini-bike and the Motostar championships and then into Stock 600 and Supersport. He’s done the whole thing and been really good at all of them. And he’s shown a lot of his talent this year, currently sitting third in the championship. For me, if he gets a good run into the end of the championship there’s a possibility of him winning it. It’s an outside possibility, but it’s a possibility!
We talk a lot about not having enough young British riders in the world championships even though we have Jake Dixon, of course, Rory Skinner and Taz Mackenzie. Do you see any of the guys we have been talking about really wanting to go there or having the talent to go there?
Yes I do. And it’s not just having the talent to go there or the chance to go there. It’s the money and you can’t deny it. Would a 20-year old want to go there? Yes, why wouldn’t you? Whether you are going to get the chance, you can’t tell. It needs more than a little bit of talent and the stars have to to align properly. We have got people in there and, for example, I have a fair bit of faith in Rory Skinner.
But you need time and he’s got another year on his contract which allows him to make progress next year. We've also got Jake Dixon who’s just won two Moto2 races and can win another couple this year, so it remains to be seen where he going to end up. And we’ve got Taz McKenzie who I think is doing enough on an uncompetitive bike for someone to pick him up and get him on a more competitive one. So there is hope.
Why do you think Jake Dixon hasn’t gone up a class into MotoGP but decided to stay in Moto2?
Perhaps he didn’t get any choice. I haven’t spoken to Jake for a while and I think there is no doubt that he would want MotoGP if the chance came. But he’s on a competitive bike in Moto2 and he has the talent to be World Champion. It takes a bit more than right place at right time when you get to that level. I certainly think he has got the talent to do it.
And do you think VisionTrack Racing are doing a fairly good job in Moto3?
Yes, they are, but they’ve fallen foul and been a little bit in no man’s land in the rules controlling the age of riders which went up last year. A couple of people they were with couldn’t then take the next step because they weren’t eligible at the time they came in to the Championship as the age limit had gone up. They run a good squad, have good technicians and a lot of decent advice so it is working for them.
So really things aren’t as gloomy as we let ourselves be convinced by the character in Dad’s Army and, in fact, things are looking better with some bright kids raring to go.
There certainly is. It comes from the fact that we have a very competitive British Championship. All classes of racing are in a little bit of a state of flux, including MotoGP because the big classes, Superbike and MotoGP, are so powerful that they are reducing the number of available tracks because as the bikes get quicker more safety needs to be built into some of the tracks.
I think there are changes on the horizon, not so much now but certainly in the medium term. In the next few years racing is going to change. When we went to Cadwell, an absolutely brilliant circuit which we all love, but to pilot a 250 horsepower Superbike round there is not an easy task and as your brain gets full of circuits, quirky and British and a real challenge you know you will not want much more horsepower to race round them.
There is a story going round that what is being looked at is for MotoGP bikes to reduce capacity from 1000cc to 850cc therefore reducing the power. It coincides with the Japanese factories having to play second fiddle to European manufacturers led by Ducati.
Yes, I never thought I would see in my time Honda not even in the top ten in a championship into which they put a lot of effort. It is now dominated by European factories Ducati, KTM and Aprillia. The problem to making change is that you can’t just do it in a year and it is, of course, costly because of design, development etc. which would take at least three years.
Switching to BSB and the battle as to who and which team are going to win it Cadwell saw Ducati cement their domination just as they are in World Superbikes and MotoGP. The PBM BeerMonster Ducatis won every race - a major change from Thruxton - with Glenn Irwin getting two and team-mate Tommy Bridewell making an amazing comeback to grab the third. How did he do it?
Glenn had a really good meeting and I was really impressed. He’s a really aggressive rider, not dangerous, and he’s capable of riding a bike to its strengths. At first Tommy looked nowhere but a complete chassis change and his ‘never give in’ attitude produced a different rider and a win. I take my hat off to him because to win this championship he’s going to have to take it because nobody is going to give it to him.
What do you think of Jason O’Halloran going to the FS-3 Kawasaki team and leaving the McAMS Yamaha setup?
Well, it’s been a fairly badly kept secret and I can only say ‘Who wouldn’t want Jason riding their bike’. He’s a professional, safe, fast BSB rider who knows the circuits and took the opportunity before later in the season when there will be more riders than seats. Pity for Lee Bob Jackson who is being replaced but that’s how it is.
Interview with James Whitham conducted before the news of Paul Bird's passing. Below is a tribute from James to the late manager of the Paul Bird Motorsport team.
I first met Paul in the nineties when he was Moto crossing with Jimmy Aird. Since then he has put an enormous amount of effort and money into road racing and deserves all the success he got. Talking to his daughter Jordan at Cadwell it was obvious things were series.
Best wishes to Jordan and brother Frank who have taken over the running of the team, a very good team, which has every chance of winning another championship.