This interview was done before the recent round at Snetterton
- You joined a new team for 2017 how did preseason go for you and how is the season gone up till this point ?
Preseason went better than anticipated we went to Cartagena in Spain a circuit that really suits the Yamaha and we flattered ourselves with our pace from day one, I was pretty sure we had work to do with the bike once we got it back to the UK unfortunately our first test in the UK was rained off so we went straight into round one of the season. Surprisingly we were very fast at Donington and in the mix for podiums but we lost that opportunity due to technical failures despite this we showed good pace even though I wasnt happy with the front end feeling of the bike. I knew from that weekend that we wouldnt be able to challenge for wins till we got the front end feeling sorted it has taken a couple of rounds and a big crash at Oulton park to finally start getting our heads around the problem and now that we have done this I am looking forward to the second half of the season as I now believe I have a package to challenge in races
- 2016 wasn’t a great year but started out strong what do you put this down to ?
2016 was a really strange season for me as you said I was strong in testing and I even won the first race of the year I showed the same pace in race 2 till a water leak ruined our race, From there the entire first half of the season I was on pace but had a lot of bad luck with a few engine failures as well as being in the wrong place at the wrong time for other peoples accidents, I did manage to take another win at the mid point of the season at the Thruxton round but from there the season sort of took a turn for the worst and we could never really put our finger on it which is definitely one of the most frustrating things in racing when you just cant find the answers. We had left Thruxton very confident heading into Brands Hatch somewhere I had won in 2015 but we just had no pace I couldnt even crack the top 10 in any of the sessions or the races, I unfortunately blew an engine in race 2 but that just compounded our issues that weekend.
I really struggled over the second half of the season we managed a couple of strong runs but we never truly managed to fix our issues the second half of last season is something I would really love to forget about completely, We could look through it with a fine tooth comb and pick certain things out like how we changed engine spec and lost our direction in the middle of the year which affected me and my team mate Christian Iddon and even when we switched back to the original spec the rest of the field had moved on to much leaving us to catch up for the rest of the year.
It was a very tough time and one that is very hard to explain at the end of the season I sat down with team owner Philip Neill and honestly he was just as perplexed as to what had happened as I was, Together we decided it was best to part ways I had the option to move onto the Yamaha this gave me the opportunity to find out whether the issue at the end of the season was me or if it was the bike.
- Have you had much interaction with Keith Flint since joining the team and how good is it for British bike racing to have such a high profile fan and team owner ?
Keith is a great guy I have known him for a few years and he is a massive bike fan, The team was very much his passion and project a few seasons ago but as it has developed and his own commitments with the Prodigy have grown he has taken a step back taking more of a figure head role handing over the day to day management, So unfortunately we dont see much of him at the moment but hopefully he will get to a few rounds once his schedule calms down.
- Road racing is such a big part of bike racing in Northern Ireland was it ever a route you thought about taking or was it always circuits ?
I started out racing School boy motocross back home in Northern Ireland and had quite a bit of success becoming Irish and Ulster champion this kept my interest away from racing on the roads, I did love going to the TT etc with my Dad who took us when we were younger but once I started racing motocross I sort of lost touch with the road racing scene. When I was 16 Chris Dowd arranged for me to have a spin on a 125cc bike at Nutts corner and once I got a taste of that I was hooked again taking my attention away from road racing.
My Dad had raced on the roads and got out of it alive with this in mind neither of my parents wanted either me or my brothers to ever race on the roads and out of respect for me them we never have, They spent alot of money to get me into the British championships my first year in 1998 we were back and forth to England they did this to keep us out of the Irish championships as they believed that would eventually lead us onto road racing.
- I have seen in a few interviews Jonathan Rea credits you and your brother Eugene for getting him to make the switch to circuit racing from MX can you take a bit of credit for creating a 2 time world champion ?
Ha ha to be honest no it was simply that we had raced together in school boy motocross together Johnny was a few years younger than me so when I started racing on the circuits he would come along, I remember speaking with him at one of the races and he asked me if I thought he would enjoy it as much as motocross I told him that it was different but once he started he would have the same passion for it as he did motorcross, I said he should go for it while his Dad was there to help him out and use some of his contacts as he was well known in the racing scene that was basically all my involvement in getting him started.
- You and Eugene took pretty different paths in your racing careers but both ended up at the highest level in Moto GP do you think there is a more direct route to the GP scene or is it down to purely rider talent ?
The route to GP isnt clear to be honest but if I saw a talented rider now I would take them to the Spanish championship, Red Bull rookies or the new British Talent cup as they have all been specifically created to bring on 13-16 years olds and get them straight into a GP style championship with bikes that are similar to the Moto3 class. All of those championships take you to the fast flowing circuits of Europe that you need to get used to be successful in the GP series. If you show any signs of talent going into those series without a major backer isnt a big deal as most teams will pick young talent up to help develop them but if you struggle it can cost alot of money especially if you hope to make the next step into Moto3 as they expect you to earn you way either on the track or by bringing alot of money to the team.
It is harder than ever to make a career out of bike racing when I started out you could run out of the back of a van and still be competitive, In my first season as a privateer I won 3 supersport races and took 3 second places we never had alot of money so if I crashed or blew an engine I couldnt race, I finished 11 races that year so showed that even on a limited budget I could be competitive this caught the attention of Paul Bird and at the time Robbie Burns who actually took me on the next season I do enjoy looking back on that time seeing just how much we achieved as a family. Unfortunately now days this just doesnt happen now to have any chance of being competitive you have to have a good bike and team behind you and until you prove yourself you must pay for your ride.
- What riders did you follow growing up ?
We used to travel to all the road races and my Dad would help out Chris Dowd on the short circuits so we followed him I always liked Steve Hislop when was winning TTs and in the British championships, Obviously as someone from Northern Ireland I followed Joey Dunlop as well but growing up I was a big fan of motocross riders.
- Do you have a favorite circuit to race at ?
Probably the most enjoyable circuit I have raced at is Phillip Island the majority of riders you would ask that question to would say the same, Not only is it picturesque but its just a fast flowing circuit with no stop start chicanes to disrupt your rhythm, It is lovely going through the final turn around 150-160 mph trying to fight the wheel spin but that can be alot of fun if you just want to play around.
- Finally what are you aiming for this year obviously joining a new team with a new bike will making the showdown be enough or is the title the only goal ?
At this stage we are 4 rounds in and the title would be a little ambitious, I believe we have the speed but lack the consistency at the minute it is tough to do it in your 1st year dont get me wrong it can be done but the 1st season is always the hardest with a new team and a new bike saying that we need to start to turn this around quick smart cause I have a terrible result sheet to date, The speed is there and now that we hopefully have the front end of the bike sorted I honestly believe the showdown is there but I definitely need to get the finger out in the next few rounds.
The championship is funny this year it seems to be that on any given weekend it can just click for a team and rider and they are dominating as we just had with Jake Dixon at Knockhill, My team mate James Ellison showed this at Brand Hatch where he was capable of doing the double but unfortunately crashed out coming away with no points, Leon Haslam and Luke Mossey have both looked extremely strong on the Kawasakis they have the continuity of staying on the same manufacturer which helps them alot they also worked the hardest as a team over the winter testing the most so they came out flying straight away. Those are just a few of the contenders Shane Byrne is there or there abouts so it is certainly not going to be easy to get back into contention you just have to look at the like of Davide Giugliano who was a WSBK front runner but struggled in BSB, WSBK is obviously a tough championship but BSB is just as tough if not tougher when you take into consideration the depth of field,the tight and technical style of circuits as well as the lack of electronics on the that the WSBK guys have to help them handle the 220BHP a superbike has now. All that being said I just need to get rolling get some strong results on the board and see where the second half of the season takes us.
Thanks to @photography_rjd for the photos and of course @MichaelLaverty for taking time to answer my questions.