Life In The Old Dog Yet

Talk and plotting from the paddock in Jerez

It’s the time of year that when you wander around the paddock at any race meeting you will find unlikely groups of people having clandestine meetings behind race trucks. You can often guess what is happening when a rider’s paddock scooter is parked outside another team’s hospitality but no sign of the rider inside having lunch.

It is the same for most of the snappers and journalists who draw their beers from the taps at the Freelancer’s Arms. With only one race left in the WorldSBK championship, and as frustratingly normal, no indication of a race calendar for next year, the press room is a hive of activity between people discussing what they know about this race or that race. What hotels have you booked? What’s the best airport to fly to for that race? Who will be racing for which team and what work will be available for the next season?

I found myself having several of those hushed chats over the weekend, both with existing clients and other journalists and photographers. I am going to be busy this week putting together some numbers for the dreaded ‘B’ word. Year on year, the key thing that crops up in all these discussions is “budget”.

For race teams it’s all about the support they receive from manufacturers; how much they get from sponsors; and of course how much it will cost to compete in the Championship. That last point in itself in not an insignificant amount. In one of my own discussions about photography and media work the subject of the costs to the teams came up and before a wheel is turned a WorldSBK team has to find the best part of €80k per rider. That covers the entry fee, tyres, the cost for Clinica Mobile, amongst other things. Nothing unreasonable but still a fair chunk of money for a two-rider team and that is before the cost of the race machines, race truck, travel and accommodation costs, spare parts: the list goes on.

Over the weekend I did a photoshoot with Anthony West for a Dutch magazine. The focus of the feature will be all about the nomad lifestyle he has had over the last couple of years. He has become the ultimate journeyman rider. Hopping on and off planes to travel back and forth around the world to race more or less every weekend. In Europe he drives a battered old Mercedes van that has a fair few battlescars and a series of hair-raising stories to match.

I have known Ant since he raced with the Kawasaki MotoGP team and have a lot of time for him. He can be a difficult person to get to know, very far removed from the charismatic, media groomed and polished rider who is everyone’s friend. That makes him all the more likeable to me.

In the last couple of years he has sold up everything and gone on the road, racing wherever and whenever he can. Some of it self-funded, other rides have been paid by teams or individual sponsors. He has ridden Moto2, Supersport and Superbike machinery on all five continents and when we did the photoshoot and had lunch on Thursday I didn’t get any indication that he had a desire to stop.

When I look at my own situation, and like the team boss I spoke to, there has to be a time when you have to ask yourself ‘is it still worth it?’

For me, as I get older, with a family, a mortgage and all the exciting commitments that comes with the latter, I have to sit down and make a projection of the travel costs for the coming year, look at the amount of work involved with each client, work out how much I personally need/want to earn, throw all that in the blender and come up with a budget for each client. Then ask the question: “is it worth it?” When there is a series of pre-season tests and 13 races to cover, you need an idea where and when they will occur before you can start to plan. However, as I said, it is a frustratingly common problem with WorldSBK. Will we be heading to Argentina and Thailand next year, and if so when? Crucial things to know to work out flight and hotel costs. If I don’t have an idea of things like that it is incredibly difficult to prepare a final budget for the coming season, which incidentally has to be prepared by Friday this week.

The same applies to the team boss I spoke to. He is not sure what he will do next year. Much of it comes down to what budget each rider can bring from personal sponsors to add to his own sponsors input. This year his team competed across two classes which impacts on travel and freight budgets. Quite often journalists I work with laugh that team owners and riders come to them and ask about a calendar for the coming year. Apparently the newshounds in the press office get to hear things about dates and venues before those who might actually compete in the championship. He is busy with his other business at the moment and with a few unknowns at this point he is starting to ask the question on the validity of competing next year.

Westy had a great result at the weekend riding for Puccetti Racing in the Supersport class, as one of the two replacement riders the team fielded for Kenan Sofuoglu, who is injured, and Kyle Ryde, who has left the team, finishing third in a closely fought race. That cheeky grin appeared on his face and the sparkle was in his eye when I bumped into him on Sunday night and asked about the next race in Qatar. I got the feeling that the taste of Prosseco had temporarily answered the question – yes, it is still worth it.

I also guess like me the other team will be back on the grid in some shape or form. We all have a little bit of race fuel in our veins and a passion running through us that means our day-to-day existence would have a little hole in it if we stayed home. For sure the moment will come when we all are forced to accept that it’s time to warm the slippers and make a dent in the sofa, but for now there is life in a few of the old dogs yet.

Photos by GeeBee Images

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